Ah, for one time I’ll take the Northwest Passage
To find Franklin’s hand reaching the Beaufort Sea
Draw a hot line across a land so wild and wild
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea
– Stan Rogers
Ron Smith, an entrepreneur from the Smithers area, can’t remember precisely when he got it into his head he wanted to cross the Northwest Passage, but for at least 12 years he has worked diligently to get there. to arrive.
“I don’t know, I’ve always wanted to do it,” he said. “I read a lot of books on the Northwest Passage and it kind of piqued my interest.
Before he got the idea, he had no sailing experience, but he got himself a “learning boat” and learned on his own.
“I have been sailing for five or six years, but just local sailing,” he said.
Also, he had never refurbished a sailboat, but found a hull of an old 45ft Bruce Roberts cutter in Vancouver and had it brought back to Smithers.
“I took out what was in it, steel fuel tanks, stainless steel water tanks, sandblasted, cut floors, sandblasted, painted, welded on legs to attach wood, because there was not much left, “he explained.
“You study, take books, read a lot,” he said, adding that his contract experience had been helpful.
Now the interior of the boat is nicely done up in cherry, mahogany and some teak and has all modern conveniences – fridge, freezer, shower etc. – to make a three month journey through the passage as comfortable as possible.
Smith is ready to launch his “Obsession”.
Was it an obsession?
“I guess so, because my wife named him,” he said. “She’s had her moments, I guess.”
Smith was supposed to make the boat’s maiden voyage last week, but an issue with the truck that was supposed to transport it delayed the trip.
However, he hopes to launch it in Prince Rupert this week and head for Vancouver.
“There is a mast that I have to go and see and, if it works, I will put it in place,” he said.
Instead of a sail, the “Obsession” has a 70 horsepower diesel engine and Smith also has an outboard for backup.
“That’s the reason I have the reserve, just in case,” he said. “You still need a plan B.”
The early explorers, of course, had no plan B. When they set sail to find the mythical navigable trade route through the Canadian Arctic, it was essentially a find, perish, or turn back proposition. Many attempts ended in disaster, most notably Sir John Franklin’s famous effort in 1845.
While searching for Franklin in 1850, Irish explorer Robert McClure discovered a glacial north route, and four years later Scottish John Rae explored an opening further south.
It was through this southern channel that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundson became the first to successfully navigate from Greenland to Alaska in 1906.
The Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen tried a different approach from 1893 to 1896. He had a ship called “Fram” (meaning forward) built designed to be frozen in the Arctic ice cap and float with it across the sea. North Pole. As Nansen’s goal was to reach the North Pole, when he realized that the Fram would not make it, he and another member of the expedition set off on skis.
They got within four degrees of the pole, but had to turn around and survived the winter in a Russian archipelago on walruses, polar bears and grease until rescued by the British Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition. They returned to Norway just a few days before the “Fram”.
Until 2007, the pack ice in most years, with the notable exception of 1972, made the passage primarily non-navigable, with the exception of a few fortified icebreakers. With climate change, however, many are predicting that the passage could become a viable shipping route in the future.
Smith has no illusions that he is following in the legendary footsteps of the early explorers.
“There’s no comparison to what these guys went through and they were just flying by the seat of their pants,” he said.
In addition to shrinking sea ice – notably last week, the Milne Ice Shelf, the last fully intact ice shelf remaining in the Canadian Arctic, collapsed – it also collapsed. benefit of 21st technology.
Yet he also recognizes that the danger is still there.
“You can get lucky, but you can also get bad luck and get stuck depending on the direction of the wind,” he said.
Smith hopes that everything will fall into place and that he can set sail next summer. Otherwise, it will be 2022, he said, but is unsure if he will be sailing solo or with someone else.
“There are a few people who have expressed some interest, but we’ll see,” he said. “It’s okay anyway.”