In 2012 Jonathan III with Mark as skipper sailed the North-West Passage. Starting from Longyearbyen in May this epic voyage took him and Jonathan III to Iceland – West Greenland – North West Passage (Northern Canada) – Alaska ending in British Colombia in 2013.
This plan has been on the shelf for too long. The North-West passage has been long sought after and in the 1800’s serious attempts were made but almost all ended in misery.
Sailors were still looking for a shorter way to the East. The route goes by way of Cape Farewell the southernmost tip of Greenland, North along it’s West side. Then the actual North-West passage begins, sailing through Canadian waters winding between the many islands. Now the route is known but for those early sailors, they went into this labyrinth without knowing what lay ahead of them, without the knowledge of what sea-ice and winter conditions would be like. All in all the North-West passage itself is 2000 nautical miles long and ends at cape Barrow, where the Bering Strait begins. By then for Jonathan III it will be September and the autumn weather is on its way while we will have to sail south to Alaska.
Since Roald Amundsen was the first to sail through this passage in 1903 - 1905 the ice conditions have changed considerably. Nowadays the ice is less thick and melts away more in the summer. But still negotiating the ice will be our main problem. For in small boat like Jonathan III we hardly have the power to move ice or to break through small barriers, let alone the big ice, we are no match for the forces they generate. The good part is that with modern ice patrol systems and communications we should have an “idea” of where the ice will be. But at the same time that does not help us very much if we are among ice and the fog closes in. Now since we have been sailing Greenland many times before and did our charters in Svalbard for the past 10 years we have a good idea of what ice can be like. And we should say ice and small boats don’t mix, so it will be a great adventure to get out there and see for ourselves what it will be like. To find our own way through waterways where so much history has been written.
Jonathan III started in 2012 at his usual place at Hotelneset, Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, only meters away from the beach where he was pushed into the water by a bulldozer when the winter ice has gone. Below is the story we wrote, before we took of. You can see pictures and a report of the North West Passage in 2012 with Jonathan III in my Blog: blog.jonathanadventuresailing.com
Hopefully by mid May we can leave from Spitsbergen. It is a long way south first to Cape Farewell the southern tip of Greenland. On our way we will try to land on Jan Mayen the island en route to Iceland. Now in 2004 we came very close and saw only the lower part of the Beerenburg mountain. Strom clouds kept the higher parts from view. So hopefully better luck this time with a possible landing on the west coast.
Then on to Iceland now keeping well of the Greenland coast to avoid the ice that will be there so early in the season. We might go round Cape Farewell this time or chose for the inner rout through Prins Christian sund. Two times earlier I sailed through there and since it is so stunning in the narrower parts that might be our way to go.
Up on the west coast towards Nuuk the capital. On this stretch we might have the bigger icebergs but most likely no sea ice. Although with ice you never really know for sure. But from Nuuk on things will be different, following the coast all the way north almost as far as Thule, but more likely we will get as far as Melville Bay and Cape York. Passing and visiting the great glaciers along this stretch, where all the big icebergs are born.
Mid to late July will be the time to cross Baffin Bay and get into the North-West passage. Now it all depends on the ice conditions. Some years the ice thaws late and wind and currents will move it around a lot. Then our progress will be slow and cumbersome. With probably more grey hairs for the crew. For negotiating leads in the ice might be tempting but tricky too. Here in Spitsbergen we have our “ice” years but it seems that it is all more severe there. And again wind and currents might take the ice and move it at will. We will surely try to go to Gjoa harbour where Amundsen wintered 2 winters in a row. They say he stayed the second winter because he wanted to learn of the Inuit ways of travelling, dogsledding etc. The skills that made him the first man on the South Pole in 1911.
In this area are some of the narrower passages and also quite shallow in places. Exciting navigation and we will then be with a crew of 4. So that we can keep on going when the going is good. When we get into Amundsen Gulf the navigation might be easier. By then we will probably be counting the nautical miles to Cape Barrow the end of the NW passage. By no means will we be done with it for there are still 1200 nm to go Anchorage in Alaska. Stormy headwinds will be more than likely on this part. It will make our arrival one to remember.
Leg I: Sailing from Longyearbyen to Iceland by way of Jan Mayen. We might stop at an anchorage in Isfjord before we head out to sea, for the long leg to Jan Mayen. This trip is mainly the crossing of the Greenland Sea so if you like to make lots of miles this is the way to go. We will try to stop in Jan Mayen and spent some days there. The anchorages around the island are not very protected to say the least so a landing might be a challenge by itself. Then on to the fjord system on the north western tip of Iceland, if time allows us we might spent some time there and do some hikes before heading on to Reykjavik.
Leg II: On this leg we will have to get around the southern tip of Greenland. It will depend very much on ice and weather conditions if we will take the inner or outer route. So through one of the most impressive fjords I have ever seen or around Cape Farewell. Notorious for its bad weather and seas. There might be sea ice and very likely this is where we will see our first icebergs. The current runs south along the east coast of Greenland and then comes around Cape Farewell and up the west coast. The icebergs get trapped in the current and follow it all the way north. So very likely we will have to navigate with great care on the last days towards Nuuk the capital of Greenland.
Leg III: From Nuuk to Ilullisat is around 500 nm so not any great distance and we plan to go into some of the fjords to see the great glaciers where all the iceberg are born. This trip is more to enjoy the scenery, hiking etc. Visit some villages on the way. If you want to take great photos of icebergs and be impressed by enormous glacier fronts then this will be the trip for you.
Leg IV: This last part of this leg is actually the start of the North-West Passage. But most likely that right from the start in Ilullisat we will have to deal with ice until getting to Pond Inlet. Icebergs or sea ice, we will have to be alert all the time. The route follows the Greenland coast up as far as Cape York and Melville Bay. For usually there is ice to the west. So we need to go north until we get over the “top” of the ice before we can start heading west. This area has been called the North Water next to its official name Baffin Bay. The North Water was the place where the whalers needed to get too to start hunting for the rest of Davis Strait would still be full of ice early season.
Leg V: From Pond inlet it will be the most difficult part of the passage, by way of Gjøa to Cambridge Bay. Things are very different from one season to another. So we might have an easy passage or it might be cumbersome. This is the stretch were the Franklin expeditions ended in misery but luckily for us that is a long time ago when ice conditions were much harder than nowadays. The sailing will be challenging for most likely the compass will be worthless on this trip since we are so close to the magnetic pole. There will be ice in the area so we will have to maintain a constant lookout. We will surely stop at Gjøa harbour the place where Ronald Amundsen wintered when he was the first to successfully sail the North West Passage.
Leg VI: From Cambridge Bay, first we will have to negotiate another difficult stretch. Ice and shallows in a relative narrow area will be the challenge at first. Slowly the compass will get a sense of direction again. In general the charts of the North West Passage are not the best so we will have to navigate with care. Once in Amundsen Gulf we are in for some serious sailing towards Point Barrow. Technically the end of the North West Passage.
Leg VII: Since by now we are in September we might meet some low pressure systems coming up the Bering Strait. The good news is that there are some harbours on the Alaskan coast where we can find shelter and get to see some of the area and meet the Inuït living here. This leg is one for the sailor that does not mind a bit of wind and maybe some ice at first.