How to

14 August 2017

Two Sailboats are Heading to the North Pole to Prove a Point

If you were planning an expedition to somewhere like the North Pole, you’d probably consider travelling in something a bit more heavy-duty than a sailboat. However, an international crew from Britain, the Netherlands and the United States have done exactly that after setting off on their Arctic voyage last weekend.

The ten-strong team departed from the Alaskan city of Nome aboard two specially-equipped sailboats – the Snow Dragon II and the Bagheera. The former has an aluminium hull while the latter is made of steel, both of which are prevented from breaking apart when they collide with sea ice at full speed. Neither is ideal when compared to the more traditional ice breakers that are normally used for these expeditions, but explorer Pen Hadow and his crew are determined to make a point with their unconventional choice of transportation.

“We just want to show people by taking a small sailing boat through there just how much there has been a physical state change from a solid surface to a liquid,” Hadow said, referring to the melting of Arctic ice that’s occurred as a result of global warming.

The loss of this ice has made it possible for boats like Hadow’s to reach the North Pole for the first time ever, but this isn’t something that the team want to celebrate. They’re hopeful to be proved wrong and fail on their expedition, because this would imply that the state of the Arctic is not as dire as they’d feared.

“I am torn between the challenge of going further north than anyone has in a sailboat before and genuinely hoping that it is not yet possible. It’s a very strange situation – I’m conflicted,” Hadow added.

Reaching the North Pole would mean that the level of sea ice that remains is dangerously low and the impact of this could be deadly for the environment and the region’s inhabitants. Several countries have already shown an interest in expanding their activity northwards as the Arctic becomes more accessible which could spell disaster for this vulnerable part of the world.

“Now that the ice is melting, they are all of a sudden going to be exposed to commercial fishing, to commercial shipping, to a whole wave of new competitor animals that will come in […] We are not going to be able to carry on mindlessly taking whatever we want from the environment and I think a lot of people are looking to this as a symbol for a new debate.”

Hadow’s expedition is expected to take around six weeks and will cover a ground of up to 4000 miles. During their travels they’ll encounter days of 24 hour sunshine and will work alongside a group monitoring satellite footage to try and plot the safest route through the ice.

With two years of preparation behind them, the crew believe it’s now or never to embark on the voyage in order to get there first and make their point clear.

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. His love for cold weather sports and hiking in the winter gives him the enthusiasm for writing about keeping warm.