Nordhavn 57 in the Arctic: Northwest Passage or Bust - 07/29/2009
The Northwest Passage has been the Holy Grail of mariners for over 500 years. Many men died trying to find the passage, the most famous being Franklin, whose 1845 expedition came to grief. Roald Amundsen was the first to make it in 2005, but it took him three seasons. Now with global warming a several dozen yachts have actually made the passage in a single season. This summer seven yachts are attempting to make the passage, and two of them are powerboats. One of them is a 57’ Nordhavn owned by a documentary filmmaker. As you read this he and his crew are travelling up the west coast of Greenland heading for Lancaster Sound, the gateway to the Northwest Passage. We will report on this vessel’s progress each week.

Nordhavn 57 

Without any remarkable modifications, a stock 57’ Nordhavn with a single engine is on its way to traversing the Northwest Passage as you read this. A film is being made and TV rights are up for grabs, evidently.

 See trailer of Arctic passage --

Mounting an expedition through the NWP and making a world-class documentary at the same time is no easy task, made much harder if one isn’t a multi-millionaire. It is for that reason that the story of 57-year-old Sprague Theobald is so compelling. A career Emmy Award-winning film-maker, Theobald also was on his third Nordhavn – a boat line for people looking for long distance cruising and adventure. Early in 2008 Theobald decided his time had come and that he wasn’t getting any younger.


Sprague Theobald on his beloved Bagan, a 57’ Nordhavn.

Cruises of this sort are not inexpensive so the lunch-pin of his plan was to make a documentary film about the passage and his vessel’s transit of it, then sell it for world-wide TV distribution. We all know that boat operation is not cheap, and neither is making a quality film. It will take lots of money for Theobald to live his dream.

Nordhavn 57 

Currently Bagan is going up the west coast of Greenland waiting for a weather window to transit Baffin Bay.

Theobald has a website ( and there he has placed blogs that chronicle the last 12 months of his “passage” to the passage, so to speak. He departed Newport, R.I,. on June 16, 2009 on his quest, but even getting to that point was not easy.

Possibly the front-end part of Theobald’s trip might be the most arduous of all. We have reproduced a few sentences here – highly edited -- from Theobald’s copious blogs spanning 12 months to give you a flavor of what organizing such a trip is really like.

If you have ever dreamed of such an adventure, you must read this account. Unfortunately, the first mistake Theobald made was to pick the wrong year –2009, a year certainly to live in all of our memories a long time.


Nordhavn 57 

 Bagan, a Nordhavn 57 ready for a trip of a lifetime.


 Edited excerpts of Sprague Theobald’s blogs (To read the full blogs go to --

August 10, 2008 – It’s a Go!

Having made this decision [to go through the Northwest Passage] I find that my enthusiasm for the project hasn’t been wasted; within past three months I’ve managed to bring aboard several backers who’ll meet my budget. Their main concern, apart from return on their investments, is how I plan to do this trip. Enter “Bagan”, my Nordhavn 57. She and I have already been from L.A. to RI without a hitch. If there was ever a boat built for such a passage it is Bagan.

August 15-20, 2008 – Crew Needed

Yesterday I started the list for potential crew. After putting down the first two names I went no further. Over the past 18 months I’d been fortunate enough to have two of the very best crew one can find join me on some good sized runs. Clinton Bolton and Dominique Tanton are not only as professional as they come they are also good friends.

I broached the subject to them over lunch and their decision was made by dessert. They have to work out their salary requirements and job expectations.

September 1, 2008 – Punch List and Budgets

Clinton has presented me with a preliminary list and budget of work which we’ll need to do to get Bagan ready her for the trip, not the least of which being some sort of Kevlar band around the waterline to give added strength to any ice pressure. Better heating system (Espar). Better seals on all exterior doors, get all electronics talking with each other, re-bed hatches, overall water maker, etc., Both Clinton and Dominique are now on salary and Sandy Davies is trouble-shooting the electronics. All agreed that access to daily ice reports is a must.


