Nordhavn 57 Conquers The Northwest Passage on August 30! - 09/02/2009

In the 1850s the route of the Northwest Passage was figured out by mariners who had been sent to find the lost Franklin Expedition, but no one actually made the complete passage in a single vessel until 1903-6 when Roald Amundsen traversed the passage in his small sailboat Gjoa. He had to winter over three winters in order to complete the passage. The Nordhavn 57 Bagan followed the same route this summer making it in one month. This summer at least 7 recreational vessels are attempting the NWP, including two British officers in a 17’ sailboat! (Mad Dogs and Englishmen!)

Anchoring in Ice
By powering between the north shore of the North American continent and the Canadian archipelago the Nordhavn 57 Bagan was able to transit the most difficult part of the NWP in just a few weeks.

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...

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Read the 4th installment of the saga...

Read the 5th installment of the saga...

August 25th Post –Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada

We dropped the hook here Sunday, almost immediately took on 1800 gallons of diesel and replenished some of our food stock. We also took to the land like six crazed people. While our stop at Gjoa Haven was a thoroughly enjoyable one it was here where we truly shook the kinks out.

Over the past year I’ve been in touch with Peter Semotiuk regarding ice and planning and one of the very first things I did was arrange to meet up with him. He came down to the boat Sunday afternoon and I immediately understood why John Bockstoce wrote the wonderful words about him that he did in his two books; Peter is an amazingly warm person whose sprit absolutely filled the boat. Within minutes Bagan’s salon was filled with joyous and heart warming laughter, something that we most certainly weren’t doing while emailing Peter during out ice delay. Our emails back and forth to Peter while we were stuck in the ice were pretty tense and straight forward. To have finally been face to face with the man who supplied us with information and cheered us on during those two days was a meeting I’ll never forget.

Arctic Coast Visitors Center

...another person I’d been in touch with over the winter, Vicki Aiatok came down to the boat to introduce herself. Vicki is the manager of the Arctic Coast Visitor Centre here in Cambridge Bay and has been a wonderful resource for me as far as lining up some interviews for the documentary and answering all my convoluted questions about our intended stay here. As with Peter, Vicki proved to be one of the most genuinely warm and gracious people I’ve yet to meet…she proved to be a wealth of knowledge regarding all things to do with Cambridge Bay and was very quickly ushering me around town in her truck.

Yesterday I made my way down to the Visitor’s Centre and was bowled over by the collection of art, historic displays and cultural exhibits which the Centre proudly boasts. Vicki has done a magnificent job with the Centre in which one can not only learn about Cambridge Bay and its history but the traditions and history of and its people and the land.

Sailing through
Two Royal Marines are currently sailing this Norseboat 17.7 through the NWP.

17’ Day Sailor Making the NWP!

Then we met Lieutenant Colonel, Kevin Oliver and Major, Tony Lancashire of the Royal Marines. These two guys knocked on our hull late Sunday, said they saw that we were doing The Passage and introduced themselves by saying they were doing the same trip, albeit west to east, in a 17 foot open day sailer… yes, that’s just what we thought. After talking with them a bit we learned that they’d pulled into Cambridge Bay to catch their breath and organize themselves for the next leg to Gjoa Haven.

Sailing through
Lt. Col Kevin Oliver, 20 years in the Royal Marines.
Sailing through
Major Tony Lancashire, 14 years in the Royal Marines.

Very quickly Kevin and Tony started to fill us in on their expedition to date and after learning of all the research and preparation that went into their trip and what they’d accomplished so far, my immediate feelings about theirs being a very risky and seemingly crazy trip were replaced by the knowledge that these two commandos knew exactly what they were getting into, could easily handle a trip of this nature and if I ever had to do a long dangerous passage in an small, open boat, Kevin and Tony were the two I’d trust with my life.

