Nordhavn 57 Makes It To Northwest Passage Gateway - 08/12/2009

For nearly 500 years mariners dreamed of finding and traversing the Northwest Passage. Over the years more than 300 men died in pursuit of this holy grail and some of the best arctic tales have come from its quest. With the advent of global warming, the Northwest Passage is now expected to be ice free long enough to permit yachts travel its wondering course. Indeed, this year no fewer than seven yachts are attempting to make the passage, five going from east to west, and to going from west to east. Two of the seven are powerboats. This is the story of one of them, the Nordhavn 57 Bagan.

For the last two weeks has recounted the adventure of 57-year-old filmmaker Sprague Theobald and his crew as they made ready for the trip of a lifetime, then plunged into the first and second legs of their voyage that got them to Greenland. This week we follow the intrepid crew as it pilots the Nordhavn 57 from Greenland to Beechy Island on famed Lancaster Sound, gateway to the Northwest passage.

The material published here has been excerpted -- and highly edited for reasons of space -- from the blogs of Sprague Theobald as they appear on his website, We urge you to visit the website and read the blogs in their entirety.

Read the 1st installment of the saga...

Read the 2nd installment of the saga...

Nordhavn 57
Sisimiut, Greenland

July 18 Post – Across the Arctic Circle

Yesterday afternoon, at 3:30 p.m. local, we crossed the Arctic Circle and arrived here in Sisimiut (Holsteinsborg), Greenland two hours later, 20 minutes late for clearing in with Customs who won’t be open again until Monday...

Sisimiut is Greenland’s second largest town with over 5,000 people. The community itself goes back hundreds of years and it’s current location was established in 1764. The passage here from Sondre Stromsfjord – itself one of the most beautiful anchorages/fjords I’ve yet to be in – was as predicted by the downloaded GRIB files, 10kts from the NNW and relatively flat seas which gave us all a chance to stand down from iceberg watch and catch up on laundry, ship’s maintenance and reading.

The current situation with the watermaker has slipped into that of an “intermittent” problem; sometimes it works as advertised, sometimes not, very hard to nail down and diagnose.

Nordhavn 57
Stromfjord, Greenland

July 22 Post – Disko Bay and History

We plan to leave for Disko Island in another day or so, just waiting to see how the off-shore winds shake out. As it is we’re ahead of schedule so an extra day here may help the new crew get settled in. Disko Island is considered the birth place of all things iceberg and draws special excitement for me as this is where the historic part of the trip begins. It was Francis M’Clintock aboard his 177 ton ship “Fox” who staged out of here July 1857 when he went on his search and hoped for rescue mission for the missing Franklin Expedition, who themselves were searching for the Northwest Passage some ten years earlier. Franklin’s crew of 128 men as well as his two ships “Erebus” and the “Terror” simply vanished off the face of the earth (Eventually over 40 expeditions were sent to try and find them. It was M’Clintock who later found cannibalized bodies on King William Island – but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Disko Bay also plays host to the amazing Greenland Ice Cap as well as the great Jakobshavn Isfjord, both considered environmental “barometers” in the ongoing global warming concerns.

The yacht Bagan in Greenland.

July 25 Post – North to Disko

Seeing a nice wind window on the weather charts we left Sisimiut yesterday morning and immediately found that while the wind was as advertised (less than 12 kts from the north) the seas left over from an off-shore blow were lumpy and from most every direction, the “washing machine” effect. It wasn’t too long after we started to head north that pockets of fog built to a steady fog bank and once again all eyes were trained on the two radars watching for ice bergs; fog & ice not being a real comforting combination.

120 miles later, at around midnight we felt our way into the small fishing harbor in Aasiaat and dropped the hook. Don’t know what the others did but after a day like that I headed straight for my bunk. Our aim is to get up deeper into Disko Bay and closer to the Ice Cap and do some exploring from there.

