The Northwest Passage in 2018

The time has come to start speculating about if, and when, the Northwest Passage will become navigable for the host of small vessels eager to traverse it this summer. Almost one month later than in 2017!

Whilst the eastern and western entrances to the assorted routes through the Canadian Arctic Archipelaga have been empty of sea ice for quite some time, the central section between Bellot Strait and Gjoa Haven and/or Cambridge Bay is still chock a block:

In the east here is a drone’s eye view of Cumming Inlet, courtesy of the Polish team of Michał and Ola Palczyński aboard S/V Crystal:

created by dji camera
created by dji camera

It’s not entirely clear when that picture was taken, since according to Michał’s blog:

The waters beyond the Bellot Strait are covered with impassable ice, and the ice in the Beaufort Sea has 90% concentration in some places and reaches up to the shore. In this difficult situation, by 15th August two yachts have already given up and turned back to Greenland (including Blue Peter from our cove).

Here’s what lies ahead of Crystal and her remaining companions, according to the Canadian Ice Service:

Maud_201808181800

Meanwhile in the Beaufort Sea S/V Dogbark has been battling her way through that “90% concentration” sea ice. Dogbark has now made it as far as Mikkelsen Bay, just past Prudhoe Bay in Alaska:

2018-08-19_1149-DogBark

Here is the United States’ National Weather Service map of sea ice concentration in the area:

2018-08-19_NWS

According to a recent Q&A session on the Dogbark blog:

What does 7/10ths ice mean? We don’t want to know! It is more ice than we want to try and pass, that’s for sure. But the ice charts we look at refer to ice by % of sea coverage, so 7/10ths would look like water mostly covered by large, immovable objects. 5/10ths was as much as we have seen, and we got out of there as fast as we could with some help from our flying eyeball. See Dogbark’s Facebook page for a quick snippet of less dangerous ice.

Meanwhile the Canadian icebreaker CCGS Amundsen has sailed past Arctic Bay and Resolute:

Amundsen-2018-08-19_1400

I cannot help but wonder what vessels might be closely following in his wake?

 

[Edit – September 7th]

Finally there comes news that a “pleasure craft” has made it through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago from east to west as far as Tuktoyaktuk. I’d been wondering which vessel it was that seemed immobile near the western end of the Bellot Strait on the MarineTraffic maps. This one’s from August 19th:

MarineTraffic-2018-08-19_2330-Crop

Now I know! Thanks to a heads up on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum I’ve discovered that it’s the S/V Thor. Here’s the tracking map of his efforts to get through all the old ice in the vicinty.

2018-09-07-Thor-Bellot

The map reveals that Thor made it through the Bellot Strait on August 6th, but didn’t manage to make significant headway out of the Franklin Strait until August 28th.

Thor departed from Tuk earlier today:

Thor-2018-09-07-2000

He now only has this to contend with:

Beaufort-Conc-20180907

29 thoughts on “The Northwest Passage in 2018

  1. “Meanwhile the Canadian icebreaker CCGS Amundsen has sailed past Arctic Bay and Resolute. I cannot help but wonder what vessels might be closely following in his wake?”

    The ones with smart captains.

    1. The ones with a Captain that doesn’t have a death wish?

      None of the assorted “pleasure craft” sprinkled around CCGS Amundsen’s route waiting for a break in the ice seemed to have made use of that “wake”, according to the FoC version of MarineTraffic at least:

      MarineTraffic-2018-08-19_2330

      S/V Crystal is on the move now, but the Amundsen is long gone:

      Crystal-2018-08-19_2330

  2. Dogbark looks to have turned back towards Utqiaġvik (Barrow as was) this morning (BST):

    Dogbark-2018-08-20_1120

    However, according to the Dogbark team’s latest blog post:

    Today we are off in another direction, back to Cross Island. Same reason, wind. But now we know the way, and the best places to anchor for maximum protection. It is a good little hidey hole, and we look forward to safe shelter from the coming blow.

    One more thing. This is not a retreat, though it may look like it to you tracker junkies. This boat still plans to go to Greenland. We hope that this next weather system will shake things up and let us go forward. We believe that, and our reasons are based on conversations with knowledgeable people who know ice and know the local behavior of it on this stretch of coast.

    But there is a chance that this may not happen, that the passage may not open in time for us to get through. The clock is ticking. There are lots of risks here in the Arctic, and we are constantly balancing risks. Fast boat, strong crew that love each other and work well as a team even in challenging situations. Pitted daily against rapidly changing conditions. Vast distances.

    Here’s the current weather forecast for Prudhoe Bay courtesy of Weather Underground:

    2018-08-20_PrudhoeBay

    A bit of a blow tomorrow, but nothing too terrible by Beaufort Sea standards!

