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 Cameron Dueck
Silent Sound completed her epic voyage through the Canadian Arctic on October 10, four months and four days after slipping her moorings in Victoria, BC. It was a cold day with pouring rain when she pulled into Halifax Harbour, but there was still a crowd of family and friends waiting to welcome us ashore, reminding us of the community that has formed around the Open Passage Expedition.
We sailed 8,100 nautical miles, or about 15,000km, and spent two of our four months above the Arctic Circle. We spent on average more than four days a week at sea throughout the entire summer. We ran into ice, storms and days without wind that left us frustrated and behind schedule. But numbers and facts and logbook entries will never be able to tell the real story of this voyage of discovery.
Sailing through the Northwest Passage without assistance was our primary goal. Ice, bad weather and a lack of support in this remote part of the world made it challenging, but we succeeded. Our secondary goal was to learn more about the people that live in the Arctic, and tell their story of how climate change is impacting their lives. We have succeeded in that too, telling the story in this blog as well as other websites and newspapers throughout the summer.
We only had one summer in the Arctic, so we couldn’t see the change happening ourselves or become experts in arctic issues. But we met many people with the knowledge we lacked and we learned from them. Many people opened the doors to their lives so we could learn more about how their world is changing.
And what they said taught us that there are real, significant changes taking place in their lives because of climate change. Changes that threaten their ways of hunting, their culture and their food supply.
This summer brought a third straight year of rapid melting, putting the sea ice coverage at well below the 30-year average. We saw only the remnants of the sea ice that normally covers the water, but this ice is core to the lives of the people who call the Arctic home, and it is hard to overemphasise the impact of its melting.
That said, any amount of ice is frightening when you are at the helm of a small yacht, and although more yachts may follow, this remains one of the most challenging sailing routes on the globe.
Our journey also gave us a real look at life in the Arctic, and in many cases that shattered our romantic notions and stereotypes. This is a region struggling to bridge a cultural gap and keep up with the changes around it. Seeing their lives from afar and making judgements on how they hunt, socialise and operate their communities will not help solve their problems, climate change related or not. Understanding the Arctic and the Inuit is something we can never claim to have done in a summer, but we saw enough to know that we need to learn more.