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an arctic sailing expedition

[Description de l'expédition].

Since the discovery of the New World, the fabled Northwest Passage had been an elusive dream for explorers and mariners alike. Throughout the grand age of exploration, it remained the ocean's one unattainable prize, luring young men who were seeking wealth and fame to sail north in search of this frozen passage. Wealthy patrons poured their fortunes into the quest but the only thing they gained was their name on a distant, frozen spot on the map, which few would ever see. Instead, the potential Arctic shortcut from Europe to Asia became an icy graveyard for the hundreds of sailors who, helplessly trapped in the shifting sea ice, died miserable deaths from starvation, scurvy and the bitter cold.  Their wooden sailing ships were crushed in the ice and many sank without leaving any clues to the suffering of their men.

In 1906, Roald Amundsen became the first man to sail through the passage. This “shortcut” took him over three years to complete.  Despite his success, the ice-choked passage never became the commercial shipping route that early explorers hoped for, and few men could boast of sailing its entire length.

Until now.

Climate change is causing temperatures in the Arctic to rise twice as fast as elsewhere on the globe. The sea ice has melted so rapidly that the Northwest Passage has been open water during the past two summers. The warming climate is forcing Arctic communities and wildlife to adjust their lifestyles to survive.

To explore these dramatic changes taking place the 40-foot sailing yacht Silent Sound embarked on a voyage that five years ago was nearly impossible for amateur sailors. In the summer of 2009, with only four crew and a yacht just over half as long as Amundsen’s ship, we sailed through the Northwest Passage from west to east. The goal of this expedition was to use written word, video and photos to tell the story of how climate change is affecting Arctic communities.

This voyage of modern-day adventure and discovery took place on the Silent Sound, a 40-foot cutter-rig sloop. She has since been sold and now lives on Canada's East Coast.

This voyage thrust the crew into raging Arctic storms and past hulking icebergs. We were forced to put our lives in each other’s hands as Silent Sound sailed through this little explored land.

The team visited the scattered Inuit settlements that call the Arctic home, and talked to their hunters, their leaders and their young people. We asked them how warmer temperatures were changing their lives and heard their story of being thrust into international controversies over sovereignty, energy and environmental and wildlife conservation.

This map shows the Silent Sound’s planned route through the Northwest Passage. The voyage will begin in Victoria, British Columbia and end in Halifax, Nova Scotia

This voyage of about 8,000 nautical miles (1.852km or 1.151 miles) took four months and four days, from June 6 to October 10, allowing time to explore the communities along the way. However, the heart of the journey was the 4,500nm Northwest Passage itself  – measured from the Bering Strait to the northern edge of the Labrador Sea. Here we motored more miles than sailed because when the ice offered us open water we could not afford to wait for wind given our goal of completing the passage in one season. Only 35 private sailing boats had completed the passage when we set off. In 2009 a total of nine yachts made it through, a record high number.

These maps of the Arctic show the disappearance of sea ice between 1987 and 2007. The maps are orientated
with North on the right side. The top left map shows the ice in March, 1987, at the end of the winter season,
with the map on the right showing ice conditions in September, after the summer thaw. The middle two maps
show the same seasonal changes in 1997, with the bottom two maps illustrating the drastic loss of sea ice by
2007. The Northwest Passage was entirely free of ice in September 2007.

© Open Passage Expedition 2009 >> Site designed by Troy Dunkley