Catamaran North Pole crossing: calm waters and chaotic ice

Posted: Jul 23, 2013 12:37 pm EDT

(By Correne Coetzer) Not all smooth sailing to the North Pole and beyond this Arctic summer for Sebastien Roubinet and Vincent Berthet. They are using wind and human power aboard their catamaran across water and ice and reported hard labor on rough ice and happiness on open water.


The start


The two Frenchmen have started their Arctic crossing from Point Barrow to Spitsbergen via the North Pole on July 6. After sailing 6 nautical miles of open water the first day they hit the pack ice. They encountered thin ice, blocks of ice propelled by tidal currents, and large slabs of ice with high-pressure ridges. Roubinet and Berthet pushed and hauled their heavy loaded catamaran, Babouchka, across ridges of ice for about three hours and set up camp for the night in the permanent daylight.  


Day two they moved upwind for a few nautical miles on ice too thin to carry their weight. Though more stable ice and favorable winds provided ideal conditions for sailing, the duo waded through water for the majority of the day.


Turning south


After the bumpy start, in the days to come they experience miles for smooth sailing, then fog, bumpy ice, and "total chaos, including plenty of fog and block after block of ice that sinks and rolls beneath the weight of our sailors, slowing progress with frequent and unwanted baths," reported the home team. Eventually on June 12 they decided to turn back on their track to get around a large and dense ice slab, which blocked their progress, and get to open water.


Although they have satellite images of the sea ice, which provide them with valuable information, Sebastien and Vincent scout the route for open water from the top of pressure ridges and blocks of ice, as well as from the top of their boat.


In the process they have found more open water, making their way through paths in the pack ice in a more northerly direction and reported during one of these sailing days, "It's very peaceful to navigate in the ice, no swell, none, we slides on a mirror that reflects all sorts of odd-shaped ice."


They expect to meet more ice again at 75°N. By then, they say, their boat will be lighter and it will be easier to move it on the ice.


Polar bears


On July 15 Sebastien and Vincent met a female polar bear and her two cubs and managed to keep them away by yelling.


Latest news on July 22nd is that they were soaked in rain and had stopped early due to a lack of wind.


Last year Roubinet also attempted this North Pole crossing, but, with nearly 400nm done, returned back to their start point due to technical problems and a negative drift. The planning for this North Pole crossing started 5 years ago.


Sébastien Roubinet:

2007: Northwest Passage Crossing, only by sail on “Babouche”, 4 months, 5000 nautical miles

2006: The tour of Québec on “Babouche”, 2.5 months, 2700 nautical miles 

2004:Expedition along the East coast of Greenland on “Tara”

2001:Raid on Hobie Cat in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, 2 months, 2000 nautical miles


Vincent Berthet:

2012: 1000km kayaking trip in East Greenland in autonomy. 2 months.

2010:"Deepsea Under the Pole", a diving expedition under the North Pole sea ice.

2008/2009:"Around North America", a one-year sailing expedition around USA and Canada.

1995/2000: "Jules Verne Expeditions", five years on a school ship.




French to attempt North Pole catamaran crossing


French preparing for partial Northwest Passage rows


Best of ExplorersWeb 2010 Awards: North Pole circumnavigation


Geographic North Pole wrap-up: French divers off the Arctic ice


Lonnie Dupre and Eric Larsen's summer North Pole ski and canoe


112 years after: Gentlemen explorers - ExWeb interview with Borge and Thomas


Best of ExplorersWeb 2007 Awards: Thomas and Borge - in Nansen's footsteps, North Pole


North Pole 2012 ExWeb interview (part 1 of 3): Timo Palo and Audun Tholfsen, “Conditions didn’t look promising and the risk too high”


North Pole 2012 ExWeb interview (Part 2 of 3): Timo Palo and Audun Tholfsen, “Mentally the most exhaustive was to walk on the rotten ice floes"


North Pole 2012 ExWeb interview (Part 3 of 3): Timo Palo and Audun Tholfsen: “We were hunted by a polar bear from the water like a seal"


#polar #oceans #sebastienroubinet #vincentberthet #catamaran #northpole #arcticocean #lemanguier #babouchka

Sebastien Roubinet and Vincent Berthet decided to backtrack to get around a rough ice, which slowed down their progress too much.
Hauling and pushing the catamaran over ice that is not smooth enough to sail across (click to enlarge).
Another day of "forced labor".
The Chukchi Sea is completely free of ice, reported the crew, and they sailed in shifts 24 hours a day.
July 19th: "we were reaching a lot of drifting blocks of ice forcing us to slalom in the maze."
July 20th: "We found ourselves in a weird ambiance: very dirty ice, temperature +10 degrees C, no visibility, and sails up, looking for our way."
July 22: Soaked in rain, traveling was halted in windless conditions.
Camping on the catamaran
New dry suits and canyoning shoes make water crossings much more comfortable, says the team.
Route traveled, showing the detour to the south.

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