Nordhavn 57 Trapped in Ice - 08/26/2009

Truth be told, the Nordhavn 57 Bagan, embarked on a voyage through the Northwest Passage, was blessed with fair weather and relative calm seas through much of her trip. However, after heading south from Resolute Bay heading south into Peel Sound she ran into the ice that confounded many arctic explorers in the mid-1800s. In fact, Bagan actually got mired in ice near where the ill-fated Franklin Expedition became entrapped in 1847 and where its two ships were sunk. Read this week’s fascinating account of how skipper Sprague Theobald -- in desperation -- drives his fiberglass boat into ice flows to escape being carried onto the arctic rocks.

Nordhavn 57

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...

Read the 3rd installment of the saga...

Read the 4th installment of the saga...

Anchoring in Ice
By anchoring on an ice flow, the Nordhavn 57 could be pulled by wind and current in the right direction.

August 18th Post -- Push, Plow Through the Ice

I cannot say that the past three days have been my favorite. We finally put the “Braving” part into our trip.

After reading ice charts and making our way fairly smoothly down Peel Sound for the past few weeks, three days ago Mother Nature decided to shake things up a bit. Not only did we have to push, plow, and break our way through ice, we also had fog and zero breeze (which didn’t help move the ice). Our radar was one big green blob, and we could only find leads heading the opposite direction we wanted to go!

Sprague on the helm, Clinton on top telling Sprague what direction he should go, Sefton directing Sprague through the breaks (and sometimes breaking) in the ice, Chauncey pushing ice from either side of the bow, Greg and I on the stern clearing the ice from the beam and making sure nothing went under towards the prop when we went into reverse. We all yelled and cursed (at each other AND the ice). But we persevered. We spent the last two nights with the anchor on a piece of ice drifting with the wind. Finally this morning the ice, the clouds and the fog broke and we have a clear shot down Ross Strait to Gjoa Haven!

Menu: The last three days: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Tonight: Steak!

Bagan Iced
Bagan iced-in and heading toward the rocks.

August 19th Post – Iced In

I’m writing this from the safe, protected and ice-free harbor at Gjoa Haven. We dropped hook here last night at 2:30 a.m., and never have I been so glad to hear the engine shut down. Two days ago we powered into thick, impenetrable ice which just as quickly closed in around us. What was suggested would be 2/10ths coverage was actually 9/10ths coverage. [Ice reporting services using satellite coverage report on the % of ice coverage from 0/10ths to 10/10ths.–Ed.] At one in the morning we completely ran out of options. We would find a lead [A narrow path of open water.—Ed.], then force our way down to it at 1-2 kts, sometimes over and through the ice, only to find that what we thought was a lead had completely frozen over, thus forcing us to find a new lead.

Navigating Through the Ice

Making our way through this solid ice barrier was beyond nerve-wracking in that the protestations from the ice were heard in the forms of shrieks, screeches, explosions and deep powerful shudders. If any of the ice bits found their way to our exposed stabilizers, propeller or rudder the potential damage could have bordered on the unthinkable. Time and again we’d fight for 500 yards, only to have it taken from us at the last minute, finding that the lead ahead had closed in the 10 minutes we’d been trying to get to it.

Bagan had taken a complete battering all day long and when we found she was inexorably trapped. Not being able to move forward or backward we shut down the engine and anchored onto a floe, 1 ½ miles from shore.

In 17 hours we had traveled 18 miles. We tried to sleep. The ice was firm enough to walk on and the next morning we ventured out onto it by foot to inspect the damage, which to my great relief was minimal at best. A few hours later we checked our position and found that now we were only ½ a mile off the shore, the ice ever slowly pushing us toward land.

Trapped in the Ice

We received an email from a boat 60 miles north of us. She was so solidly packed in and was being driven to shore. She had to call the Canadian Coast Guard to send an ice breaker to free them up. Our trip of a lifetime had taken on the dimension of deadly earnest and we had to act. We made the hard decision to try and point Bagan West at any and all costs to push, batter and break away from the rock bound coast. The pounding that Bagan took was indescribable; the continued and horrific protests of the ice was akin to the banshee’s screams as we forced our way though it. It was the stuff of nightmares. We gained our 3 miles and again dropped the hook on a floe that night.

Go With the Flow

The next morning we awoke to find that we had, of all things, drifted our way south 7 miles. With renewed energy and refreshed determination we once again set about using this good ship as an ice breaker. By three that afternoon we had broken our way clear into thinner and less dense ice packs.

Simply put, I would not have tried any of this if I had not been on a Nordhavn. Her strength and integrity is unsurpassed and it’s no exaggeration when I say she, and she alone, got us out of a situation that was in a lifetime of boating worse than anything I’ve experienced to date. No qualms about saying that at times I’d never been more terrified or more despondent. I think that at one point or another we all were and the amazing thing about this crew is that we pressed on regardless and did our best to keep these feelings of abject horror to ourselves. I’m very, very thankful to be posting this as I am and in the last few days have learned more about myself than all my combined fifty-eight years have taught me. Hands down, the best crew, for the best boat on the best trip.

Bagan Location
The last red balloon on the left marks Bagan’s location as of last Friday, August 21. She has almost transited the most difficult past of the famed Northwest Passage. Greenland is on the right, Baffin Island in the center, and in the top center is Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world.

August 21st Post – McClintock Bay

Again, I write this from a secure, protected and ice-free anchorage just on the west side of Simpson Straight. We pulled into here (McClintock Bay) yesterday afternoon when we saw that the forecast wind was starting to fill in higher than predicted. Gusting to 30 kts we all agreed that 1) We were in no rush to get to Cambridge Bay and 2) That we’d had enough “drama” for a while. Yesterday was also Greg’s birthday and Dominique not only prepared and served hamburgers (one of his favorites) and a fresh salad (bought while in Gjoa Haven) but a blueberry birthday cake for dessert!

“World’s Best Harbor” – Roald Amundsen

Gjoa Haven was wonderful; the people were very friendly and a long over due chance to stretch our legs without having to stay huddled in a group carrying firearms. GH is a small community of perhaps 900 and to say that they welcome visitors is an understatement. A few our the group ended up in the mayor’s office and left with everything from GH coffee cups to stickers.

In a few more days we hope to be in Cambridge Bay where we’ll take on fuel, do a few interviews and actually live a civilized life for the first time in over a month. It’s been since Sisimiut since we’ve been able to walk off in six different directions (unarmed), use internet, or just be among people who don’t live in confined quarters.

Yesterday while doing my anchor watch, the VHF radio squawked to life with “Bagan, Bagan… Ocean Watch”. I all but jumped out of my socks. Total disbelief that I’d heard what I heard. Sheepishly I answered the call (it wasn’t a practical joke by someone tucked away in the engine room) and in short order found that “Ocean Watch” the sloop that’s doing the “Around The America’s” project was sailing by outside the bay, not a mile away.

To make matters all the more surreal, aboard was old friend and renowned yachting journalist, Herb McCormick. Herb and I haven’t had a chance to chat in over 25 years, and now this. What do you say to someone with whom who you’ve got a ton of catching up to do, when you’re seemingly thousands of miles from nowhere, and are literally two ships passing in the night? All of us aboard Bagan wish Ocean Watch and her crew the very best of luck in their mammoth undertaking. Herb, dinner is on me!!

Next Week: Cambridge Bay and West

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