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post #4 of Old 02-05-2008
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I've thought about it as well, and agree that if current trends continue it's much more feasible as a small boat passage than before. But it's not for the faint hearted. I've sailed three times in the Arctic (on the second trip we cross 80N in a Beneteau 345 ). I have known well and sailed with people who've been there many, many times. I think the people who keep going back time and time again are just a little nuts (nice nuts, but nuts nonetheless). I've found the Arctic to be psychologically very challenging. In a way it seems to draw you in -- something about it makes you want to go there -- but once there, all I could think about was how and when we were getting out. I didn't like going to sleep every night inches from death.

With any imagination at all you soon realize that the place could kill you fast. Fall overboard and you have very little time to get back aboard -- you lose muscle function in minutes. Ice can crush almost anything in its path -- a wind change and pack ice can pin a boat against a coast line or trap you in a bay for days or even weeks. Ice can break props and bend rudders pretty easily. In many, perhaps most, places in the high Arctic and certainly along the NWP, there aren't many resources to turn for help if you get into trouble. High latitude sailing is the ultimate test in self-sufficiency and it occurs in an environment where the margin for error is greatly reduced. It takes very special people to attempt something like the NW passage. I'm not sure I'm in that group -- as I told the skipper on of my trips north as he was trying to convince us to attempt a circumnavigation of Spitzbergen, "I want to play with my grandchildren someday."

It would take a large bank account to fund such a trip. You'd need a very strong (probably metal) boat in top condition, a competent experienced crew (not just good sailors, but Arctic sailors experienced in navigating in ice), lots of gear for the boat and the people, four or more months to stage and execute the sail plan, and a lot of luck with the weather and ice conditions. You'd have to be winning to lose the boat -- insurance would be either unavailable or very expensive. You'd have to have a way to get the crew out if you got stuck along the way and the weather window closed.... the list goes on.

All of that said, I've often thought that a sailboat race from St. Johns to Dutch Harbor would make a great reality TV show -- something along the lines of "Deadliest Catch". If anybody knows a TV producer with deep pockets, let me know -- I can find at least some of the racers.

I also know a guy (one of the nuts I mentioned) who's looking for crew for this summer -- UK to Greenland and (hopefully) back. He's a world class 100,000 miles offshore sailor and he's been there many times. Last time he was there he was wintering over and lost his boat. Any takers?
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