This monumental change in the earth's heating system now allows vessels to travel the fabled Northwest Passage, which until recently was impassable to all but ice-breakers. But not anymore! Two days ago the sailboat Belzebub II completed the trip:
August 29, 2012
‘A Passage Through Ice’ Sailing Expedition has just completed the crossing of the infamous M’Clure strait in the Canadian Arctic to become the first sailboat ever to achieve this feat. The international expedition team consisting of Edvin Buregren, Nicolas Peissel and Morgan Peissel have spent the last three months at sea on a 31 foot boat sailing from Newfoundland Canada to Greenland, through the Canadian Arctic to track the depleting polar ice cap and bring awareness to climate change.
“The Arctic is melting at an alarming rate and is clear proof of our disharmony with the planet. By sailing this newly opened route we hope that our expedition will play a small part in bringing further attention to climate change and contributing to a larger shift in attitudes. Our approach to sail across a historical stretch of water that has traditionally been frozen is meant to be a clear visual example of the extent of declining polar ice.”
We will continue to track the polar ice cap towards the Bering strait where we will head into the Pacific Ocean to complete the most Northern Northwest passage ever accomplished by a sailboat.
Their boat, the Belzebub II, followed the northernmost route on the map below, traveling west from Baffin Bay to the Beaufort Sea through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Theirs is the first sailboat to ever take this route.
They had some rough moments:
A watery M'Clure Strait doesn't mean the Belzebub II had an easy time of it. The Parry Channel, a long waterway leading to the M'Clure, was iced over, forcing the crew to zigzag between ice floes until a channel opened up.The M'Clure Strait itself (the westernmost part of their Northwest Passage route) was still icy, though not totally blocked:
The boat navigated through 55-kilometre-an-hour winds and waves that crested at four metres. And those waves, Peissel said, were packed with sharp pieces of ice.
They sailed a narrow passage along Banks Island, rock on one side, sea ice on the other. At any time the ice could surround and trap them, as it did to the strait's namesake, Robert McClure, in the 1850s.But they made it. Another first.
And there was no retreat. As the crew passed the narrow passage, the ice was sealing up behind them. Had the ice trapped the boat, the crew would have had to find a safe spot to anchor and hike to the nearest hamlet -- 500 km away.
At worst, they would have to live inside the ship for the next eight months.
One hopes the crew's courageous effort will draw more attention to the rapidly diminishing Arctic ice cap and the consequent threat this poses to our climate. Researchers like Rutgers' Jennifer Francis have elucidated a link between declining Arctic ice and the increasing occurrence of persistent, anomalous weather events in temperate zones, such as heat waves and droughts.
See the Passage Through the Ice site for amazing photos of the trip and more.