The Allures 44 Opale crossed the Northwest Passage
THE ALLURES 44 OPALE CROSSED THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE:
5/5 — Arctic to antarctica
In August 2019, the Allures 44 Opale crossed the Northwest Passage. The success encountered on this 4500 mile route is the culmination of years of passion for sailing in the far North by Marc Pédeau and Bénédicte Michel, the discreet authors of this performance. Fifth and last part of this long format story – you can read part one (here), part two (here), part three (here) and part four here. Also find all these five articles from one unique page displayed here.
Between sail and engine, which mode of propulsion prevails on this route?
“We sailed 90% of the time between St. Pierre and Miquelon and Paamiut in Greenland, along the Greenland coast we sailed 50% of the time, and 70% between Upernavik (Greenland) and Pond Inlet (Nunavut). Then we used the motor for 90% of the time, from Pond Inlet to Cambridge Bay, where we were in the ice anyway. And another 50% motor from Cambridge Bay to Tuktoyaktuk, and 80% motor from Tuktoyaktuk to Nome. In fact on this last leg, either there is a lot of wind and in that case we take shelter in an anchorage, or there is no wind and we go forward at 2 knots with a current against us, or we put the engine on so as not to arrive too late in the Bering Sea during the season. But we knew this before we left, you have to accept it otherwise you don’t go. Then, in the Bering Sea, from Nome to Sand Point, we sailed the whole time, with quite a few low-pressure areas. If you take it all into account, this represents about 70 to 80% of motor sailing over the whole journey”.
So of course, you obviously need to have a high level of energy autonomy on board. This is achieved by means of gas bottles whose standards and characteristics – one must note – differ significantly from one place to another along the route, but also and above all by being able to store large reserves of fuel on board: “It is even possible that one year there may not be any diesel available at a refuelling point on the route, because the supply boat has not passed, and therefore it is very important to have significant reserves on board, to be able to reach the next point if supplies are lacking at a given stop. The oil tanks are, by the way, the first thing you see when you arrive in these towns and villages, both in Greenland and in Nunavut“.
Overview of Opale’s logbook
The relative importance of the part of navigation operated by the engine is confirmed by reading the Opale’s logbook, which is highly instructive on many aspects. The information precisely scribbled by the crew recount indifferently (and beyond the traditional records of weather, route or position) life on board, weather conditions, ice observations, the effect of the tides, the daily duration of sunshine, or even the adventures of friendly yachts encountered along the journey.
Thus, the page of the logbook dated August 13th, 2019 (reproduced above) mentions a wind that varies greatly in strength and direction, from 3 to 17 knots, but also a speed of 4 to 6 knots, reached either under mainsail and jib or with the engine. News is also taken of a friendly boat, Altego II, a sturdy 16m steel twin keel registered in Slovakia and skippered by the Czech circumnavigator Jiří Denk, with which a photo shoot is first carried out. A sailboat which later in the day is discovered to be blocked by ice, which leads the crew of Opale to write the words “U-turn to get away from the coast because Altego II is blocked by ice“. The water temperature readings, taken at regular intervals every two hours, are continuously dropping, a clear sign of the proximity of the ice. The account of this day spent heading south in the strait located between Prince of Wales Island, in the west, and Somerset Island, in the east, between 74° and 72° N, ends with a terse appreciation full of common sense: “The south of Barth Island is stuck > Route West to get away from the coast and go around the ice pack“.
Some splendid memories?
“I will obviously remember the good moments spent with the crew, discovering together an exceptional territory and environment. We were two on board with Bénédicte up until St. Pierre and Miquelon. Then, from St. Pierre to Nuuk, four friends joined us and we were six on board. Then in Nuuk, three of these friends left, the second watch leader stayed, and three other crew members arrived, including my daughter Claire. We had to let one crew member leave at Pond Inlet, because he couldn’t take the risk of being late for professional reasons, and so there were five of us from Pond Inlet to Nome, where most of the crew left, and then on the Nome – Sand Point segment, there were again just two of us.”
“Another thing was the strong link created with the crews of friendly boats, with a very pleasant sense of mutual help, based on a continuous flow of information sharing: this state of mind and this constant solidarity had a real value for us, as much for the safety of all as for the pleasure of the exchange. Those crews were for example those of Altego II, Morgane, Breskell and also Alioth who left their boat at Sand Point like us.”
“And then the landscapes made a strong impression on us, especially in the areas where the coastline is the most indented, and we were able to enjoy them in that light that is so specific to the Arctic summer. I was also able to capture quite a few scenes, including with my phone, whose photographic features pleasantly surprised me. By the way, unlike the Altego II or the Breksell, I didn’t have a drone to film the Opale in these magnificent landscapes but I have since acquired one. Finally the silence, the wide open spaces, this feeling of immensity everywhere around, are without a doubt the strongest memories we brought back from this crossing.”
"The real interest in terms of navigation lies mainly on the coast of Greenland, which is the most extraordinary for its landscapes, it alone makes it worth the trip. Navigation and landscapes are also very interesting in Nunavut, which means on the first part of the Northwest Passage itself, between Lancaster Sound and Cambridge Bay, up to, say, Gjøa Haven. Because, after that, the north coast of Alaska, between Cambridge Bay and Nome, is quite flat or even uninteresting, with a lot of headwinds and landscapes without relief, and therefore few perspectives in terms of visual emotion, combined also to a certain lack in stopover ports.”