Nordhavn 57 

Pilothouse of a Nordhavn 57 sistership to Bagan.
September 8, 2008 – Re-Fitting Bagan

We moved “Bagan” down to Stamford, CT where Clinton and Dominique will start in on the modifications and alterations for a season in the arctic. A game plan and launch date in the spring had been agreed on.

September 20, 2008 – The World Meltsdown

As the official sponsors of the documentary, Dan Streech and Jim Leishman of Nordhavn/PAE sponsored a trip through the NWP on a Russian Icebreaker and we spent 14 days traveling the very waters that Bagan will be transiting this coming summer. What started off as an exciting chance to grab footage for promo packages for the doc ended in all but personal disaster for me.

About six months ago Dan, Jim and I met in Dana Point, CA where I pitched the idea of the documentary to them. By the end of the meeting they had signed aboard to underwrite just about the full cost of the piece. What none of us knew was that during our stay in the Arctic the world’s economic situation would plummet to near Depression levels… During the trip, each morning at breakfast we’d read the downloaded world headlines and each morning I could see less and less enthusiasm from Dan and Jim about the trip…Finally the morning came when after reading of near financial collapse they intimated that the funding offered would not be as planned. To say I was devastated was an underestimate. I was considering my future hidden far, far away from creditors above the Arctic Circle.

However… I’ve known Dan Streech as a very close friend for over fifteen years now and the pain and anguish I saw in his eyes when he told me they had to rescind the offer was the very reason I count him as one of the very few men of honor going. No one knows how deep this recession will go but I fully agree with Dan (without him saying it) that paying for a trip of this nature, all the while looking at potential layoffs, would be just about as callous of a business philosophy one could cite.

It would appear as though I now have to try and raise sponsorship while the world is suffering a financial meltdown… and they said transiting The Passage was going to be tough… What I’m feeling now is sheer terror.


October 18, 2008 – Then there were none

With the Dow kissing 7k, all backers are officially out. KVH and Commanders aren’t returning calls (wouldn’t it be so much easier just to say “No”?). Salaries have been committed to, schedules have been rearranged and the Passage may not be approachable next year. My nest egg is under attack.

Nordhavn 57 

The saloon of a Nordhavn 57 sistership to Bagan.
February 20, 2009 – Forward-Looking Sonar

Through constant phone calls Clinton has managed to secure at price something which could very well be the most important piece of equipment for the trip; FLS – Forward Looking Sonar. With this mounted under the waterline we’ll be able to look ahead out to 200’ and down to 100. Radar doesn’t always pick up icebergs and this should help for not only seeing them but uncharted shoals as well.

April 5, 2009 – Boat Coming Along

Bottom painted, new zincs, stabilizers overhauled, chain re-galvanized, Bagan is now resting where she should be, in the water dockside and if all goes to plan should be coming up here to Newport May 1st where Dominique will start the arduous process of supplying her for the trip. I’m still pounding on doors for funding but have resigned myself to the fact that once the trip is finished a sale of the documentary will reimburses me, hopefully.

April 17, 2009 – Insurance Coverage

Scrambling try to find any sort of insurance coverage. I’d be amazed if I did come up with anything but a year ago at this time that’s just what I was, amazed. A company in South Africa came up with a policy, which had a 2% deductible, full hull coverage for $10,000. Today that company is no longer in business. The best I can find now is $15,000 and no coverage for ice damage, plus no coverage for north of 62.10N, which is about half the trip. Very hard to keep focused on the trip with this economy. June 15th can’t come soon enough.

April 28, 2009 – PTO Needs Work

Today I received a text from Clinton who’s working feverishly on Bagan. He found excessive wear in the bearings of the “Overhung Load Adapter” (basically a PTO of sorts that powers all the hydraulics – stabilizers and bow thruster) on the wing engine. Nothing that money won’t fix and far, far better that we find this now than en route but nonetheless a bit outside of the “spending plan”… sigh.


