Monday, August 31, 2009

Bagan exits the Northwest Passage

Congratulations Bagan.


Attached is a snip of an email from Sprague Theobald, the leader of the Northwest Passage expedition, to Dan Streech of Nordhavn.  Dan was kind enough to forward it on.

Even as I heard the words come from my mouth I still couldn’t believe what I was hearing; we had indeed exited The Northwest Passage and the dream that I stated to bring to fruition several years ago has now been accomplished. This year we were the first American boat as well as the first, and only, power boat to transit The Passage and now the very first Nordhavn.  By the way, do know that I was told by two very knowledgeable people in Cambridge Bay that this has been the worst ice year in ten years. Suffice it to say that there’s still a hell of a long and potentially very bumpy road ahead but doing successfully what many before me have tried and not been able to accomplish is one of the more humbling acts of my life.  Franklin et al were supermen.  They didn’t have satellite navigation, washers and dryers, flat screens, iPods, or stabilizers.  When they left home… they left home!   They only had themselves, their books, the stars and in the case of the actual Franklin Expedition, not the best of luck.  I feel that to date our efforts have been bestowed with vast amounts of luck and otherworldly blessings. I think I read somewhere where success is the combination of luck and preparation.  If that’s so, perhaps a successful transit was in the cards as I don’t think we could have been any better prepared. We certainly had some very lucky moments.  As I’ve said to you so many times before, part of the preparation was having the very best boat for just such an attempt at such a high risk venture. Not a market slogan but the God’s honest truth; I wouldn’t have considered doing this trip on anything other than a Nordhavn.  If this trip failed it wouldn’t have been simply something that I wasn’t able to finish, failure in my case could have meant the boat being crushed and sunk or worse, lives lost. I would not have put my life nor the lives of my crew in the hands of any other manufacturer.  No two ways about it, when the pack ice closed in around us as it did, Bagan saved our hides.  The ice was starting to stack up around us to our west, a rockbound coastline sat not a mile and a half away to our east and a slow but relentless current was pushing us from the northwest.  As you know, a half a mile off the beach we had to make what I feel to be one of the most disturbing decisions of my life. If we’d waited for it all to play out we would have ended up on the rocks with the ice bearing down on top of us.  There was only one thing to do and that, in any other circumstance, was to ask the unthinkable from Bagan and try to get her to do the inconceivable; be a tug / icebreaker and fight her way out. A boat sixty miles north of us was in the same predicament and they ended up having to call in a Canadian icebreaker. For one who is always so careful about trying to have Bagan’s hull do anything more than gently kiss a dock for a landing (trying), I hated what I had to get her to do.  With all the crew looking for leads, calling the closing distances and armed with poles to fend off, I would slowly bring her bow up to a floe that was anywhere from a foot to four feet thick, make contact and then gently pour on the coals.  Most of the time the bulb would wedge itself under the ice, which would get hooked into the curve where the bulb meets the boat. I’d then build up the RPMs, pushing at times up to five large sheets of ice at a time, albeit at a snail’s pace, to create a lead.  Other times the bulb would ride up on a lower shelf of a floe, lift her bow one to three feet up and then she’d use her weight to crash through or shatter the floe ahead. We did this time and time again for the better part of two harrowing days.  Once the ordeal was over we sent our diver Greg over with the vid camera and apart from some expected dings in the bulb and some smudged bottom paint, I can tell you we suffered literally not a scratch anywhere. Wait until you see the HD video!