“This is why, from the point of view of the interest of the navigation itself, it is important to plan, as it has been said before, a quite ample timeline for the expedition, allowing you plenty of time ahead, both to take full advantage of the Greenland coast, which is really worth it and can be a goal in and on itself, and to be sure to be in the area at the right time, that is to say from the end of July, with the hope of actually crossing the hard zone around mid-August. You have to keep in mind that it is preferable to arrive in Alaska (Aleutian Islands) at the latest in the second half of September because afterwards the weather in the Bering Sea can be very difficult.”
And to conclude?
Marc and Bénédicte are further proof that it is possible for yachtsmen to triumph aboard their sailing boat over the Northwest Passage, a route haloed with myths, a fertile factor in the maritime imagination while at the same time guilty of many tragedies. And thus to prove wrong the wise men of Antiquity who, like Virgil, saw in the northern confines marked by the “ultimate lands” of the “Ultima Thule” (name taken up by John Malaurie), the limits of the anthropised world, beyond which the unknown reigned, and whose simple evocation still opens up an immense territory of dreams today.
One must not think that this successful crossing has Marc and Bénédicte convinced to have joined an elite caste, a club of “happy few” authors of unequalled exploits, quite the contrary. Marc Pédeau made this clear during a presentation of this journey in December 2019 to the community of owners of yachts built by the Grand Large Yachting group: he is there to pass on and share in all simplicity, and far be it from him to pose as a lecturer who would draw any advantage from his experience, however considerable, of Arctic navigation.
It would be just as erroneous to think that Marc and Bénédicte’s attraction for the septentrion (note) is exclusive.
This crossing of the North-West Passage is part of a much wider navigation perimeter, as Marc expressed in a October 2019 e-mail to Grand Large Services, the entity specialising in services for sailors, most notably in charge of supporting the clients of the Allures Yachting shipyard: “Over a period of 15 months, we will therefore have reached Cape Verde (via Galicia, Portugal, Madeira, Canary Islands), crossed the Atlantic between Cape Verde and Martinique, sailed in the Caribbean islands, visited Cuba then reached the USA via the Bahamas, sailed up the west coast of the United States via New York, sailed in Maine, Nova Scotia, St Pierre and Miquelon, Newfoundland, then Greenland before completing the Northwest Passage: in all 16.000 miles“. An email which ends with the following words: “This message, also, to thank you for your help and great reactivity at various moments of the project: sending gear, advice, working on the opportunity to put a propeller protection for the ice (which we ended up not installing)“.
Marc and Bénédicte’s next navigation project is already established and it is clearly moving away from the far North, although it is for the moment constantly being postponed due to the COVID crisis. As a consequence, Opale, at the date of publication of this article, is still blocked at Sand Point. This future experience can be described in a few words and many miles: starting from Alaska, which they plan to cover in great detail, they will then be able to go along the American west coast and then, starting from San Francisco, to aim for Mexico, Polynesia and New Zealand. And, from there, to cross the South Pacific to Patagonia and then the Antarctic Peninsula.
It is hardly surprising to find Antarctica as a destination featuring prominently in Marc and Bénédicte’s plans aboard their Allures 44. For this white continent, even reduced to the strip of land that is the Antarctic Peninsula facing Patagonia, accumulates references that are still almost mythical in the imagination of every sailor – real or dreamed of. This magic of the Deep South operates most notably in books, from the relationship of the odyssey of Ernest Shackleton and his crew aboard the Endurance between 1911 and 1914, to the pages of Gérard Poncet and Jérôme Janichon who, aboard the famous Damien, undertook in 1969 a 55,000 mile voyage more oriented towards personal achievement than sporting performance, abandoning all heroic aims, like their contemporary Bernard Moitessier did. These same Poncet and Janichon who were the first modern yachtsmen to sail across a range of latitudes between 80° North and 68° South and whom aficionados enjoyed seeing again in La Rochelle, alongside their duly restored Damien, during the last Grand Pavois to date, in September 2019, at the same time the Opale was reaching Sand Point, Alaska.
Be they southern or northern, extreme latitudes are endowed with an exceptional power of attraction. The mist of the open seas, the dream of the poles and the infinitely varied nuances of the ice, though endangered everywhere, make a definetely good match. Many thanks to Marc Pédeau and Bénédicte Michel for having led us there by sharing with us this story and these pictures, which contribute with splendour to enrich our imagination of the great cruise.
(Note) from Latin septentriō, septentriōnem (“the northern regions, the north”) directly and through Old French septentrïon, septemtrion, from septentriones (“the seven stars near the north pole”) (called Charles’s Wain, or the Great Bear, also those called the Little Bear; properly, the “seven plow oxen”). Source: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/septentrion.
Note: the various geographical elements mentioned in this text appear on the map reproduced above, a larger-format version of which can be viewedhere.
“The Allures 44 Opale crossed the Northwest Passage” : Read here the five papers related to this adventure.
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