In Search of a New Record

Published on September 7th, 2015

by Brian Hancock, All About Sails
These days it’s getting harder and harder to do something in sailing that’s never been done before.

It used to be that a solo circumnavigation was enough. Then it had to be non-stop, then it had to be non-stop the wrong way around. In the late 70’s I met an Australian by the name of Jon Sanders who had done a solo, non-stop circumnavigation and was setting out to do a single-handed, double, non-stop circumnavigation. Once he completed his double he decided that he needed to better his own record and set off again to do three solo, non-stop, circumnavigations. It took him 659 days.

You see what I mean about things getting harder and harder?

Well now thanks to global warming and some good timing there is brand new record just waiting to be nabbed. A non-stop transit of the Northeast Passage. The Northeast Passage has been transited under sail, but until now no one has managed to do it without stopping. In the next few weeks that may change. Last Thursday (Sept 3), a team set out from Murmansk in the extreme northwest part of Russia to sail to an imaginary finish line in the Bering Strait.

Leading the team is China’s most recognized sailor, Guo Chuan, who in 2013 became the first Chinese person to do a single-handed, non-stop lap of the planet. Chuan had previously competed in the Volvo Ocean Race and has assembled a crack team of sailors and adventurers including Sergei Nizovtsev.

Sergei who you ask? I didn’t know who he was either but it turns out he is a Russian polar adventurer and someone with good government connections. In a clever strategic move, Chuan was able to dispense with reams of permits and paperwork by bringing Nizovtsev along.

In order to be able to make a quick transit of the Northwest Passage, presumably before it ices up again, Chuan bought the former IDEC, the massive trimaran that Francis Joyon sailed around the world solo, non-stop to set another kind of record. The boat is just under 100-feet long and clearly capable of some impressive speeds.

The boat has not changed much since Joyon had it except the name has been changed to Qingdao China and the front five meters of each hull have been reinforced with five millimeters of Kevlar to withstand any impact with ice.

In an interview with a German magazine Boris Herrmann, one of the multinational crew on board, explained some of the obstacles they will have to deal with including the vagaries of ice. He and other crew members have been studying the Northwest Passage via satellite on various websites on the Internet trying to determine the best route to avoid as much ice as possible.

“Studying the satellite imagery of the area has been useful, but one of the most important tools we have on board are the infrared cameras which can look up to two nautical miles ahead of the boat,” Boris explained.

Useful indeed, but the boat is capable of sailing at 30 knots which means the closing speed is around two minutes a mile, not much time if a growler is spotted lurking just below the surface of the water. Not sure even the kevlar reinforced bows could withstand an impact.

Their greatest tool in their arsenal are going to be the brakes that they inevitably will need to apply on a regular basis. Still I wish them well – I wish I had come up with the idea. Seems like a couple of weeks on a fast boat in the arctic is a whole lot more fun than 659 days alone on a slow boat just to get a record.

A weekly video series produced by award-winning director Stewart Binns will follow along. View here.

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