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The Resourceful Sailor Attempts the Northwest Passage — Again

Usually when we hear from the Resourceful Sailor it’s to learn about his latest MacGyvering attempts aboard his Flicka 20, Sampaguita. Right now, however, the Resourceful Sailor is offshore, sailing from the USA to France. Before he set sail, he sent us the following update.

This summer, I will be attempting a west-to-east transit of the Northwest Passage as crew aboard a French-built aluminum Boréal 47 sailboat. The voyage, if successful, will begin in Anacortes, Washington, and conclude in Brittany, France, from early May to September. The vessel and owner were transiting the Northwest Passage in 2019, east to west, when I met them while doing the same aboard the 50-ft cold-molded cutter-rigged sloop Breskell. Since then, the global pandemic has thwarted much of the Boréal 47’s cruising plans, and it is time to return the boat to France.

The Arctic is a challenging space of ice, low temperatures, lack of services, and hungry polar bears. In 2019, Breskell’s owner and builder, Olivier Huin, un roi du bricolage (a king of DIY), The Resourceful Sailor and the rest of the crew teamed up to do what was necessary to get the boat from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Port Townsend, Washington. I have previously written about some of the challenging situations and creative solutions: for instance, the installation of a crow’s nest, marlinspike seamanship, the adaptation of a tiller pilot to wheel steering, fashioning a headsail pole, and keeping gloves organized.

There is no monopoly on resourcefulness. During the 2019 transit, I met a sailor named Ross who crewed onboard the Czech Republic sailboat Snow White. They had some propulsion issues and needed to fly in parts immediately, but the incoming flights were all small craft booked to capacity with passengers and cargo for the short season. According to Ross, he called the airline, found someone with authority, and offered to write a story about the Northwest Passage for the airline’s in-flight travel mag. in exchange for their finding space for the parts on the next flight. I love the spirit, and apparently, it worked. If not, it could easily have been “game over” for the boat. They were able to repair it and successfully finish the passage.

The Arctic life is for the hardy and adaptable. Art, expression, and resourcefulness abound in their way, with people making do with what they have. Settlements have what the crew of Breskell referred to as “Arctic for Walmart:” well-organized rubbish piles outside town with “wares” awaiting repurpose.

Can we shop here, online?
© 2022 Joshua Wheeler

Youth workshops teach machinist skills while producing local art. Dog houses have multiple rooms for baffling the winds. The Many Pebbles Golf Course in Cambridge Bay rocks — literally. In the Arctic, where supplies are both limited and expensive, subsistence living is still relevant, and the harvest is valued differently.

The Resourceful Sailor
There’s no green on the green on an Arctic golf course.
© 2022 Joshua Wheeler
A baffling dog house.
© 2022 Joshua Wheeler

Previous success is no guarantee of future success. Having experience in the Arctic may only mean we have enough knowledge to be dangerous. The uncontrollable factors of weather and ice are a wait-and-see. The boats and the owners are very different from each other. Preparation is a big part of the process, and I hope we are doing all the right things. I still have much of the gear I used in 2019, which has gotten very little wear and tear through the pandemic. I am supplementing this with some new items I’d learned I wished I had. Are they right? Will it be enough? I’ll save that determination for afterward.

Things That Go in the Snow — mostly.
© 2022 Joshua Wheeler

A smooth transit without a need for any Resourceful Sailor-ish techniques would suit me just fine but is unreasonable to expect. Not to mention the personal, geopolitical, meteorological, and pandemic uncertainties that could thwart the expedition. When offered the opportunity, I reviewed the rewards and consequences, and a 2022 attempt at the Northwest Passage felt like one I should take. I will keep my advice in mind and remember to keep the transit prudent and safe, and have a blast.

If you wish to follow The Resourceful Sailor on his voyage, there will be periodic updates on:;;; and

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