Provideniya, Tchoukotka, Bering Sea

Provideniya, Chukotka, Bering Sea, 3rd September 2002,

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, coming soon...

Don't forget to visit our web site and to see pictures of the expedition.

A bientot,

Eric Brossier