  3. Dogbark Turns Back! See:

    https://saildogbark.com/2018/08/22/dogbark-turns-back/

    The decision was based on advice from the Canadian Coastguard:

    Good morning,

    Due to heavier than normal ice concentrations in the Canadian arctic waters north of 70 degrees, the Canadian Coast Guard, recommends that pleasure craft do not navigate in the Beaufort Sea, Barrow, Peel Sound, Franklin Strait and Prince Regent. CCG icebreakers cannot safely escort pleasure craft. Operators of pleasure craft considering a northwest passage should also consider the risk of having to winter in a safe
    haven in the Arctic, or in the case of an emergency, be evacuated from beset vessels. Safety of mariners is our primary concern.

    REGARDS,
    NORDREG CANADA
    181256UTC\LR

    Then he told me that Franklin Strait has started to refreeze. Franklin Strait is one of the main bottlenecks that we hoped to traverse to complete the passage to Greenland. We can’t even get there because the border between Alaska and Canada is blocked, with the only other boat westbound with us stuck in the ice, unable to move forward or retreat.

    He painted a wonderful picture of us stuck in Cambridge with Dogbark frozen in and the girls breathing air that freezes right out of your lungs.

    We got the hint.

    Meanwhile Crystal hasn’t turned back, but is anchored in shelter at the north-east corner of Somerset Island.

    1. Hi Jim,
      I was one of the 232 passengers on the disastrous Ponant “Le Soleal” cruise titled “Conquering the Northwest Passage.”
      We believe that Ponant knew, or should have known, before we sailed on 25 August 2018 from Kangerlussuag that it was too dangerous to attempt a Northwest Passage cruise this year.
      Thus, you reference to the Canadian Coastguard message is very significant.
      Are you able to provide me with a direct reference to 181256UTC\LR?
      Many thanks,
      Regards
      Peter

  4. Crystal still seems not to have moved.

    There was this (translated from the original Polish) report on August 22nd:

    Just now a white bear with two little ones looked through our the side of our ship. The boys shouted when they saw black eyes and a muzzle under the panels.

    It’s happening!

    Hopefully there’s no correlation between those two!

  5. Crystal has survived the polar bear scare and is on the move once again.

    What’s more she’s currently heading for Fort Ross rather than back to Greenland!

    Crystal-2018-08-25_1000

    The latest (auto-translated) report reads as follows:

    Finally something has moved. We are sailing towards the Bellot Strait to wait for our chance. Again on the sails.

    Getting to Fort Ross seems eminently feasible at the moment:

    Maud-Conc-20180824

    The sea ice beyond the other end of the Bellot Strait looks far more formidable though!

  6. A passenger vessel is aground in one corner of the Northwest Passage!

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/kugaaruk-passenger-ship-1.4798750

    Two Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers are en route to assist a passenger ship that ran aground near Kugaaruk, Nunavut.

    One Ocean Expeditions has released a media statement saying its ship, the Akademic Ioffe, ran aground in the western Gulf of Boothia on Friday morning.

    “All passengers are well taken care of. There has been no report of environmental concern,” One Ocean Expeditions wrote in the statement.

    The Akademik Ioffe, a Russian vessel, is listed as a cruise ship with approximately 160 people on board, a spokesperson with Search and Rescue Region Trenton said in an email to CBC News.

    The ship is currently taking on water, but the vessel is in stable condition and not in any immediate danger, the spokesperson said.

    One Ocean Expeditions said it has sent another one of its vessels, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, to provide support and assistance.

    That ship is expected to arrive Saturday morning, according to Search and Rescue Region Trenton, which added that the plan is to have people on the Akademik Ioffe moved over to the Akademik Sergey Vavilov.

    1. The Canadian Coastguard reports on Twitter that:

  7. Sure enough S/V Crystal is now anchored at Fort Ross. According to Google translate:

    Fort Ross!

    We are waiting for better conditions on the other side of Bellot Strait and the route westward.

  8. According to MarineTraffic there’s currently four “pleasure craft” in the vicinity of Fort Ross at the moment:

    2018-08-29_1717-FortRoss

    One of them looks like it’s going to have a look at the Bellot Strait. There’s also a “cargo vessel” accompanied by what’s probably an icebreaker nearby.

    1. Found this blog while searching for more info – my parents are currently on a NW Passage “cruise” on board the French ship Le Boreal (sister ship to Le Soleal). After delaying for a few days in and around the fjords of Devon Island because of the ice ahead, last night they met up with an icebreaker off Prince Leopold (Henry Larsen). Along with at least one other ship, they are currently in a convoy behind the icebreaker headed towards Bellot Strait. Based on what I read on this site, it would seem they would require icebreaker assistance at least a good way through Franklin Strait?

