A motley crew of young Russians readying a sturdy but battered motor-sailer for a killer summer cruise. Approaching from west; a tricked out trimaran carrying the world's greatest polar bigwigs. The stage was set for a race leading to a world's first voyage and a joint ExplorersWeb award. One to Peter 1st and the other to Northern Passage -- both for their crossing through the Northeast and Northwest passage in one season.
A storied passage into 2010
The ice-packed Arctic water passages have a colorful exploration history.
The Northwest Passage was first sailed by Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1903-1906, and for good reason: his creditors were on his heels. The Northeast passage was crossed in 1878-79 by Finland-born Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, forced to exile in Sweden by a Russian Tsar.
Already one thousand years earlier Russian settlers and Nordic Vikings had pushed through parts of the route, most driven by trade rather than wanderlust. Whatever the reasons; the passages have lured humans to the edge of the possible and this year was no different.
Skipper Daniel Gavrilov and his crew on Peter 1st knew they were in for a big adventure when they left St. Petersburg in July. All under 26 years old, the bar was set high for their summer cruise: They would sail through both the Northeast and Northwest passage in one season - a world first.
Meanwhile two Norwegians - polar veteran Børge Ousland and sailing veteran Thorleif Thorleifsson were approaching on their Northern Passage - with the exact same idea. In true Polar history tradition; two boats were headed for the double passage and the race around the North Pole was on.
There was a difference between the ships though. The Russians' steel motor-sailer had a pretty hefty engine; while the Norwegians' reinforced trimaran sported a fairly small outboarder.
And there was a difference between the crews: In usual Amundsen fashion Ousland left nothing to chance and had prepared accordingly. With him was not only Thorleif but also on some sections an interchanging crew including no other that Eric Brossier of Vagabond.
The young Russians were sailing north with practically no budget, no high latitude sailing experience, and a boat that was strong but not necessarily in the best shape.
Their disparate choice of routes would become a controversy that runs to this day.
White flag tossed at final run
Shrinking ice, satellite pictures, better weather forecasts, boats and gear have made the passage somewhat easier in the past decade. Most still need the help of ice-breakers though except for Vagabond some years back, first to motor through both passages without breaker or over-wintering. But not even Vagabond had made it in one single summer.
The race ended almost before it began. The Russians ripped sails and got saltwater in their diesel tanks outside Novaya Zemlya. Next, the propeller shaft and rudder took hits and the crew lost control of their yacht amidst all the ice.
But a crane in Pevek and some help from the locals sorted that out. Plus the 31 ft trimaran also had to pull in to Pevek for more fuel. The thick fog and heavy storms punished both racing teams with equal justice.
In fact, the teams had met in several ports along the route and actually helped each other out: the Russians gave the Norwegians wire for repairs, the Norwegians shared ice information and chart details.
Borge Ousland and Thorleif Thorleifsson even offered a white flag: "In Cambridge Bay we proposed to Captain Dan and his crew that we should enter Pond Inlet together," they wrote. But the Russians turned on their engine and "are steaming east some hours ahead of us," the Norwegians hissed.
By the time the Norwegians reached Pond Inlet in Canada, the Russians were already there.
This is the spot where you normally check in to the Northwest Passage, and by many regarded as the starting or finish point. Only the Norwegians had actually come through the Pond Inlet itself instead of around it, as the Russians had, and that's where the controversy stands today.
One arrived first and the other through a different line: Both crews made the milestone though and contributed with their ingenuity and pioneering to the Spirit of Adventure in 2010.
The next challenge? As both Peter 1st and the Northern Passage used motor, there is still one record left to be broken: to actually sail around the North Pole.
Previous Awards in 2010
8. North Pole circumnavigation
Dan Darley and Amelia Russell; North Pole unsupported
Ed Stafford (and Cho); Amazon from source to sea
Valery Rozov; Antarctica BASE jump
Jean-Louis Etienne; North Pole crossing in a rozière balloon.
Special climbs: Denis Urubko's Lhotse, Basque traverse on Broad Peak, Ukraine nMakalu, Ralf and Gerlinde's Everest, Eric Larsen's Everest, Chad Kellogg on Aconcagua.
We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2010. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in 2010.
By their performance, these expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
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