The boat has been specially modified for the trip, they can either sail or row her, she can be pulled onto the ice or land and serve as shelter. Every contingency had been well thought out and planned for. It was sad to hear that due to the prevailing winds not being reliable this year, they may have to call and end to it at Gjoa Haven and not the intended target, Pond Inlet. It seems that within a few months they will both be rotated to Afghanistan. The mind boggles.

Sailing through
The two Royal Marine started in the Mackenzie River and then the blue balloons follow their track east to Cambridge Bay where the sailboat icon is located. The red balloons show their intended route to finish the NWP west to east.

Kevin and Tony are making this trip not only for the experience but for a very special cause, “Toe In The Water”. PLEASE check out their web site at to learn more about it. These two guys are amazing and we all wish them the very best of luck and safety not only for the rest of their voyage but for the years to come. We’re off tomorrow at 4:00 a.m. and ...if all goes well...sometime in the next three days we may be crossing the 130th meridian, the Official Unofficial End of The Northwest Passage for this trip.

Sailing through
Bagan encountered serious ice as she headed south through the NWP, just as did the early explorers in the 1800s.

August 29th – Summers harbor, Booth Island

Two and a half days out of Cambridge Bay and we sit snuggly in Summers Harbor on Booth Island. We saw two small depressions forming down the road and decided to tuck in here and let them blow over us. The top winds forecast were for 30 kts but that was out of the west and the sea state would have been sharp & steep…no point in beating up the boat or the crew.

Summers Harbor is a perfectly horseshoe-shaped anchorage which protects us from all sides but is fairly flat and as is typical for this latitude, is extremely barren of just about anything but rock and dirt… Oh for a tall, green, tree!! So, all’s well, we’re now 150 miles from the “Official Unofficially End of The Northwest Passage” which sits at the 130th meridian.

Sailing through
The six-member crew of Bagan has a “record” picture taken as they cross the 130th Meridian. Nordhavn 57 owner Sprague Theobald in the foreground.

August 30th – Northwest Passage!

At 1:35 PM PST this afternoon we crossed our target meridian of 130 degrees west, thus ending our transit of The Northwest Passage! Dominique prepared us a Baked Alaska and we all breathed a very large sigh of relief and utter joy as we stuffed our faces! Again I find I’ve no words to best describe my feelings but for now will simply say that none of us aboard Bagan are taking this accomplishment for granted and all feel beyond fortunate to have had such an experience. This has so far been most assuredly the trip of a lifetime, with a crew and boat that are second to none! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. See you in Seattle.

See the Video of Bagan crossing the 130th meridian --

Sailing through
If you have every wondered what the Beaufort Sea looks like in August, this is it. Picture taken from Bagan’s flying bridge.

August 31st – The Beaufort Sea!

Weather: 20-25 knot North winds. The air temperature is 33 F and heavy snow showers are coming off the polar ice cap 60 miles north of our present position. Forecast: More of the same. Heavy north to northeast winds and snow through tomorrow evening. Seas 6 to 8 feet.

We are happy to be hiding in the well-protected harbor at “Tuk”. Bagan made two hundred miles today after a 2200 departure from a snug anchorage at Summer’s Harbor. A not so interesting gray 24 hours started out with a sloppy swell slamming into the bow, and ended with 4 to 6 foot following seas and a 25-knot tailwind that stole the canvas cover to the grill. Summer is definitely over and we have been reminded that there are only two seasons here: August… and winter.

Our twelve-mile midnight approach to this harbor down a narrow 13-foot deep unlit channel in total darkness during a snowstorm and heavy following sea attests to this. Piece of well planned and studied cake.

Next for Bagan and her crew is the 500 nautical mile run to Barrow, Alaska. It will be good to be back in the USA for while, and we are looking forward to making the turn around the northernmost point in the states and heading south for a while. This, of course, means a rendezvous with the Bering Sea and the dirty weather for which it is famous. Our confident vessel and crew are sure to be tested. Stay tuned.

Next Week: The North Slope and Points West

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