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Northeast Passage: Explorer of Sweden – a very special boat

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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

As we cruise across the very tranquil Kara Sea (which is not always so!) towards the township of Dickson at the mouth of the great Yenesei river, I have time to reflect on the extraordinary boat we are sailing.

‘Explorer of Sweden’ was built in the mid 1990s by a Swedish master craftsman, Alve Hendriksson, as a vessel able to undertake research in remote areas, include the poles.  It is a unique design resulting from many years experience and is perfectly suited to expedition cruising such as this expedition.  In her original guise, as ‘Searcher’, the boat went to the  Seychelles (reef research), Henderson Island in the south Pacific (bird research), and then the recreation of the Shackleton expedition to Antartica with Ola Skinnarmo.

‘Explorer’ is a very sturdy 19m yacht built of high tensile steel, with closely spaced ribs to provide strength against the ice, watertight compartments, and numerous safety systems.  It has a large engine to supplement the sails, and sleeps 10 people. All the sails are hydraulically furled, and as the wheelhouse is fully enclosed for bad (and cold) weather sailing the yacht can be sailed without ever having to go outside. ‘Explorer’ can be self supporting for very long periods, via big fuel tanks, fresh water generator, multiple power systems (generator, wind, solar panels, etc), and lots of storage for supplies.  You even have a choice of bathroom: one inside, and for those balmy arctic days, a hot freshwater shower on the aft deck.  Bliss!

There are more electronics aboard than Apollo 11 could ever dream about: satellite navigation (2),digital charts,  radar, AIS, depth sounder, 2 different broadband satellite communications systems, a ‘movie theatre’ in the saloon, and a sound system you can direct towards different parts of the boat. Add to these the laptops, printers, video and still cameras (so many we have a problem storing the Pelicases!), handheld GPS, iPods, sat phones and other gizmos of the crew.

Safety is paramount on a boat like this, so beyond its very safe design ‘Explorer’ has all the gear: life raft, survival suits, multiple fire fighting systems,  emergency beacons, and so on.  Nice to know as we head into the ice next week.

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