Nordhavn 57 

The galley of a Nordhavn 57 sistership to Bagan.

May 6, 2009 – Watermaker is Shot

I just got a call from Clinton; Ocean Options just finished a inspection of the water maker, it’s shot. A combination of years and weather has taken its toll. Long story made short: this is going to cost… and cost big.

April 30, 2009 – Website Almost Up

The money scramble continues and C & D have stepped up their efforts to get Bagan ready for the delivery from Stamford to Newport. Today I was asked if I was scared. The answer was an easy one, “Down to my socks.” I met today with Matt Dutra & Molly McGuirk of Rubic Design. Matt & Molly are mounting a full-court-press for media coverage and promotion. Within the next week the Northwest Passage Film site and Blog will go live.

May 22, 2009 – Engine Check

Clinton and Allen Fontaine from DePaul Diesel in Portsmouth, RI broke down the gen-set and main engine for their regular service as well as preventative inspections. Happy to report that there were no hidden $urprise$ to be found in either piece of machinery… And that, for me, makes a very good day. Think I just might sleep tonight!

June 3, 2009 – 12 Days to Departure

Clinton’s starting to install the new water maker, a new Espar heating system is being shipped from Canada and needs to be installed, Sandy’s back up to hunt down some last minute gremlins with our satellite internet connection, the press is starting to get the word that we’re soon to be off,… and we leave in 12 days…



A single 325-hp Lugger diesel engine powers the Nordhavn 57.

June 12, 2009 – 3 Days Left

The out pouring of the community support is staggering, totally unexpected and incredibly appreciated, THANK YOU NEWPORT!!! I’m a bit neglect in mentioning the latest and possibly some of the best news of the trip to date; my stepson Chauncey Tanton has flown himself out from Denver to join in the efforts, very, very cool! Because of “life” Chaunce and I haven’t had a chance to spend too much time together in the past 15 years and re-connecting with this great guy has really been a very, very wonderful and healing process for me! Sefton, my son, flew out from Denver as well. His arrival too has been a wonderful addition to the rest of the crew! Wasn’t it yesterday these kids were just that, kids? Now, for the first time in over 15 years the whole extended family is aboard and working side by side. Very happy to report that nary a grumble is heard and many are the nights that these guys, Clinton, Dominique, Chaunce & Sefton work well past 11:00 p.m. amid gales of laughter!! Thank you life!!!

June 15, 2009 – Departure Day?

With all good hopes of leaving at 12:00 p.m., the last minute work that was being done on the watermaker had us slide right past that noon hour and they didn’t finish until 4:00 p.m.  But that frustration paled by comparison to what the ship’s computer had waiting for us… which was exactly nothing. When I went to get on the internet yesterday morning there was no internet, not much of anything else either. Seeing as internet access is 75% of this trip and apart from posting blogs and pics we need access to the ice charts, we were in it and in it deep! A frantic call to Sandy and he was up here from CT by 9:00 a.m. A very long (he didn’t finish working on the computer until 11:00 p.m.) and extremely tedious story made short, we had a massive computer crash on our hands. Sandy had to do three day’s work in one and completely rebuild the computer. By the end of the day we were all so stressed by this news as well as trying to find room aboard for literally a ton of last minute items, we called off the departure for 12 hours.

June 16, 2009 – D-Day, At Last!

Destination: Halifax, Nova Scotia. After last-minute provisioning and system tweaks Bagan and crew departed Newport, RI, mid-day on June 16. Current crew on-board is Sprague, Clinton, Dominique and Ted. Going full steam through the day, they passed through the Cape Cod Canal and Cape Cod Bay in afternoon. Bagan presses on at around 8-10 knots and we report fine weather, calm seas, and complete disregard for the cares and chaos the left behind in Newport. This morning [June 17] the team is midway between Provincetown and Halifax. Stay tuned for more daily map and blog updates.

NEXT WEEK – Halifax to Greenland