Row in the Arctic

I’ve been following (for a few weeks now) an adventure in the Arctic Ocean that I have mixed feelings about.  The plan is to traverse (most of) the Northwest Passage under human power alone, in a specially designed rowboat. Four men, seasoned adventurers sponsored by a European renewable energy company, intended to row 24 hours a day, in pairs of rowers on 4-hour shifts, to demonstrate that the ice melt is so dramatic that it is now possible to do this. The mixed feelings come from:

  • My appreciation for the spirit of adventure and daring, and the training and effort that have gone into this attempt.
  • My annoyance at yet another “climate change” propaganda piece. The goal is to demonstrate how devastated the Arctic ice is by global warming.

One of the many bits of cleverness about the journey is its social connection; there is a GPS tracking system broadcasting their location every ten minutes. Here is (roughly) their planned route:

They planned to launch their 25-foot craft July 1st. Ice and other things did not cooperate, and they were several days late. But you could follow their trek from Vancouver to Inuvik on Canada’s north coast (not too far from Alaska) as they rolled up the highway. They arrived in good order, were somewhat late getting in the water, and set out on July 5th. Previously, they’d anticipated making 100km per day on good days (62 miles) and averaging 40km per day overall.

So far, that hasn’t worked out. They made it out of the MacKenzie River, but were still in the delta area, when they were stalled by storms and high winds. July 8 found them attempting to sneak through an inland passage, only to have to turn back when it had no exit to open water. They fell back a couple of kilometers, but within sight of Tuktoyaktuk about 7km away, and there they sat for about three days.

Their Facebook and blog postings described high winds (gale force) and rough, stormy seas — and frustration that they could actually see the tiny town that was their next waypoint, but could not get there.

But here is where things start to get strange. That next stop, only about 5 miles away, had a weather station. It was reporting 10-15 miles per hour winds (and sometimes as little as 8 to 11mph) while they were reporting “gales.” Moreover, their own pictures of pulling the boat by hand, and cooking on shore, showed relatively calm seas: The fire they lit would not have worked in high winds:

MLF Blog Posting

Look at the water in the background below. That, plus the appearance of the fire, hardly seems to jive with the winds they reported at the time.

Cooking in the Gale?

Here’s where they were camped, on a little spit of low land in this bay. You can see the track of their misadventure trying to get through on the inland side:
Still there on the 13th, it says

The weather they reported was at considerable odds from that reported by the official weather station only five miles away — in a town they could see from where they were camped for three days:
Gale force winds?

I’d been watching it, and saw no reading higher than 15mph.

Today, they posted, they’ve finally arrived in Tuktoyaktuk. Still describing a haul through heavy winds (while the weather station at the little town was reporting 10-15mph), they did not touch base there and move on — they stopped. During this time, they did not turn their GPS tracker back on — it still shows them camped out in the little bay 7km back.  The photo they took today of their Arctic Joule at the shoreline again shows calm seas. They have a lot of catching up to do, and dawdling at this little town isn’t going to get them there. Some Facebook fans noted that they hadn’t been transmitting their GPS signal:

Facebook posting on GPS

And in the little seacoast town, once again the ocean seems calm.
The Arctic Joule at Tuktoyaktuk July 12

Last year’s very low ice was triggered by a large cyclone (in August) breaking up the ice, allowing it to both melt more rapidly and be pushed out through the exit channels. This year, however, the ice level is quite high at this point. One chart shows current Western Arctic ice as the third highest on record (but of course, these “records” only go back a short time).  Hat tip to Steve Goddard, who has been following (and posting on) this process and keeping up with the weather and other doings there:
Ice chart

The fellows are having a rough go of it, and this seems likely to continue. And it seems to me that they’ve been overstating the weather difficulties. But I suspect that part of the issue here is that even a modest headwind on that rather large boat is proving to be much more of a challenge than  they anticipated.

UPDATE: They’ve just pulled out again, heading north. Good for them. I approve of their effort and resolve, but not of the propaganda use being made of it. And they have willingly participated in that, in order to fund the trip and garner other support. No doubt they are True Believers, but they are making judgment errors when bumping against reality.

Prediction: They will not complete the planned trip, but (1) this will be counted a success anyway, and (2) the failure will be blamed on “extreme weather” caused by “climate change.”

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • Are you aiming your comment at me? The definitions here are their own. And they are definitely taking a shortcut, starting in Canada and heading east.

    Incidentally, another Northwest Passage rower started about the same time, and he’s doing it right — beginning in Wales, Alaska just at the top of the Pacific Ocean. He seems to be traveling twice as fast as the Arctic Joule, despite traveling alone (and thus needed to take time to sleep). Charles Hedrich may actually pass these fellows before this trip is over with — not that either one are going to reach their goals this year.

    I’ve got a post up now with calculations of the Arctic Joule’s predicted completion based on the rate so far … it’s in December:

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • Douglas Pohl

    Learn what the NORTHWEST PASSAGE is… a 3,500 nautical mile sea route depending on which of the seven routes navigated between Pacific Ocean Bering Strait Arctic Circle and Atlantic Ocean Davis Strait. As of 2012 135 vessels have completed 185 NW Passages in the last 107 years.