Northabout Braves the Northwest Passage

After the briefest of stops in Elson Lagoon behind Point Barrow Northabout is on the move once again:


She’s currently heading out into the Beaufort Sea before following in the giant footsteps of the cruise liner Crystal Serenity in the direction of the Amundsen Gulf and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Here’s the United States National Weather Service’s current ice chart for Alaskan waters:


There looks to be far less to worry about ice wise on the next leg of the Polar Ocean Challenge than on the previous one! The weather forecast isn’t too bad either, with high pressure over the Beaufort Sea and a fair bit of sunshine. Here’s the Weather Underground forecast for Ulukhaktok, Crystal Serenity’s first port of call in the CAA:


There is currently a “small craft advisory” warning in effect for the Beaufort Sea coast:

207 PM AKDT MON AUG 29 2016











All in all it looks like fairly plain sailing for the foreseeable future, with only occasional moderate headwinds to contend with.


[Edit – August 30th]

It seems my “fairly plain sailing” conclusion was overly hasty. According to the latest “Ship’s Log“:

The weather forecast is pants. A 30/35 knot headwind along the coast . No one has the appetite for it, so we are heading North, slacker winds, staysail out, still a choppy sea and uncomfortable, but not as bad as 30 knots. Hopefully no ice tonight on my watch.

This is the end result:


As Phil points out below:

Our next stop along the North West Passage is Tuktoyaktuk. That’s when we can use a pontoon, get rid of our rubbish, fill the tanks, do the laundry and have a shower. 500nm away.


[Edit – August 31st]

The Polar Ocean Challenge team report via Twitter:


[Edit – September 3rd]

Last night Northabout reached Tuktoyaktuk near the delta of the great Mackenzie River:


The Polar Ocean Challenge team have had some repairs to do after the stormy start to their trip from Barrow:

They have some more to carry out in Tuk too. Despite the great “groove” displayed above Ben Edwards reports that:

Joy of joys, the auto-helm’s stopped working. Dad (Steve Edwards, crew), thinks he knows why so we’ll hopefully be able to fix it in Tuk. In the meantime we’re back to helming by hand. This is a mixed blessing, on the one hand it’s really irritating to have to helm in large swells and with a strong headwind because any movement you make is at first ignored, and then exaggerated by, the wind. So it’s hard to keep a decent track and it makes it harder to look out for ice. On the other hand, moving and putting effort into the steering keeps you warm which is nice and it means you don’t have to put as many clothes on which is also nice because when you go down stairs and it’s twenty four degrees it can get quite uncomfortable.


[Edit – September 4th]

Northabout has just left Tuktoyaktuk:


Her crew have been refreshed and her auto-helm has been repaired with the assistance of numerous people from Tuk:

We all had our job lists, ice lights, bilge pumps, laundry, shopping but the man who gets the Vodka Salute is unquestionably Steve.

I dropped him off wth Willard. Two peas in a pod. They made a broken Pilot Spigot. That sounds quite easy but it took the whole day in a machine shop in a container, working to fine tolerances, and many modifications. Fitting it in the bowels of the Lazzerette in cold weather and driving rain. It worked first time. Brilliant effort.

Here’s the current weather forecast for the area:

Issued 07:00 AM MDT 04 September 2016
Today Tonight and Monday

Wind – Northwest 15 knots diminishing to light late this morning then becoming northwest 15 Monday morning.

Seas – 1 metre.

Weather & Visibility – Chance of showers changing to periods of rain near noon then to chance of showers tonight and Monday. Fog patches dissipating early this evening.

My famous last words? Plain sailing by the look of it!


[Edit – September 5th]

Northabout has just rounded Cape Bathurst, the northernmost point of mainland Northwest Territories:


I wonder if her crew will take a close look at the nearby Smoking Hills?


[Edit – September 6th]

Northabout gave the Smoking Hills a miss and headed strait for Cape Parry. She has already crossed the Amundsen Gulf and is heading into the Dolphin & Union Strait:


According to Ben Edwards’ latest blog post:

In light of the lack of ice and in the spirit of saving time we’ve decided not to stop in Cambridge Bay or Pond Inlet and go straight on to Upernavik in Greenland before doing our crew change. Looking at the ice maps at the moment it seems we’ll be able to get through with little or no trouble, though this is almost bound to change, if it stays that way we’ll reach Upernavik in about fourteen days. I’m looking forward to it!


[Edit – September 7th]

Northabout has reached Coronation Gulf this morning (UTC):


According to their recent reports the plan is to pass Pond Inlet without stopping. The weather up there is starting to look rather wintry:



[Edit – September 9th]

The Polar Ocean Challenge team report via Twitter that they have seen and chatted to David Scott Cowper:

as well as spotting some more ice:


[Edit – September 10th]

This morning Northabout is rapidly approaching the western entrance to Bellot Strait:


Their stated intentions are to head past Pond Inlet and across Baffin Bay to Upernavik in Greenland. Assuming they initially follow the same route as Crystal Serenity they will soon to need to pick their way past some bergy bits in Prince Regent Inlet before negotiating some currently “wispy” areas of sea ice as they enter Lancaster Sound. Here is the current Canadian Ice Service chart for the area:


plus a rather cloudy “visual” image:


The current weather forecast for Pond Inlet doesn’t suggest the parts of the Northwest Passage still on Northabout’s route are going to start refreezing just yet:


Currently there is an obvious passage past the existing ice, but that may of course have changed by the time Northabout gets there.


