Maurice Uguen navigating the iceberg filled waters: The golden rule is preparation. (click to enlarge)
Maurice and French team at Everest Base camp(click to enlarge)
OHiggings base, Antarctica (click to enlarge)
On board MIR station astronaut training in Russia. Images courtesy of Maurice Uguen (click to enlarge)
ExWeb interview with Maurice Uguen, The greatest danger in the Northwest Passage is in the Human and his limitations

Posted: Oct 12, 2009 02:19 pm EDT
(TheOceans.net; photos updated 10h35) During the past Northwest Passage season Maurice Uguen routed his fellow Frenchman, Philippe Poupon (also known as Philou) through the Passage.

Maurice has a wealth of sailing and navigation experience, as this was his passion for most of his life. He spoke to ExWebs Correne Coetzer about routing Fleur Australe through the NW Passage, the dangers, the differences between now and thirty years ago, and his new projects.

ExplorersWeb: What information did you send through to Philippe Poupon when routing him?

Maurice: Ice information observed by satellites and weather on his area for the day and forecast to next 48 hours.

ExplorersWeb: Where did you get your information?

Maurice: Online information service on NOAA and Canadian Ice Service on Internet websites.

ExplorersWeb: When you looked at the ice and weather data, what did you read/analyze/predict?

Maurice: From all of this information (weather and ice) from NOAA & Canadian Ice Services, I predicted the speed of travel of Fleur Australe and weather forecasts.

I processed all of it in a computer model (special navigation software) that seemed to be very close to the real conditions. But my previous experience of navigating several times in these areas was very useful.

ExplorersWeb: How regular is the ice data updated on the Internet?

Maurice: The Canadians give very precise information every 24 hours. The only problem was the passage of East of King William Island to Gjoa Haven; the ice information and observations began the week after the passage of Fleur Australe Philou was too fast!!!

ExplorersWeb: How many times per day were you in contact with Philou?

Maurice: Very variable depending on conditions, but usually twice a day in the morning and evening as new information came in. I prepared a bulletin and a short chart (75Ko) in two parts with analysis and forecasts at the end. Philou then decided on his route.

ExplorersWeb: What was the time difference between the two of you? Did you work at night?

Maurice: I do not sleep so much the night; I have this opportunity as many sailors. But the time difference has never been a problem with Philou (+3 to +8)

ExplorersWeb: How does technology en techniques differ today from thirty years ago?

Maurice: I remember when I was young!!!!! With Willy de Roos [30 years ago] we were in contact by Ham radio twice a day. It was very difficult communication. Often very noisy but we talked every day.

Today we send an email or we talk by satellite phone. You can get hold of each other anywhere. Philou phoned me on my cell phone while I was at a wedding of a friend in a British cathedral!

Thirty years ago there was no observation satellite. It was the time of the Ice Patrol. Information came via radio amateurs located in bases such as Resolute or pilots flying over the ice or radio operators on Canadian icebreakers.

ExplorersWeb: What strategies were important in the Northwest Passage this year?

Maurice: The strategy? Yes early August is important but we have seen this year in mid-September ice in the passage, which is indeed the biggest problem. Year after year the ice disappears, although 2009 has been much harder than in 2007 and 2008.

ExplorersWeb: Could you explain about the different qualities of the ice please? How do you read them? Which ice spells danger and which is safe enough to sail through?

See details on the Internet. Check here for NOAA and Canadian Ice Service explanations.

ExplorersWeb: Fleur Australe was not trapped in the ice in Resolute Bay, but other boats that were there the same time was. Why did Philou escape?

Maurice: Philippe Poupon is certainly one of the best sailors in the world. He was born feet in the water in Brittany (Western France; like me) and has spent his life on sailing boats. During a race around the world he was second after Eric Tabarly on his boat Pen Duick. Eric said in his movie about his life, Philou knows everything on his boat. He will become number one.

It is part of the answer, but the news from Resolute Bay was that it was a very open bay and that it would fill with ice. Philou knew everything about that with my forecast charts. He had to choose the right timing!

I had experienced the same thing in this bay a long time ago. When he saw the ice coming in he immediately realized he had to leave very quickly. It's always good sailor, an eye and an ear for the boat ... sometimes a hand, even while you sleep.

ExplorersWeb: What do you see as the main danger in the Northwest Passage?

Maurice: The greatest danger is in the Human, and his limitations. I'd say the main problem is first to go in these high latitudes, and the major difficulty of the passage is the part East of King William to Gjoa Haven, then Shallow bay to Cambridge. The golden rule is preparation.

ExplorersWeb: What advice can you give sailors who want to transit the Northwest Passage?

Maurice: Again and againthe golden rule is preparing the sailor and the boat.

ExplorersWeb: Where does your interest in sailing come from and when did you start sailing?

Maurice: I was born in Brittany, in western France, in the north, and Philou in the south. In this country maritime tradition exists in all families; brothers, cousins, husbands are serving in the navy or commercial. The most successful sailors in France are found in this region. They compete in Races around the World or Olympic games. As for me, I always knew the sea, even if I were away for a long periods in the Himalayas with Everest, Dhaulagiri, Cho Oyo or Makalu valley, etc.

ExplorersWeb: You have been sailing for many years, but tell us about some of your highlights please.

Maurice: I went to Patagonia and Cape Horn very often. I have a planned one and a half month adventure in a Zodiac from Punta Arenas to Cape Horn with two weeks camping at Lighthouse and back to Puerto William. This will be a good experience similar to the native Alakaluf or Yamana people, extreme and wet.

ExplorersWeb: Tell us about your boat Captain Hatteras please.

Maurice: Captain Hatteras, is named after the hero of Jules Verne. It is a 60-foot aluminium boat full built to navigate the ice and to be a television and radio studio in order to give live lectures to young French kids. The course is to leave Paris in 2011, sail through the Northwest Passage, and reach Korea, to be exhibited at the Yoesu Expo 2012.

ExplorersWeb: What is your current project?

Maurice: My current project is to build this 60-foot sailboat. I am currently working with a foundation for the education of schoolchildren with the theme of global warming, "Mission Hatteras".

I also continue to write stories and novels. My latest novel is De lautre coté du Drake" (Harmattan editor Paris. See here). It is about places and people from Chile and Patagonia that I know very well.

I also often travel to Korea to meet with organizers of Yoesu 2012.

Frenchman sailor Maurice Uguen was born in 1948 in Brest, Brittany, and is living in Paris and Brittany. When he has time he plays guitar and spends time with the friends around the world by Ham radio!

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