There was a curious incident on the way up. They chose to climb an iceberg. Fine. But why this had to be climbed in the nude, with no crampons and one ice axe each I do not know. A quaint South African custom? – though they had never seen ice before of course.
Near Upernavik they climbed three extreme new rock climbs. One of these was a major undertaking like that of the Belgian/American expedition of 2010 (if you haven't seen their film 'Vertical Sailing'you should), and took nine days to complete sleeping occasionally on portaledges on the face on the way up. E6, 850 metres for those who might be technically minded.
We then sailed (for once) across to Pond Inlet on the north of Baffin Island on the Canadian side. We found a completely unclimbed series of cliffs, but the cracks were 'blind' – they could get no protection in. But they did manage another extreme pioneering new route at a slightly lower grade.
We were now held up for five days by ice before we could start the North West Passage. Eventually Navy Board Inlet (many of the names in the Arctic are British) cleared sufficiently to let us through to start the Passage. Fortunately it was a 'good' ice year. We did have to wait a few days for stubborn pack ice to clear further down the Passage, but finally a south wind cleared it so well that we were able to go through the Victoria Strait – most unusual and it saved us several days reaching Cambridge Bay, about halfway. I called it our 'Red Sea deliverance – having been well taught you will recognise the Biblical reference!
The second half of the Passage was a very long way. Much of it was also very shallow; it was quite alarming sailing, or motoring, for miles with only 1-2 metres below the keel! We anchored off Point Barrow near the end with 1.1 metres below the keel. The final 550 mile stretch down the Chuckchi Sea between Alaska and Russia was plain unpleasant with a strong gale in a shallow sea. But at least it was from the north and pushed us rapidly southwards. The mainsail ripped in another strong wind over a shallow patch, but we finally arrived in Nome, Alaska, on September 20, battered but triumphant.
We wintered the boat ashore in Nome. But hey, this means I have got to go back to Alaska to get it. Should have thought of that before......
A fuller account of this venture should be in Yachting Monthly's July issue (which comes out sometime in June!). But then you'd have buy that – should be some nice pictures though....
The Rev Bob Shepton the school Chaplin between 1980 and 1992.