The North West Passage

The North West Passage.

I am not going to try and even summarise the background and history to the North West Passage, 100's of books have been written recounting the origins and search for this famed “Route to the Orient”.

Anyone that wants to know more can start by looking on the NWP page on Wikipedia and follow this up by reading one of the many excellent books written over the last 150 years or more.

For the Brits, Fergus Fleming's “Barrow's Boys” has some great background to the British attempts in the early days of exploration.

Roald Amundsen's accounts of the first successful transit of the passage on Gjoa between 1903 and 1906 is a great read and the various accounts of the exploits of the Orkneyman, Dr John Rae tell an incredible tale.

There are a number of websites and blogs from boats that have been through and Doug Pohl puts together a NWP Blogspot each year that is a mine of information as well as tracking the boats that attempt the passage each year.

For us on board Novara, the trip will be seen in 3 distinct parts, each around 2,500nm. The first is the passage against the prevailing current and ice flow down the coasts of Labrador and Baffin Island. This cold, south going current ensures that these coasts stay ice bound well into summer and also brings down millions of tons of sea ice and huge ice bergs that have calved from Greenland's massive glaciers. Dodging these will be something of a priority!

Very few boats take this route but the chance to climb on Baffin island is an opportunity too good to miss. If we are unable to get onto the coast of Baffin island this early in the year then we will have no option but to head east across to the more open waters along Greenland's west coast

The second section is the NWP proper. There is not one passage but in fact 7 recognised alternatives and as one of these cuts through the far north of Hudson Bay, there are only 6 are options for Novara. Our goal will be to try and find a route through the sea ice as weather, wind and currents move the ice about hour by hour. Our preference will be to follow the same route taken by Amundsen and his crew on the Gjoa butice wind and weather will have the last say.

The third section could possibly be the most challenging, a long hard slog through the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering Seas and into the notorious Gulf of Alaska as autumn rapidly approaches.