The North-East Passage
Vagabond, first yacht to pass the North-East passage, without wintering, within only one season.
(by Vagabond's Crew).
On this page are gathered last messages sent from Vagabond, along their expedition
After sailing 6 380 nautical miles from Saint-Quay-Portrieux (11 820 km), including 3 770 miles from Murmansk (6 980 km), Vagabond and her crew succeeded the North-East passage when crossing Bering Strait on 31st of August (in the fog...). Champagne ! We reached Provideniya on 2nd of September, harbour created by soviets to control all ships using the Northern Sea Route, and which marks our administrative arrival.
When we leave Tiksi on 19th of August, according to informations received on board, we are expecting a lot of ice pack ahead. But only one or two seals, frequent patches of fog, a strong South-West wind, and a rough sea are met accross the East-Siberian Sea. On 25th of August, Vagabond enters de Long Strait, name of Jeannette's captain, american ship that tried to reach the North Pole in 1879, and which was squashed by ice after 22 months drifting (pieces of the boat were founded later in Greenland and gave the idea to Nansen to drift accross the Arctic with the Fram).
The barometer shows 50 millibars less, swell becomes big, Vagabond is surfing sometimes up to 9 knots, just missing few walrus with their babies, these are much more comfortable than us in the high waves. Suddenly, while the night is coming, ice floes appear all around us. Danger is great, we have to see each piece of ice quickly enough to go around it. Wind and waves are pushing us with a good speed, and it is impossible to slow down if we want to keep handling the yacht. For a better watchfulness, France, Gerard and I are shifting every half hour to steer, until day light is enough again to anticipate our course. Boris, formal ice pilot of the Northern Sea Route, is also watching out, but his look is not so sharp anymore and he probably earned well his retirement. His main job on board is to answer the radio and to talk with other ships and authotities, as he is the only one who can speak russian.
Vagabond crosses the antimeridian on 27th of August, south of Wrangel Island that unfortunately weather and ice conditions take away from our route. We are now getting closer to Brittany. The Chukchi Sea is giving us a very nice welcoming : a perfect weather, a nice shore, some whales and especially a polar bear, swimming for some time in front of the stem. Little later, while we are passing some ice floes, we meet again several white bears sleeping on ice, or running, jumping into the water, swimming around, climbing on the next ice floe. This day is unforgettable.
Less than 200 km from Bering Strait, we stop where Vega spent winter, where Nordenskjold had to wait for 10 months before succeeding the first North-East passage in 1878-1879. We find there some old Chukchi camp, and we build our cairn. Further, in Nieshkan, we are among the first foreigners to come and Vagabond receive a lot of visitors; villagers give us some berries and some reindeer meat. The following day, just before entering the Pacific Ocean, in Uelen, not only Boris but also the coast-guards make us understand that we cannot disembark here without specific permission. We arrange a short visit despite everything, and by a strange coincidence, we meet a french man making his third film about walrus hunting and inhabitants of Uelen, for the same TV than Vagabond (the film of our expedition is planned for spring 2003).
The North-East passage is achieved few hours after passing the polar circle, one month after leaving Murmansk. We did it ! Then, in front of Cape Dezhnev (Bering Strait), we receive congratulations from the head of marine operations, from the Murmansk Shipping Company. This official message is as much important for me that the paperwork part of the expedition was the most difficult and the most tiresome, and that proper permissions were finally obtained without assistance of any agency, without any corruption. As for celebrating the success of the expedition being prepared for 3 years, the sea is flat and few whales let us watch them in the Bering Sea... A last one, splendid, comes to greet us as we are dropping anchor in front of Provideniya.
Vagabond becomes the first yacht to cross the North-East passage without wintering, the first foreign yacht to succeed it since soviet time, and the first yacht having done the 2 passages, North-West (1988) and North-East (2002).