Clinton and I are also keeping an eye on the wind forecast for this coming week as there appears to be a large weather window opening between here and Lancaster Sound. If that’s the case it’s my hope to get while the getting’s good and scoot across Baffin Bay ASAP to get over toward the Passage. From what we can see in the downloaded ice charts the ice is continuing to break up and while it may be a tad too early yet to enter it’d be nice to be in place and ready to go.

July 26 Post – The Greenland Ice Cap at Disko

Iceberg, Disko Bay
Iceberg with 20’ RIB at right in Disko Bay.

After a quick over night anchor at the small fishing village of Christianshab, (complete with hundreds of howling huskies on land) we left this morning around 9:00 A.M. We immediately came into a massively and seemingly endless ice field studded with bergs of indescribable size and beauty.

The first shows the leading edge of the ice in Jakobshavn Isfjord coming down the east side of Disko Island. This is an indication that the Greenland Ice Cap is calving at a very healthy rate. The potential concern for this ice cap is that it wasn’t long ago that the predication of the “Larson B” ice shelf in Antarctica would take decades to melt, but it disappeared in just 30 days. Drastic changes like these can potentially effect global climate overnight. Needless to say, environmental eyes from many differing camps on global warming are watching this ice cap.

Because of the heavy concentration of ice and any unexpected wind shift could potentially lock us in, we opted out of going north of the east side of Disko Island and headed straight for the south side. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the weather window we saw a few days ago stays open, and we can scoot across Baffin Bay to Lancaster Sound sooner rather than later.

Bagan leaving RI
The Nordhavn 57 Bagan when leaving Newport, RI on June 16th for its voyage north.

July 29 Post – Across Baffin Bay to Lancaster Sound

We are now in our second day of crossing the Baffin Bay. The weather window held, the light breezes which were predicted to fall apart and we’re now in flat seas with less than five knots of air. Our original intent was to head for Pond Inlet but after looking at a ice chart, we down loaded last night, found it to still have ice in it. Lancaster Sound is wide open up to Beechy Island (where the Franklin Expedition graves are) so we’ve altered course. This will add an extra day to the crossing and I’m very happy to report that we are now two days out from The Northwest Passage.

It is lonely up here.

July 31 Post – Entering the Northwest Passage

At 9:30 a.m. local (EST) we “officially” left Baffin Bay and entered The Northwest Passage. We designated 80 degrees longitude as the demarcation zone. Watching the GPS, with half the crew asleep, the other half of us smiled a great big smile of satisfaction knowing that we’ve now entered into something few have done (successfully) before.

The Passage is steeped in history, some tragic, some inspiring, all enticing and for the next three or four weeks we hope to uncover as much as we can… and then get out of here before the snow starts to fly and the ice starts to roll back in. By the way, because the lines of longitude are becoming tighter and tighter further north we burned through 35 degrees of longitude in 3.5 days. That’s three times zones, a time zone a day!

Melting Ice
Polar bears are now endangered because of the premature melting of the ice flows from which they earn their daily bread – gobbling up seals trying to get on the ice. It is slim pickings on land.

August 1 Post – Devon Island, NWP

During our first day traveling into The Passage we 1.) Were escorted by six Orca, 2.) Watched four polar bear on shore (maybe two cubs) and at 5:00 a.m. local have just dropped the hook on the south coast of Devon Island in Blanley Bay at the foot of an amazingly active and vocal glacier. The temps are in the high 30s, the wind and seas are flat and I’m heading to bed.

Tomorrow Beechy Island, the site of the first two graves found from the doomed Franklin Expedition of 1850. As I’ve said before and will most probably say many times again, I’ve no adequate words for all of this but will break out the thesaurus tomorrow.

[Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island in the world. –Ed.]

Next Week: Beechy Island and Westward Ho

Editor’s Note: Nordhavn has discontinued the Nordhavn 57, but to see the vessels have replaced it visit the Nordhavn website...