The Northwest Passage – Time to Unwind

The only polar bear I saw in 2019. I hope I can do better in 2022.

I will be attempting a west-to-east transit of the Northwest Passage in the summer of 2022 as crew aboard a French-owned and built Boréal 47 sailboat. This trip begins in Anacortes, ends in Brittany, France, and starts in early May. I previously transited the NW Passage in 2019 from east to west, crewing aboard Breskell, a 50-foot cold-molded sailboat. That trip began in Newfoundland and ended in Port Townsend. So you could say it’s time to unwind.

In 2019, Breskell‘s owner had dreams of transiting the Northwest Passage. They also needed to get the boat from the east coast of North America to their home in Port Townsend, Washington, and the northern route was the shortcut. The NWP was Plan A, the Panama Canal, Plan B. I saw an opportunity of a lifetime and signed on as crew.

In 2022, the Boréal 47’s owner needs to get their boat from Anacortes, Washington, to their home in France. Having met them while I was transiting the NWP aboard Breskell in 2019, they have an affinity for high latitude expeditions. The NWP is Plan A, the Panama Canal, Plan B. I expressed interest in participating, and when other candidates backed out, I stepped in.

Both are large centerboard sailboats, atypical to an American but not for Europeans. I have learned this to be a virtue in northern, shallow, poorly charted waters. Breskell was cold-molded mahogany built by the owner/shipwright in 1985. Inook is an aluminum, modern production boat.

I find it interesting that the Northwest Passage has been Plan A, and the Panama Canal has been Plan B for both boats. I am inclined to take the less popular path, so this suits me. While I have not yet transited the Panama Canal, and its legacy is not lost on me, dread more than excitement comes to mind. I think it’s the high cost and regulation that turn me off.

There is no “event” around this 2022 Northwest Passage attempt, while Breskell did have a “climate change awareness” campaign. In my opinion, that ship has already sailed, pun intended. My observations are that most such promotions are, while sincere, angled to acquire outside sponsorships and financial support. I understand the implications of transiting the Northwest Passage but am uncomfortable disguising personal ambitions with a ’cause’ at this time. Additionally, the boat’s owner doesn’t wish to have the media attention necessary for such a promotion.

Leaving Washington State in May, it is a long way to get to the Bering Strait, the western gate to the Northwest Passage. There is essentially the month of August to transit the Canadian Archipelago if the ice clears at all. With success, this puts our arrival in Europe sometime in September.

There are no guarantees of success or even survival, as usual. There are also personal, weather, geopolitical, and pandemic uncertainties that could impose themselves to change or halt the expedition. However, the boat is proven, and the owner and I already have one transit under our belt, so the planning moves forward. 

Having transited in 2019, I already have much of the gear necessary and knowledge of a few things I wished I had. April will see continued preparation, wrapping up my work, and tidying up Sampaguita. The owner arrives on April 30, and we will prep the boat for launch on May 6, with a need to be in Port Hardy, British Columbia, by May 16.  

I will post updates as our departure approaches with ways to follow Sailing With Josh through the Northwest Passage.

3 Comments on “The Northwest Passage – Time to Unwind

  1. Josh, awesome adventure, I wish u the best, I am just doing a milder explore & sail the BC coast, due to problems Visas & Covid. But I am interested in center or drop keel boats for icy & shallow waters. I am assuming you prep to be frozen in over winter. – Can’t recall. You might want a Zoleo sat device – Fair Winds, Jim S

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