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 Geoff York
Life at 20 degrees … I fell asleep last night to a boat pitching against a head wind – raising me up and then dropping me in my bunk. Luckily for me, I am very good at sleeping! I awoke this morning curled comfortably on the wall of my berth.
The usual morning orientation is a bit more exaggerated when you are under sail and leaning to port a steady 20 degrees, with an occasional 25 degree roll thrown in just to keep you on your toes. Walking up to the salon is more of a chore as everything has shifted and the gear rack, with clothes normally hanging vertically against the wall, has become a maze of coats, shoes, and dangling immersion suits. Each step is taken only after securing the next handhold. We are making a steady 8 knots in 6 to 8 foot seas under blue skies. We pass Provideniya and head out across the Gulf of Anadyr.
The coastline is mountainous and long fjords are becoming common. The hillsides are mostly rock with only light scrub vegetation. I expected more marine activity as we head south, but see no other vessels today. Shore based border guards have contacted us twice in the last 12 hours to verify our identity, much more active monitoring than the earlier part of our trip.
Fulmars keep us company all day as they cruise low along the wave tops and play in the eddy of our sails. The afternoon sun warms the cabin and waves wash across the deck. The sound of the sea is relaxing as I think about the past several days and I am filled with hope.
Despite all of the bad news in the world, despite the looming threats of a rapidly changing climate, this voyage has renewed my sense of hope for the future. Meeting the people of northern Russia reminded me of our common aspirations and goals. We share a universal need for clean air, fresh water, and wild resources from the land and sea. I wonder too if we could communicate directly more often, and not through the lens of our governments, how much better people would understand this commonality? Sharing tea with people in this remote part of the world has renewed my faith in humanity. There is still so much that is good in this world.
The explosion of wildlife in the Chukchi and Bering seas has also buoyed my spirits. Travelling through huge areas of still untamed wild spaces, witnessing that, at least in some parts of the Arctic, wildlife is yet abundant, people still live from the land and sea, and ecosystems appear intact, renews my faith in the resilience of the natural world.
We still have the chance to conserve this unique region, not just in Russia, but across the Arctic, while still meeting the needs of people and developing resources in a precautionary, sustainable manner. Saving the Arctic, such a key regulator of the global environment, we can also help save the landscapes and wildlife in our own back yards. The wild lands, wildlife, clean air, and fresh water that ultimately sustain us all.