Position update 20.29 CEST: 69.78807 N, 168.32016 W – North of Point Hope. Water temperature: 9.0ËšC
From our position in the middle of the Chukchi Sea, the sea between the Russian autonomous area of Chukotka and Alaska, the 49th state of the USA, we can look back on a voyage through the Northeast Passage – or the Northern Sea Route, as they say in Russia.
It is obvious that the conditions met by the early explorers such as Vitus Bering, Fridtjof Nansen, Adolf Erik Nordenski¶ld and Roald Amundsen no longer exists. We passed through in a few weeks, while our predecessors were forced to overwinter once or even twice. Still, it is not an easy passage for any kind of boat or vessel. There is still ice, although not to the extent there used to be, but plenty to make conditions unpredictable for ships. In addition many of the seas you have to pass are very shallow. In the East Siberian Sea, the shipping lane is located 50 nautical miles off the coast, in order for there to be sufficient depth for bigger ships. Lights, buoys and nautical markings are scarce.
That’s from a blog posting by Thorleif Thorleifsson, captain of the “Northern Passage,” offering his “reflections” from the Chukchi Sea. He notes in an update,”The water temperature is 7.5 degrees. If we weren’t sailing, it would be a great temperature for a swim!” [He means degrees Celsius, of course.] And that’s why the ice can keep melting even after the air temperature goes below freezing.
Here’s a video from the ship, with the caption, “In the dark of night, on the Chukchi Sea off Wrangel Island, three men steer the “Northern Passage” past ice floes and icebergs. Persistence and caution is demanded every moment of their journey!
The captain’s reflections continue:
In the 1930s the USSR prioritized the Northern Sea Route as a major development project. Despite massive investment in infrastructure, navigation aids, ships and establishment of local towns along the coast, the Sea Route never did become “the highway of the north”.
Today, however, it seems that this old vision of a more regular passage of ships, at least in the summertime, is being reawakened. Atomflot, the operator of icebreakers in these northern seas, has a fleet of modern ships. During our weeks along this coast we have been in daily contact with people representing this organisation and other authorities – and from the first moment we have meet professionalism and service-mindedness. They have not questioned the presence of a tiny trimaran zigzagging in between ice floes, but welcomed our presence and interest. Of course the Russians are not alone in searching for opportunities in the north. The Norwegians are most definitely making their efforts as well. A look at our list of sponsors is telling. It includes North Energy, the Centre for High North Logistics in Kirkenes, Tschudi Shipping and the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association (New Horizons).
We understand the possibilities in Arctic shipping, and we fully understand the challenges. One of them is the sensitivity of this marine area. However, we do believe that based on the professionalism we have met so far among our Russian and Norwegian friends, the visions of future shipping along the Northern Sea Route can be developed in a balanced and secure way.
We have sailed through the Northeast Passage. At the moment our challenge is a prevailing easterly wind that is forcing us to tack the whole way across the Chukchi Sea. To put this challenge in perspective, I should mention that Chukchi is twice the size of the North Sea. We’re making our best efforts to sail tactically, using downloaded weather files and good advice from our weather magician Marc de Keyser. Just 70 nautical miles to the north, we find our friends on board “Peter 1″, whom we are happy to see back on track after their repairs in Pevek.
Thorleif Thorleifsson, captain
3 September, Chukchi Sea
- Arctic sea ice volume heads toward record low as Northwest Passage melts free fourth year in a row
- Where on Earth is it unusually warm? Greenland and the Arctic Ocean, which is full of rotten ice