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Northeast Passage: Ice and rain

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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

Since about 6am we have been negotiating increasingly present drifting fragments of sea ice with a recent snow cover of about 20cm.  The ice has all the forms of the last stages of melt but makes navigation difficult.  Ola then Hannibal then Per Magnus take turns standing on the middle cross trees of the mast, about 15m above the deck, to see as far as possible and find a path to open water.

The sea is totally calm like a pond, which is normal when there is ice around as it dampens the waves.  The wind has dropped right off, too.  We had hoped for a south easterly to blow the ice away from the coast but it doesn’t seem to have eventuated.  Visibility in the early morning is stunning: at least 10 nautical miles, but then the rain comes and drops it to less than a mile.

We have been trying to get to the coast at Cape Vega, named after the vessel of Nordenskjold when he did the first transit of the Northeast Passage.  He was stopped by ice in the Laptev sea and was forced to overwinter before he could continue.  Our luck seems different however: Cape Vega is firmly protected by land-fast ice, so we cannot reach it, but the Laptev Sea has been ice free for some weeks.

Anders navigates skillfully around ice floes small and large and heads back out to the north west away from the heavy ice. We can cruise quite comfortably at 7 to 8 knots using the motor so the ice is not slowing us down at all.  If we are lucky we will reach the Vilkitsky Strait in a few hours and then be around Cape Chelyuskin shortly afterwards.  If we are not, and find more drifting ice preventing our forward passage, it will take another day or two to be in the clear.

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