Aussie Cruisers Take on Northwest Passage

Sometimes life throws the most interesting curves at us–like an unexpected attempt at navigating the Northwest Passage.

Two young Australian cruising sailors have begun a voyage through the Northwest Passage, the alluring passage that has fascinated sailors for centuries and led explorers, sometimes to their deaths, for 160 years until it was finally conquered by Roald Amundsen in 1906.

Once known for treacherous pack ice that made it difficult, if not impossible, to navigate, the legendary route has become easier and easier. This year was the easiest, with the ice having reached a record low this month, even lower than the previous record low levels in 2007.

However, “easy” is a comparative word.

For Cameron Dueck, captain of Silent Sound, a yacht that successfully sailed west to east through the passage in 2009 with a crew of three other sailors, those fears are all too familiar.

While making the trip, Dueck told the Vancouver Sun he was surprised by how little ice they encountered, adding he expects sea traffic through the passage to rise if ice levels remain low.

But for those thinking of attempting the voyage, Dueck had a warning.

“I think a lot of sailors think if the ice is gone, the danger is gone and that is not true,” Dueck told the Vancouver Sun recently. “You are in an extremely isolated part of the world, an area where you cannot rely on rescue and repair services.”

So Australians Chris Bray, 27, and girlfriend Jess Taunton, 23, became the first sailors to begin navigating a junk rig yacht, also known as a Chinese lugsail, through the ice-laden seaway at the beginning of the season.

Chris and Jess were actually cycling through Tasmania when a surprising opportunity presented itself. They told how they had visited an old friend who had recently bought a junk rig yacht, moored in Halifax, and planned to sail it across the Atlantic. When his plans unexpectedly changed, the boat, named Teleport, went up for sale at a price Bray and Taunton couldn’t refuse.

Their idea of sailing the boat back to Australia was only mildly complicated by its inconvenient geographical location on the “wrong” side of Canada.

For the complete story, go to www.sail-world.com.

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