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Old 13-09-2007, 16:09   #1

Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 4,525
The Northwest Passage is OPEN FOR BUSINESS

This was a VERY interesting article about sailors doing the Northwest Passage. Because you can't see it through a link, I'm going to paste it in and credit the author as well as the Wall Street Journal. I will provide the link as well, but it won't do you any good unless you have a subscription to the WSJ:

As Arctic Ice Melts, Northwest Passage Beckons Sailors -

So get a subscription!

As Arctic Ice Melts,
Northwest Passage
Beckons Sailors

Roger Swanson's Ketch
Plies Route of Amundsen;
'Crushed Like a Nut'

September 13, 2007; Page A1

CAMBRIDGE BAY, Nunavut -- In 2005, when Roger Swanson tried to cross the Northwest Passage in his 57-foot ketch, the ice scraping against the boat's fragile fiberglass hull sounded like bones snapping underfoot.
When the vessel became bottled up in ice and Mr. Swanson and his boat narrowly escaped, he swore he would never again return to this graveyard of a waterway.
Last month, he was back for a third attempt, he said, at commanding the first American yacht to make the east-west trip in a single year. But this time, instead of encountering the deadly ice floes that have crushed far sturdier ships, it was all smooth sailing.
"There was hardly any ice," said Mr. Swanson, a 76-year-old Minnesota pig farmer turned yachtsman, relaxing aboard ship while docked in this Canadian town about 170 miles north of the Arctic Circle. "It has been a beautiful trip."
In the past six years, as climate change has steadily thawed the arctic, more recreational boats have crossed the passage than in the first 95 years since Roald Amundsen pioneered the route between 1903 and 1906. The hope, then and now, was to establish a trade route from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
This summer, sailors like Mr. Swanson are breezing through the famously inhospitable 3,200-mile passage in weeks instead of years. And there's barely an iceberg to photograph as a souvenir.
Last month in tiny Cambridge Bay, where the waterfront is lined with rusted, hulking fuel tanks, James Allison and his father docked their boat "Luck Dragon" next to Mr. Swanson's "Cloud Nine." Mr. Allison expected to be the first Englishman to sail the passage. Comparing their smooth travels with the hardships of his predecessors, he smiled sheepishly.
Thanks to climate change that is melting the Arctic ice, sailors like Roger Swanson are being lured to the Northwest Passage and are finding the once treacherous voyage is smooth sailing. Paul Lin reports. "I feel like a bit of a fraud, really," Mr. Allison said. "It's all been quite comfortable."
Soon, such journeys could become routine. Scientists predict a long-term thaw in the far north will open the passage to safe commercial shipping as early as 2020.
Since 1979 -- when satellites made accurate monitoring possible -- arctic ice has receded by an average of 38,000 square miles a year, says Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center. And while the passage is impossible to navigate some summers, this month there has been less ice than at any time in at least a century.
"What we're seeing in 2007 appears to be unprecedented," says Mr. Serreze. "This is the first time the passage has ever been entirely ice free."
Starting with John Cabot in 1497, explorers spent centuries searching for a passage through all the ice and islands that lie across the top of Canada. Those men left dozens of names like Frobisher, Hudson and Baffin on the map and hundreds of corpses in the sea.
By the time Amundsen bulled his way through the passage, at least 139 other vessels had turned around, disappeared or been "crushed like a nut on the shoals and buried in the ice," as one 20th-century Canadian captain put it.

Read the travel blog maintained by David Thoreson, one of the crew members aboard Cloud Nine.

Today, Canada is moving to assert its sovereignty over what could become a lucrative trade route. Commercial ships are required to comply with extensive regulations and to notify the Canadian Coast Guard of their intention to enter the passage 96 hours before they arrive.
Recreational boats, on the other hand, don't have to tell anyone where they are. As a result, the first time the Coast Guard hears about a ship passing through may be when it calls for help.
Since 1906, just 110 boats have successfully completed the trip, says Peter Semotiuk, a ham-radio operator who lives in Cambridge Bay and has been broadcasting ice reports to sailors for 20 years. He has sailed the passage himself. Of those vessels, 80 have been ice cutters or commercial ships with hardened hulls. Just 30 have been recreational boats.
Some of them are clearly unprepared. Many boats, like Mr. Swanson's, have fiberglass hulls, which can be crushed by shifting ice. Others have failed to carry enough food or fuel for heat to last a winter should they become stuck. One French crew hit up Mr. Semotiuk for warmer clothes when they stopped in Cambridge Bay. At least two sailboats had no indoor cockpits, so pilots were left exposed to the elements. In 2003, a British man tried to paddle half the passage in a 17-foot rubber kayak. He had to turn around.
Roger Swanson on his 57-foot ketch. A boat stuck alongside Cloud Nine in 2005 is still in the Arctic. A third that started that same year was docked in Cambridge Bay for two winters because the owner couldn't get a visa to re-enter Canada after he left. Of the eight boats that tried to make the passage in 2005, just two succeeded.
Mr. Swanson, who was in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, takes pride in his meticulous preparation. On board he carried not two, but three sets of spare engine parts and he spends weeks planning his trips. But even he was surprised by how quickly the passage turned against him.
In his first attempt at the passage, in 1994, he turned back because of heavy ice.
During his 2005 attempt, he and his crew tried to squeeze through a narrow seam in the ice that stretched for 100 miles. Three days later, he was trapped, unable to go forward or back. Mr. Swanson and a Norwegian boat also trying to navigate the passage found safety in a small cove and waited for an east wind to push the ice back. It never came.

In 1798, Samuel Taylor Coleridge described Arctic sailing conditions in the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which some scholars believe was inspired by tales of sailors who had returned from the Northwest Passage. Below, a section of the poem.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken --
The ice was all between.
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It crack'd and growl'd, and roar'd and howl'd,
Like noises in a swound!
Read the full poem.

The captain of the Norwegian vessel tried unsuccessfully to use dynamite to blast his way out. Finally, a Canadian Coast Guard cutter cleared a path, but not before the ice lifted a third boat out of the water and damaged a fourth.
Mr. Swanson, who built and sold several manufacturing companies as well as running his farm, bought the Cloud Nine in 1981. Since then, he has circumnavigated the globe three times. The Northwest Passage was one of the few challenges that eluded him.
This past spring, Mr. Semotiuk tempted him by sending a set of charts showing how much the ice was receding.
"I swore I would never do it again," Mr. Swanson said. "And here I am."
In the comfort of his cabin with a black wool cap pulled low over his weathered face and the most dangerous part of the voyage behind him, Mr. Swanson refused to consider his and his crew's impending accomplishment.
Instead, he told the story of two boats that were sailing through the passage four hours apart a few years ago. One made it out, the other had to turn back when the wind picked up and ice locked up the water. The boat was forced to spend the winter in the north.
"Anything can happen in a boat," Mr. Swanson said before he set sail for the final 1,200 miles. "Especially up here."
Two weeks later, he made it through to Nome, Alaska. The trip had taken about 45 days.
Write to Douglas Belkin at
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