North Pole Yacht Race: The Russians makes a first

Posted: Sep 23, 2010 08:47 am EDT

Captain Daniel Gavrilov and his crew aboard Peter 1st was the first yacht to reach the small community of Pond Inlet on the Northern coast of Baffin. Børge Ousland is just behind the Russians. As the boats proceed into Baffin Bay, they have completed the North West Passage and the race around the North Pole.

The last update on his web page Børge Ousland says they are through the North West Passage:

- Today, on the 21st of September, we enter Lancaster Sound and reach the 74th parallel, considered by most as the exit (or entrance) to the Northwest Passage. We are proud of being the first sailing vessel, together with Peter 1st, that ever has sailed through both the Northeast and Northwest Passage in one short Arctic summer. We congratulate Peter 1st with their achievements through the ice.

The position of the Eastern entrance to the North West Passage is disputed. Many regard it as the Eastern entrance to Lancaster Sound, more or less along the 74th parallel. It is however defined by the International Hydrographic Organization as the East coast of Baffin Island to East Bluff, its South Eastern extremity, and thence the Eastern limit of Hudson Strait.

Neither Peter 1st nor Northern Passage has yet reached this point, but it is within their reach in the next couple of days.

Polar tradition is in many cases about being first, e.g. the race between Amundsen and Scott to the South Pole. Amundsen spent 2 winters in Gjoaheaven obtaining knowledge from the Inuits. Few people are aware of the fact that by combining the knowledge obtained in the North West Passage with traditional Norwegian skiing he was able to reach the South Pole before Scott.

Captain Daniel Gavrilov, Elena Solovieva, Nikolai Borisov, Sergei Murzaev, Sergey Smirnov, Alexei Vasiliev, and Vladimir Kostin on board Peter 1st were the first to enter the 74th parallel, and will by many be regarded as the winners of the race. It is however important to note that both teams have completed a tremendous accomplishment.

Never before in history has one boat sailed around the North Pole via the North East and North West Passage in one season. Roald Amundsen became in 1905 the first ever to have sailed through the North West Passage. In 1878 the Finland-Swedish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld made the first complete crossing of the North East Passage.

The Russian crew are now on their way home down Baffin Bay and in to the dark and windfull Atlantic. Ousland will soon reach Pond Inlet where Eric Brossier will step of and a Norwegian multihull sailor will step on board for the final leg back to Norway.

Both Peter 1st and Ousland have made a remarkable effort, and only a few hours did differ the two crews from reaching the 74th parallel. The fight against ice, cold, darkness and wind has been equally hard on both teams.

They have met each other on several occasions, and friendship has grown out of their shared experience.

- We have met Peter 1st in several ports along the route Pevek, Barrow and Cambridge Bay. On each occasion there has been a very good atmosphere between us. We certainly agree that we have become friends on this voyage, and we have tried to help each other whenever we can. They gave us a wire to repair the forestay in Barrow, and in Cambridge Bay and Pevek we shared with them our ice information and chart details, Børge Ousland and Thorleif Thorleifsson write in their latest report, and continues;

- In Cambridge Bay we proposed to Captain Dan and his crew that we should enter Pond Inlet together. We dont know if that will happen, since they apparently have turned on their powerful engine and are steaming east some hours ahead of us. Hopefully we will meet after all

Northern Passage is a very different ship from Peter 1st. Being a 31 feet long trimaran having only a small outboard engine, they have sailed 90 percent of the way. Peter 1st is an 18 meter long steel yacht with good engine capacity. Engine, sails and steel have been the key to both passages in the previous years. And it most likely still is.

No doubt that Ousland and Thorleifsson and their shifting crew has had a more uncomfortable journey, but as usual Ousland gets the job done.

- It is, unfortunately, the dramatic changes in Arctic sea ice conditions in recent years that have made this trip possible. On the time of Roald Amundsen it took five to six years to complete the same distance, due to the extremely difficult and demanding ice conditions. Now we have proven that it is possible to make the voyage in a 31-foot fibreglass sailing boat, equipped with a 10 horsepower outboard motor for emergencies. This shows how dramatic and how fast these changes are happening says Ousland.

According to Senior Scientist Knut Espen Solberg, who has spent many years in the Arctic, it is not only the change in ice regime that makes passages like the one Peter I and Northern Passage has completed possible within one season. Todays infrastructure and technology give vessels new possibilities like downloading reliable weather forecasts, ice charts, fly in crew, refuel diesel and purchase food along the route. It is also important to note that even small pleasure crafts like Peter 1st and Northern Passage have highly improved maneuverability and engine power (relative to the weight of the vessels) compared to the earlier explorers.

The combination of accessibility due to modern technology and a reduction in ice cover will fuel further economic development in the region, representing a risk for the fragile Arctic ecosystems. Knut Espen Solberg also agrees with Ousland that the rapid rate of change in ice regime will force the Arctic ecosystems to go through an adaption process in the near future.

Ousland continues:

- The changes that we are witnessing will influence climate on a global scale, in addition to the whole range of animal life in the Arctic especially seals and polar bears, whose lives are dependent on the sea ice.It is our hope that our voyage will be seen as a strong, visible symbol of the scale and the speed of these changes. It is a huge milestone for us to have completed both passages, and the second phase of the expedition. However, our journey is not over yet; now we will start on the final leg back home to Oslo, to complete our circumnavigation of the Arctic.


Image by Peter 1st courtesy Peter 1st, SOURCE
In true Polar history tradition; two boats were headed for the double passage and the race around the North Pole was on.
Image by Peter 1st courtesy Peter 1st, SOURCE
Polar veteran Børge Ousland (in picture) left nothing to chance, and brought with him sailing veteran Thorleif Thorleifsson.
Image by Borge Ousland courtesy Borge Ousland, SOURCE