by Kraig Becker
Two French sailors have embarked on an epic sailing adventure that will take them deep into the heart of the Arctic Ocean and beyond. Using a specially designed catamaran, the two men intend to sail from Barrow, Alaska to the North Pole before continuing on to Spitsbergen, Svalbard in Norway. If successful, they’ll cover approximately 3300 km (2050 miles) through some of the most treacherous environments on the planet.
Sébastien Roubinet and Vincent Berthet got underway from Cape Barrow back in July and have been carefully navigating their way north ever since. They are traveling aboard a two-hulled boat named Babouchka that is capable of not only sailing the ocean waters but also traveling across the frozen surface of the Arctic as well. Their plan is to stay on the water as long as possible then transition to the frozen icecap for the remainder of the journey to the Pole. Once they reach 90°N – the very top of the world – they’ll begin heading south toward Norway.
The two men have faced some unexpected challenges on their journey so far. The waters of the Arctic Ocean are filled with more ice than they had anticipated this summer and that has made for a more difficult time finding navigable waterways. Large ice flows have caused them to have to backtrack on more than one occasion as they search for a safer and more manageable way to move forward. On top of that, they have also had to endure highly variable winds. On some days they have made excellent time with the winds in their favor and other times they have been becalmed, making no progress at all. Worse yet, there have been days with such high winds that the only option has been to drop anchor and wait for the heavy gales to pass so that they can proceed more cautiously.
Last week the two sailors crossed over the 78°N longitudinal line which is both a milestone and an indication of how much further they still have yet to go. They will likely make better time once they transition to the ice as they’ll be able to continue traveling north on a more consistent basis. Until then, they’ll have to contend with finding open waterways that will allow them to continue north between the massive icebergs. Either way, they are still weeks away from reaching the North Pole, which is only the halfway point of their voyage.
You can follow along with the adventure on the expedition’s official website, where Sébastien and Vincent are posting regular updates on their progress.
[Photo Credit: Sébastien Roubinet and Vincent Berthet]