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Northeast Passage: First report from Neil Hamilton

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This summer, WWF is helping support two expeditions that will take on some of the world’s most difficult waters, to see first-hand the effects of Arctic climate change. One expedition is sailing across the top of Russia, a journey of 6000 nautical miles through the Northeast Passage, while another is attempting a west to east transit of the Northwest Passage, also by sailing boat, a journey of about 7,000 nautical miles.

Tom Arnbom of Sweden was on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage, as was WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton for much of the trip, replaced near the end by WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. On the ‘Silent Sound’ Cameron Dueck of the Open Passage Expedition is filing regular stories from the Northwest passage. Come back for photos and stories throughout the summer, and follow the progress of the boats as they follow in the wake of some of history’s most intrepid explorers.

By Neil Hamilton

The adventure has begun!


My flight from Oslo was cancelled, but eventually I arrived in Kirkenes, one of the biggest fishing ports in the Barents Sea.  Perhaps 40 Russian trawlers were tied up at the wharf, together with the Nordlys, the famous Hurtigruten ship that travels along the coast of Norway.  The weather is warm (about 15 oC), grey and overcast with rain showers.

It is wonderful to meet up with Ola, Anders and Hannibal again after a couple of months since our shakedown cruise to St Petersburg. Explorer of Sweden is berthed alongside a fishing boat in a quiet part of the harbour, the crew having a well earned rest after sailing from Sweden via Olso and then circumnavigating Svalbard. Ola and Hannibal’s families have come to spent a few days with them before we leave on the expedition.  Minor repairs and adjustments have been made, and lots and lots of shopping: 3 months worth of food, water, and  other supplies are now on board.  The boat is pretty crowded!

In preparation for the expedition I have been watching the ice charts every day for the North East Passage for the past couple of months and we are now pretty sure that this year is going to be almost as bad, or perhaps even worse, than 2007, the year all the records were broken.  The Kara Sea is already clear of ice, as is much of the Laptev Sea.  The two ‘pinch points’, the Kara Gate south of Novaya Zemlya and Cape Chelyuskin north of the Taimyr peninsula, are almost free – and it is still July.   This makes me feel torn between the tragedy of the loss of the ice and all that this implies, and the anticipation of being able to ‘do the impossible’: sail through the legendary North East Passage.

So now it’s just a matter of settling in to my (very narrow) bunk, unpack my gear, and work out how to get all the communications and film gear working. We hope to be able to send regular updates (blogs, pictures, and video), plus keeping the Twitter channel buzzing with news throughout the voyage.

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