In May this year I hugged my mum goodbye at Glasgow Airport and I wondered when I’d see her again. The Northwest Passage is one of the most extreme maritime challenges with only a handful of boats making it through each year. I felt a bit lonely and afraid.
Once I was in Canada I had no time to think about anything. Provisioning was intense and things like visiting the gun shop were an eye-opening experience. Anyone could have bought a shotgun there. We got the ammo and collected the guns then bought an insane amount of food. Little did I know how quickly it would all vanish and all my dreams would become dinner related! I worried more about my next meal than some sailing calamity. My plight was made worse sailing with two women who don’t do cans and live on quinoa and kale smoothies!
We left Lunenburg in Nova Scotia in early June. The voyaging over to Greenland was pretty intense and we were thrown around 24/7 and sleeping was almost impossible. I guess at least my climbing slings came in useful to secure myself into my bed as otherwise I just fell out every few minutes. We had to take it in turns to be on watch and one time in thick fog we hit a small iceberg that didn’t show up on the radar. It was like crashing into a brick wall.
It was incredible for me crossing into the Arctic Circle it was a dream come true. I was constantly looking at the co-ordinates as we neared that point. I decided to enter in to the Arctic Circle as a swimmer and so dived off the boat in my trunks. I was only in the sea for a minute or so until I’d swam into the Arctic waters but it was enough. The water was zero degrees. I could barely catch hold of the boat and struggled to get back onboard, nothing functioned properly. I’m glad I did it though.
Seeing Greenland for the first time was awesome. It was just like the Alps suddenly jutting out of the sea. I could spend my life exploring Greenland it’s magical. I loved anchoring at Ilulissat and hiking to the Ice Fjord. In 2004 this became added on to the UNESCO World Heritage list. It’s the most active glacier in the Northern Hemisphere and is responsible for the biggest glacier calving ever caught on film, which can be seen in the film Chasing Ice. You see the most brilliant blue in glaciers, it happens because air bubbles are squeezed out and ice crystals enlarge creating this crazily intense colour.
The furthest North we got was Etha Fjord at 78 18N and that’s where we got trapped by ice for about four days but it could have been all winter. I loved it there and would have happily stayed. That was where I saw my first polar bear when I was on watch at 3 in the morning. I saw lots of seals and just felt certain I was going to see one that night and then suddenly it appeared. The terrain there was incredible too and I really enjoyed exploring the monstrous glacier that comes straight off the Greenlandic Icecap.
It was eerie at the uninhabited Carey Øer Islands which is a place the Danish and Canadians constantly squabble over in a lighthearted way. They always take each other’s flag down and then put up their own and leave a bottle of whisky. My friends put a pirate flag up after we’d been! I went for a hike there along a very exposed ridge and saw a whale from the summit. It was misty and sunny and the sea was so blue and it looked like something out a Viking film.
Seeing about 30 walruses at Philpott Island was amazing. At first I thought they were just rocks but then saw their tusks and dark beady eyes watching my every move. They were all piled on top of each other and occasionally one would poke the other or omit a roar. I could have watched them for weeks. I also came face to face with a polar bear here. We’d gone for a hike and weren’t sure which way to head back so I ran up the hill to look. As I was jogging I remembered someone saying that on the brow of a hill take care as that is where you might see a polar bear. I slowed as I had that thought and it was just in time as there in front of me was this huge bear. She woke up, yawned and we looked at each other for a moment. I backed away and then scooted back down to the others with her following me. We fired a gun in the air and then she wandered off.
It was incredible to cross the line between the two lighthouses in Russia and Alaska that mark the official end of the Northwest Passage. Nome my final stop was a blast. It was full of gold miners and it felt as though I was in the wild west of America. I met some of the characters off Deadliest Catch and Gold Divers. I could also eat whatever I like and I stuffed my face with burgers, chips and onions rings. We all celebrated an awesome trip.