September 4, 2013

The Northwest Passage in 2013

The two Arctic voyages we've been following closely this summer have both come to a premature conclusion. Discussions about that have spawned a debate about how much ice there actually is in the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago this year, and whether the passage is or will be navigable this year without the assistance of an icebreaker. The main route through the Parry Channel and McClure Strait certainly looks as though it will remain impassable, but what of the southern route? A few days ago I found myself engaged in a heated discussion on Facebook (now sadly consigned to the great memory hole in the sky) with someone who insisted there was lots of ice in Dease Strait because RadarSat showed it to be there! To start with today, here's how the AMSR2 sensor sees things from space at the moment, courtesy of the University of Hamburg:

Sea ice concentration in the Northwest Passage on September 4th 2013

Sea ice concentration in the Northwest Passage on September 4th 2013, according to AMSR2

The reality is that Dease Strait is still ice free. The rowers of the Arctic Joule heading from west to east made it past the sea ice at Cape Bathurst unaided. Having  subsequently made it through Dease Strait without noticing lots of ice they have now decided to finish their journey in the safe haven of Cambridge Bay without continuing on to brave the tricky currents of Bellot Strait. Moving on to vessels equipped with sails and engines, travelling from east to west the catamaran Libellule and the steel hulled Traversay III made it through some ice at the western entrance to Bellot Strait a few days ago, albeit with a modicum of assistance from the CCGS Henry Larsen. Both have now made it unaided past Cape Bathurst travelling west, and safely reached Tuktoyaktuk.

Will anyone cover the entire Northwest Passage unaided this year? Well, there is at least one candidate still. David Scott Cowper in Polar Bound does have considerable experience in these matters. Last year he succeeded in navigating Polar Bound through McClure Strait!  This year he negotiated Cape Bathurst travelling west to east on August 25th, accompanied by Jane Maufe rather than solo:

Recent track of Polar Bound on August 25th 2013

Recent track of Polar Bound on August 25th 2013

and has now passed through Bellot Strait:

Recent track of Polar Bound on September 4th 2013

Recent track of Polar Bound on September 4th 2013

At this juncture, however, it is still unclear whether David received any direct or indirect assistance from an icebreaker. It seems that the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier was in the vicinity at the time, assisting a party of jet skiers! The next obvious question is where will David head next? We last took a close look at ice conditions in the area on September 1st when the route north looked to be impassable. Here is how the Canadian Ice Service forecast for the Resolute area of the Northwest Passage looks today:

Canadian Ice Service forecast for the approaches to Resolute on September 4th 2013

Canadian Ice Service forecast for the approaches to Resolute on September 4th 2013

If David, Jane and Polar Bound can thread their way through the stretch of 2/10 concentration ice to the west of Baffin Island there seems to be every chance of a successful conclusion to another epic journey.

Getting back to Arctic adventurers without sails or engines, the kayakers of Rêve de Glace have pressed on eastwards past Cambridge Bay, and are currently approaching Perry Island:

GPS position report for Rêve de Glace on September 4th 2013

GPS position report for Rêve de Glace on September 4th 2013

and Charles Hedrich is currently rowing west to east, and towards the ice around Cape Bathurst, which you will note is invisible in the satellite image at the start of this article:

Charles Hedrich's position and ice forecast on September 4th 2013

Charles Hedrich's position and ice forecast on September 4th 2013

What with one thing and another there's still plenty of interesting things to watch out for as the 2013 Arctic sea ice melting season draws to its ultimate conclusion!

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Comments on The Northwest Passage in 2013 »

September 6, 2013

Jim @ 10:18 am

La Belle Epoque and Acalephe are now west of Cape Bathurst also. It sounds like Isatis is along for the ride with them too:

September 7, 2013

Jim @ 11:50 am

La Belle Epoque and Acalephe have now reached Tuk, whilst Traversay III has been delayed there because their engine broke free from its mountings.

In more news from the "Dangerous Waters" in the Northwest Passage the Vancouver Sun reports that:

An American adventurer is promising to try again after his plan to cross the fabled Northwest Passage on a Jet Ski went the way of so many Arctic dreams — cold, wet and stuck in the ice.

Meanwhile over here in sunny South West England the heavens opened again last night after our first decent summer since 2006. Our lights went out for 3 hours!

September 11, 2013

Jim @ 2:58 pm

The Cottier family on Libellule announced early this morning (UTC!) that:

This morning Sep 10th, we crossed the Arctic Circle at 10:57 LTC (18:57 UTC).

This afternoon Sep 10th, we crossed Bering Strait at 17:50 LTC (01:50 UCT on Sep 11th).

With this, we have officially finished the North West Passage from East (Arctic Circle in Davis Strait) to West (Arctic Circle just north of Bering Strait) after 4,000 nm (appr 7,500km) across the Arctic waters and ice of Greenland, Canada and Alaska.

We navigated between Big Diomede Island (Russia) and Little Diomede Island (USA), probably carefully monitored by Coast Guards on both sides. Due to a reef just off Little Diomede Island, we had to navigate a few miles into Siberian territory, and by doing so, not only crossed the international sea border, but also the official date line. So we went from Tuesday to Wednesday, and back to Tuesday, which was fun, of course. And duly celebrated with our last beer and our last bottle of rum…


September 13, 2013

Jim @ 1:34 pm

In more news from the intrepid Arctic voyagers we are following David Cowper in Polar Bound has now made it out into the main, central Northwest Passage in Lancaster Sound:

Whether David needed an icebreaker in attendance is not yet clear. In his typically modest fashion David is not blasting his exploits out through all available online channels. The kayakers from Rêve de Glace have now safely reached Gjoa Haven:

Finally for the moment at least, solo rower Charles Hedrich has decided to call it a day at Tuktoyaktuk, saying on his blog that:

Charles is a Sports adventurer but not mad. Charles Hedrich braved the storm to reach Tuktoyaktuk and organize the wintering of the ice rower there. Welcomed by the villagers, fishermen and whalers, men share their stories about Arctic storms…

September 20, 2013

Jim @ 6:32 pm

At 19:24 hours yesterday Polar Bound reported her position at 68.32° N, 62.54° W:

It therefore seems entirely feasible that by now her crew of David Scott Cowper and Jane Maufe have crossed the Arctic Circle at 66.56° N or thereabouts, and can therefore claim to have successfully completed their west to east voyage through the Northwest Passage.

Meanwhile the kayakers from Rêve de Glace appear to have decided to finish their 2013 expedition at Gjoa Haven. Their GPS tracker reveals that they must have boarded an aircraft at the airstrip visible on the map above, and flown back to Canada!

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