"At least, it was reached, this aim pursued by so many countries, since sir High Willougby left Greenwich harbour, on 20th May 1553, cannon firing and sailors shouting hourras. After 326 years, while most competent men declared that it was not possible, the North-East passage was at least realised, without any human loss, without any damage to the ship." (speech of Nordenskjold, 1st March 1880)
Vagabond is getting ready for wintering in the North Pacific Ocean,
Pacific, 30th august 2002,
Dmitriy Laptev Strait, 21st august 2002,
Cape Chelyuskin, 12th of August 2002
Kara Sea, 9th of August 2002,
Murmansk, 31th of July 2002
Murmansk, 25th of June 2002
Vagabond has been in Russia for a week. Sailing season in the Arctic is just starting, ice is melting slowly offshore Siberia, and so we have time to go deeper in our long but essential administrative procedures. Thanks to the valuables contacts implemented with the help of the French embassy, the crew is notably supported by the Murmansk State Technical University, twined with Brest, owning the famous 4 masts sailing vessel Sedov and having a modern training centre for seamen. We had some interviews for the local TV, and enthusiasm for our expedition is here very strong!
So Vagabond left Tromso on 5th of June, after the friendly visit of Olivier Pitras, and continued her route to the north-east. The welcome in Hammerfest was excellent, thanks to Eivind whose grand-father was involved in an American polar expedition, and thanks to Pele who arranged us a visit with the captain of the Russian trawler Gugunov. Just before North Cap, a short stop allowed Gerard, with a picture in his hand, to meet again 2 of his friends he met during his trip by motorbike equipped with skis, during winter 89. The boat next to us was a whaler, just back from a good hunt.
On 8th of June at noon, Vagabond was going around Knivskjelodden peninsula, the most northern point of Europe, and passed few minutes later the well known North Cap overhanging Barents Sea from its 300 meters. What a pleasure to anchor in the quiet Hornvika Bay, hidden from tourists' buses by the cliffs! We needed about 2 hours to stamp, sign and answer all wishes of our dear stamps collectors, before continuing to the east.
The appointment with the Grande Hermine, French fishing vessel from Saint-Malo, was a success : at about 12 nautical miles from the Norwegian coast, we had the delight to welcome onboard Celine, friend of France, and Nicolas, the baker, loaded with fresh bread and food. Friendly and unusual reunion!
In Kirkenes, our stop has been extended in order to arrive in Murmansk on a week day. So the crew had time to welcome the crew member Karen, to celebrate the captain's birthday, to answer local press questions, and to check twice all entry procedures to enter Russia. For the 'Faites de la lumiere' (Light Festival), on 15th of June, Vagabond was anchored in the small bay of Smaastromman, close to the border line. The sun was still very high at 2 in the morning, participating somehow to the event, and the reindeers and the polar foxes we met in the vicinity could probably not imagine the happy Super 8 show going on in the wardroom.
Each of us will remember our arrival in Murmansk, the long wait at the beginning of the fjord, then the one, 30 miles further, in front of the harbour, in the company of 2 coast-guards, perplexed but very cooperatives. Although prepared long in advance, several days were necessary to customs and other officers to check all our intentions and contacts, before announcing that all was right. Boating in the Barents Sea cannot be considered today without any warning.
Tromso, June 5th 2002,
Greetings from Norway,
Vagabond and her crew are now in Tromso (69-39N 18-58E), since 3rd of June, town from where polar explorers were starting their expeditions during the 19th Century. The director of the Polar Museum, very enthusiastic, invited us to rediscover the great adventures of famous Nansen, Amundsen, and other norwegian heros. Today, the town is very busy with the university and the polar institute.
The french frigate Montcalm, on her way to Murmansk, is also in Tromso now. After having welcomed us very well on board, the captain visited Vagabond yesterday; he will meet the french ambassador in Russia and the Murmansk's governor.
Escorted by many boats, Vagabond left Saint-Quay-Portrieux (Brittany) on 12th of May, with a good and strong wind. Amsterdam was our first stop, then Den Helder where we had appointment with our dutch partner Chartworx (electronic marine charts). On 21st of May, the crew was reaching Norway, at Egersund, where our partner C-Map gave us more charts. Along the magnificent fjords and enjoying very nice stops (Runde, Rorvik, Bodo, Reine and Svolvaer in the Lofoten), Vagabond crossed the polar circle on 29th of May, in ideal conditions. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, there is no drifting ice in Norway !
This month, Kathy Mansfield is telling her experience on board Vagabond in the american magazine Cruising World.>
To know more about our life on board Vagabond, to see pictures (photos and watercolors), or to follow us on the map (thanks to www.antarctica.org), you may visit our website www.vagabond.fr.A bientot !
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