Alaska-Greenland: Northwest passage crossed by sail!

Posted: Sep 12, 2007 01:34 am EDT

( - story edited 5.29 pm Sep 11) It took Sebastien Roubinet one year to build <i>Babouche</i> - a 7,5 m ice catamaran designed to sail on water and slide over ice. Sunday, the vessel made Sebastien's dream come true.

The adventurer and his friends connected the Pacific to the Atlantic by the north of Canada; claiming the first Northwest Passage made without engine in one season. <cutoff>

<b>Gamble won!</b>

"Hundred years ago, Amundsen crossed the North-American archipelago from the East to the West and became thus the first person to carry out the passage of this way. Now, Sébastien will try become the first person to carry out this passage only by sail," read the expedition project description.

Sunday - the triumphant dispatch: "GAMBLE WON, CHALLENGE SUCCEDED, DREAM REALIZED... for Babouche, Sebastien, Anne-Lise, Eric and Boris!!!! Babouche reached Greenland!"

<b>Hard wind and sea</b>

The passage took 3 months and 21 days, and spanned 4500 miles. As the ice melts (partially) only two months of the year, August and September, Babouche was in a hurry to get through.

The crew took turns, with Seb and Boris nailing the long, final leg. The team lost the mast at one point, had no heat - and used only sun and wind power for progress.

Soaked and tired, they fought hard conditions during the crossing of the Baffin Sea. North-east winds prevented a direct route to Greenland and leaving Devon Island, the guys battled 20 knot winds and a very hard sea.

<b>Thin ice</b>

There were icebergs and lots of thin ice, (2-3 cm) - not enough to sail on; but just enough to slow the speed when pushing the ice sheets. The stays froze, and so did the crew - shivering through their night watches on a deck turning white.

At one point, Seb and Boris anchored Babouche in a bay to escape a negative drift. As they walked on the glaciers, they met two polar bears which they managed to scare off with flares and screams.

<b>A very challenging - and honest adventure</b>

The whole idea of the expedition was to go gently and green - which the crew proved in point - with an added giant dose of courage and innovation.

"The Northwest Passage may become an extremely important geostrategic maritime route," the crew state on their expedition website.

"Scientists predict that, due to global warming, a large portion of ice will melt, thereby leading to the opening of this route, which will facilitate commerce between America and Europe as well as Europe and Asia."

"I have been following this trip with real admiration," Chris Bray (1000HourDay expedition) told ExWeb. "I have a lot of respect for this trip, and their attitude/approach. It was a very human, refreshing, honest adventure."

(Ed note: In 1986-1988, Canadians Jeff MacInnis and Mike Beedell made it through the Canadian part in a 3 stage trip spanning 3 summers. Wearing diving suits, the two explorers rode a custom 18 foot Hobie catamaran on a 2,500 mile passage from Inuvik in the Northwest Territories to Pond Inlet on Baffin Island.)

<i>The 2006 leg took the expedition from Montreal to Québec in the South of James bay. In 2007, the sail went from Vancouver to Anchorage (Alaska) in June, and continued June-July through Alaska to Bering Strait. August, the journey went through Cape Barrow (Canada), the North-West territories, and then to Hecla (Nunavut) in September.

The prototype craft is half sailboat, half ice yacht with insubmersible, shock-resistant full hulls that are kevlar covered and carbon reinforced. Center board and rudder are retractable. The body is lightweight, made of polystyrene Kevlar sandwich and carbon PVC foam. To achieve a simple but strong rigging - a carbon wing mast was chosen.


7,50 m X 5 m
Draught: 1 m to 20 cm
Air space: 12,50 m


Weight when empty: 500 kg
Weight when full: 1 tonne
Sail area: 55 m2 or 120 m2 (Large sail, Solent, Gennaker)

In ice sailboat mode:

Rippled bow to mount on the ice
Retractable rudder blades
2 skis mounted underneath the floaters
2 skates mounted under the rudder blades

Expedition leader <b>Sébastien Roubinet</b> is the designer, architect and builder of Babouche. Second Captain on TARA V Expedition to Greenland in 2004; Sebastien has many years of extreme yachting experience including a 2002 rescue of Yvan Bourgnon's trimaran REXONA.

Anne-Lise Vacher-Morazzani was in charge of construction of Babouche, and crew member in 2006 and 2007. Eric André
was also crew member in 2007 for parts of the ice. Navigator Clément Giraud was crew member in 2006. Yvan Bourgnon was Project sponsor and Pierre Lasnier provided the weather.

<b>The Northwest Passage</b>

This is how the team describes the passage:

"The Northwest Passage is a sea route in the North of Canada which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This passage is interesting because it represents a short-cut to navigators: instead of having to bypass the American Continent by the South (Cape Horn) or use the Panama Canal, navigators can use this passage."

"It is an interesting passage, but hard to use in that it is covered by ice for 10 months of the year. There is about a 2 month window for the passage of a sailing vessel."

And here goes some history:

- The first to navigate these waters were the Inuits...

- In 1490, Jean Cabot hypothesized that the North-West passage led directly to the Orient.

- Since the 16th Century, Europeans have made several attempts to explore the Northwest Passage in order to develop a maritime passage that would facilitate trade with Asia. The Arctic becomes an obstacle. These expeditions continue for over 300 years.

- 100 years ago, Amundsen became the first to navigate the Northwest Passage, from 1903 to 1906, on Gjöa.

- Since then, about 25 sailboats have successfully completed the passage, the most recent being: «Vagabond», in 2003 from the East to the West; «Nuage», in 2001/2002...</i>

#Oceans #feature

Anchoring to escape negative drift (click to enlarge).
Icebergs and thin ice prevent sleep (click to enlarge).
Feezing night watch, waiting for 10C day temps to warm him up. (Click to enlarge).
Amundsen was the first to cross the North-American archipelago from the East to the West. This year the passage was repeated by a catamaran.
"On your right!" (click to enlarge).
More icebergs (click to enlarge).
Amundsen was the first to cross the North-American archipelago from the East to the West. (Click to enlarge).
These guys repeated it by sail (click to enlarge).
It took Sebastien one year to build Babouche. (Click to enlarge).
Greenland! Sunday, the vessel made Sebastien's dream come true. All images courtesy of the expedition website. (Click to enlarge).
Route map courtesy of expedition (click to enlarge).

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