      1. Thanks for that most interesting information. Here’s the track for the Henry Larsen:

        HenryLarsen-2018-08-30_1533

        The sea ice looks a lot tougher on the other side of the Bellot Strait! I wonder if S/V Crystal et al. will be able to join the convoy?

  9. Just received a text that they will be met by the heavier icebreaker CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent prior to entering the Bellot Strait.

  10. According to CBC:

    The Canadian Coast Guard rescued two passengers of a sinking sailboat who were trapped on an ice floe in Arctic waters early Wednesday morning.

    Lauren Solski, director of communications for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said in an email to CBC News that Iqaluit Marine Communications and Traffic Services reported to the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre (JRCC) in Trenton, Ont., that an 11-metre-long sailing vessel, Anahita, was sinking.

    No injuries to the passengers have been reported, and they are in excellent condition.

    JRCC Trenton deployed a Hercules aircraft and the icebreaker CCGS Henry Larsen to the scene. A shipping vessel was also en route to assist the stranded passengers, but its arrival was delayed due to ice conditions.

    The icebreaker’s helicopter picked up the two passengers, and as of Wednesday afternoon they were on board the ship, which is heading to the High Arctic community of Resolute, Nunavut.

    “No injuries to the passengers have been reported, and they are in excellent condition,” Solski’s email said.

    The incident took place in Bellot Strait.

    According to this German language article the yacht in question is the French flagged Anahita:

    Gestern Nacht ist die unter französischer Flagge segelnde Yacht „Anahita“, eine Ovni 345, nördlich der Küste Kanadas in der Nordwestpassage gesunken.

    1. Yacht crushed by ice Jim. More junk ,including oil and fuel left in the Arctic. Given what the ice has been doing this year in that area what they attempted was foolhardy in the extreme,especially as the coastguard warned them of the conditions and advised turning back before the sinking.

      1. Hello again Chilly. Long time no see!

        Foolhardy indeed, ignoring an explicit warning and no doubt messing up the environment as a consequence. S/V Crystal is still in the vicinity of Fort Ross, but it seems the Palczyńskis may have finally decided to retrace their steps back to Greenland:

        Crystal-2018-09-02_1415

        They certainly didn’t follow the Louis S. St. Laurent through Bellot Strait. All in all it looks as though all the remaining “pleasure craft” attempting to traverse thw Northwest Passage this year are heading back the way they came:

        MarineTraffic-2018-09-02_1456

  11. Le Boreal (French ship booked by Abercrombie & Kent) has turned back and will not be attempting a passage this year. Instead of Nome as planned, they will offload passengers in an as yet unknown port where they can be flown out. Ice conditions are hindering their route of retreat from the Fort Ross area. Sister ship Le Soleal is still scheduled to make the passage apparently.

    CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent looks to be making very slow progress with its cargo ship convoy.

    1. Thanks for that update Adam. I guess your parents are pretty disappointed at this juncture?

      As far as I can tell Le Boreal and Le Soleal aren’t “ice hardened” in any way? Here’s what the somewhat hardened Hanseatic encountered yesterday a bit further north:

      Hanseatic_2018_09_02_2150

      Meanwhile just off Fort Ross MarineTraffic reveals this queue of “passenger vessels”:

      MarineTraffic-2018-09-03_1640

  12. More on the “sinking sailboat” from CBC:

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/arctic-rescue-coast-guard-1.4810420

    The dramatic rescue of two Argentine sailors in Nunavut on Aug. 29 involved foggy weather, rescue flares, and a drifting piece of ice.

    Pablo Saad and Dario Ramos were sailing in Nunavut’s Bellot Strait when their vessel became trapped in ice and started to sink. They activated their emergency radio beacon, ditched their sailboat, and found themselves stranded on an ice floe with their inflatable life raft.

    The men were wearing one-piece snow suits, inflatable life-jackets, and insulated rubber boots. The raft “would have contained survival rations,” wrote Carol Launderville, a spokesperson for the Canadian Coast Guard, in an email.

    Launderville wrote that another adventurer on a nearby sailing vessel detected the emergency signal and advised the coast guard communicators in Iqaluit. Coast guard officers issued a mayday from Iqaluit to nearby boats and reached out to a cargo ship.

    The cargo ship’s crew made a “valiant effort” to reach the sailors, but couldn’t get close enough because of the ice conditions, Launderville wrote.

    A military plane was flown up from southern Canada to rescue the adventurers. A coast guard icebreaker ship also headed to the boaters and the ship’s helicopter was deployed to find them.

    “Both men were very cold but otherwise in good health,” wrote Launderville. “The stranded men used a flare to signal the helicopter which was very helpful in the fog.”

    According to a press release, the coast guard has responded to 15 “Arctic-based emergencies” that required search and rescue support this year. This rescue marked the 16th.

    Pablo Saad did not respond to CBC’s request for comment.

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