[Edit – September 10th PM]

Northabout has just emerged safely from the eastern end of Bellot Strait:


I wonder if her crew will stop to make a new entry in the visitors book at Fort Ross?


[Edit – September 11th]

Here’s the latest CIS ice chart:


The gap between the coast and the yellow area of 4-6/10 concentration ice has closed considerably, and there’s now a broad expanse of 1-3/10 ice which Northabout may be forced to try and wend her way through. A change in wind direction would come in very handy, and that’s just what the ECMWF forecast at Windyty is suggesting for Sunday 11th:


Just what the doctor ordered?


[Edit – September 11th PM]

Video shot from Northabout’s drone of her ice-free passage through Bellot Strait:

However the passage from Prince Regent Inlet into Lancaster Sound has not proved to be ice-free!


[Edit – September 11th 20:30 UTC]

Northabout is obviously endeavouring to skirt around the eastern edge of the 4-6/10 old ice in her path:


Today’s CIS ice concentration chart suggests there isn’t much room to spare:


The stage of development chart does reveal some new ice, but it’s well to the north of Northabout’s route through Lancaster Sound to Pond Inlet:


Somewhat belatedly, here’s a Sentinel 1A synthetic aperture radar image of the sea ice Northabout is squeezing past as we speak:



[Edit – September 12th]

Northabout has emerged safely into Lancaster Sound, and is bypassing Pond Inlet in order to head strait across Baffin Bay:


Here are a couple of videos of some remnants of sea ice on her once again eastward travels:

There are several more on the Polar Ocean Challenge web site.

With all that ice now safely behind her Northabout has new dangers to face. Wind and waves! Let’s take a look at the WaveWatch III “surf forecast” for Baffin Bay over the next few days. A low pressure area is heading in Northabout’s direction from across the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. By Wednesday morning (UTC) the resultant wind field looks like this:


By Wednesday afternoon those winds of around 15 m/s will have produced waves in Baffin Bay that are forecast to have reached over 3 meters high:


and what’s more they won’t be just wind waves. A modest swell with a period of over 12 seconds is predicted too:


I’m sure the Polar Ocean Challenge team will be doing their level best to be safely on the opposite side of Baffin Bay by the time the worst of the weather arrives!


Previous Polar Ocean Challenge articles:

Non Fiction:

Northabout Races for the Date Line

Northabout Meets Some Serious Sea Ice

Northabout Bides Her Time

Northabout’s Great Adventure


Could Northabout Sail to the North Pole?


Is the Polar Ocean Challenge About to End in Disaster?

41 thoughts on “Northabout Braves the Northwest Passage

  1. I was just about to make a comment on the “Races for the Dateline” thread to the effect that Leg 3 was underway.

    Lo and Behold! We already have a thread to that effect.

    What’s the betting that certain inhabitants of La-La land – I’m thinking of “Malice in Blunderland”, amongst others – will be claiming that Serenity or RRS Ernest Shackleton are effectively acting as ice breakers?

    1. Since Serenity has yet to show any ice on its webcams and they’re already in Cambridge Bay that would be a stretch!

      1. Are you seriously suggesting that minor details – such as actual facts – would stop Malice et al from spreading their webs of deceit?


        1. For some strange reason Malice has gone a whole week without mentioning either Arctic sea ice or Northabout. Surely that state of affairs cannot last?

  2. Following Northabout’s commendable attempt at sketching out the pattern of Ursa Major (aka the Plough, aka the Big Dipper) on her way into Barrow, she now appears to be demonstrating what a saw-tooth waveform looks like.

    I wonder if this is down to residual ice that is not showing on Ice Charts, or if this is an expedient measure imposed by the wind/wave sea conditions.

  3. I must be a mind reader, or Malice must be an avid reader of this blog. His latest words of wisdom?

    “Ice Free Arctic Blocked With Ice”

    James Delingpole has somewhat belatedly quoted Malice with approval today, and poor Northabout with disapproval.

    Whatever next?

    1. Had you noticed that your playmate, Malice, was quoted as an “authority” for some of the bilge that Malcolm Roberts was spewing out during an Australian TV “debate”? Included on the panel was a gentleman by the name of Brian Cox – the one from Manchester University and CERN, not the actor.

      The fun starts at about the 11th minute, but it’s worth watching the whole way through. Make sure you have a chin-strap in place, because some of the stuff Roberts comes out with is truly jaw-dropping.

      The two bits I particularly enjoyed were…
      a) his accusations about NASA, and
      b) the way that his demands for empirical evidence only seem to work in one direction

      1. I hadn’t previously noticed that Bill, so thanks for the heads up. However I fear I have misplaced my chin-strap, so I will instead endeavour to watch with my chin strategically resting on my desk!

    1. Northabout is presently about 100 kms away from Tuk. She’s been averaging between 11 and 12 kms/hr for the last 6 hours.

      If that rate is maintained, she might be expected to arrive around 20:00 local.

        1. Northabout is in Tuk refurbishing etc. and the crew is sleeping on land and having showers! Looks like they’ll be spending the weekend then heading off, still ahead of Ousland’s timeline.

  4. Northabout has just rounded Cape Bathurst, the northernmost point of mainland Northwest Territories:

    Indeed they have, a position reached by Ousland on 13th Sept. 2010 on their circumnavigation.

    1. Now they’re heading straight for Cape Parry. Probably on shiny new auto-helm?

      Hence it seems there will be no closeup photos of the Smoking Hills to look forward to.

  5. Bye bye Northwest Territories and the Amundsen Gulf.

    Hello Nunavut and the Dolphin & Union Strait.

    At the time of writing, Northabout is at a longitude of about 117 degrees West. As she got to about 6 degrees West when passing between the Island of Mull and the Scottish mainland, that’s only about 111 short of the full 360.

    1. I have Bill, though the paper itself is paywalled. There’s also a Carbon Brief overview by the lead author, Nat Melia:

      Guest post: What will sea ice loss mean for Arctic shipping?

      which seems to have a couple of straits on the Northern Sea Route mixed up:

      Since you mention Peter Wadhams you may find this podcast interesting? Prof. Wadhams debates declining Arctic sea ice with Dr David Schroeder from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at Reading University and Jonathan Bamber, professor of physical geography at the University of Bristol:

  6. back in 1937 without modern sat nav etc-


    and a big hand for Richard Collinson back in the 1850s when there this was pretty much uncharted territory –

    “Franklin narrowly missed making the north-west passage, and the honour fell to Robert McClure (1850-53) and Richard Collinson (1850-55). McClure accomplished the passage on foot after losing his ship, but Collinson took his ship safely through to England. The north-west passage was not again made until Roald Amundsen navigated the tiny Gjoa, a sailing sloop with gasoline engine, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, during his expedition of 1903-“

    1. Richard – You seem to have developed the unfortunate habit of driving by and posting irrelevant cut ‘n pasted comments on random threads.

      I’ve moved this one to a slightly more appropriate place and reformatted it. If there’s another one it will be red pencilled.

      At the risk of repeating myself:

      Your point is what exactly?

      Franklin, McClure, Collinson and Amundsen certainly didn’t have “modern sat nav”. They certainly didn’t circumnavigate the North Pole in a small yacht via the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage in a single summer season either.

    2. Franklin didn’t narrowly miss making the passage, given the reports of the vessels who searched for him two more winters is more likely. Richard Collinson did not take his ship through to England. He overwintered in Cambridge Bay and the following year exited via the Bering Strait and returned to England via the Cape of Good Hope.
      It took him two years to reach Cambridge Bay from the Bering Strait, Northabout took about 2 weeks!
      As far as the ‘tiny’ Gjoa is concerned it was 70′ long, Northabout is 45′ long.

  7. Hi Jim
    Have just noticed that your last update says Polar Bound is heading for the Bellot Strait but you show a pic of Northabout’s tracker. I think “Polar Bound” is a typo.

  8. Don’t worry Richard, I’ve heard far more nonsensical claims about the NWP.

    About 6 years ago, I was having a debate in the local pub with one of the “climate change has always happened, and therefore today’s events must also be natural” brigade*.

    His astonishing argument was that Martin Frobisher was the first to traverse the NWP. I honestly have no idea from whence some ideas arise, but it would appear that the ability to think critically and rationally is in short supply in certain quarters.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, Northabout has just reached the eastern exit from the Bellot Strait after making great time whilst travelling between Somerset Island and the Boothia Peninsula.

    The target was for Northabout to get to this potential choke point on, or around, the 11th of September. She got there about lunchtime (local time) on the 10th.

    {*I suppose by extension, the following arguments would also hold water…

    People can die naturally, therefore the crime of murder should be stricken from the statute books

    Fires can start naturally, therefore ditto for the crime of arson

    Electricity can be generated naturally in thunderstorms, therefore power stations don’t exist}

    I remember once reading a headline which proclaimed “World War II bomber found on the Moon”. It must be true then.

  9. Note that the CIS charts for “Stage of Development” classify most of that ice in the “Approaches to Resolute” as old ice. Hard stuff. Let’s hope Northabout finds room to keep her distance.

  10. What’s that disappearing rapidly in the rear view mirror?

    Oh, it appears to be Bylot Island.

    Bye Bye NWP. Next stop, Upernavik.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 8 MB. You can upload: image. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.