Northwest Passage interview with Sebastien Lapierre, no waiting for perfect conditions

Posted: Oct 09, 2014 03:15 pm EDT

(Correne Coetzer) "I just had a look at your report on Anne Quéméré and her attempt to paddle the Northwest Passage. Very interesting, especially with the point of view of Kevin Vallely,” wrote Sebastien Lapierre to ExplorersWeb.  

  

Last summer he and his teammate, Oliver Glasson, were in the Passage with their kayak where they met Kevin and his team in their rowboat. Both teams were attempting to paddle a part of the Northwest Passage, like Anne attempted this year.

 

"Although we set sail 2 weeks later than Kevin, we manage to pass them only 600 km after Tuktoyaktuk, proving that the kayak was way more efficient in the Arctic than a rowboat.  We met again in Cambridge Bay where they stopped, while we continued for another 600 km to reach Gjoa Haven.  But last year the ice cover was too important to continue further.  And as Kevin said, the wind and the cold were very bad last year.”

  

Despite the wind and the cold the two men covered approximately 2800 km in their kayak. "I think that waiting for the perfect condition in the Arctic is  a bit utopic,” continued Sebastien.  "You can do that when you do  a crossing of the Atlantic because basically all you have to do is rowing to stay in the current.  I was talking with Mylène Paquette this summer about her crossing of the Atlantic and she was saying that even with a head wind, the current was strong enough to push her forward."  

 

"This is not possible in the Northwest Passage. Every kilometre must be paddled and you cannot wait for perfect weather. You have to deal with the elements and decide what time of the day will be the best to travel and which one will be the best to rest.  It's a constant battle and no matter what you do you have to take advantage of every tiny moment you on the water.”

 

ExplorersWeb: Apart from not waiting for perfect conditions, what other three top lessons have you learned?

 

Sébastien Lapierre: 

In the Arctic, if everything goes wrong, it can get worst!

 

If everything is going well, keep paddling…you’ll have time to rest later!

 

You can always make a lemonade out of lemons…( try to take advantage of everything, see the brighter side because there is always one)

 

ExplorersWeb: You say a kayak proofed to be more efficient than a rowboat? Why would that be?

 

Sébastien: Well, first of all, we started from Tuktoyaktuk 2 weeks later than the “Mainstream Lastfirst” team [Kevin’s team] and we manage to reach Paulatuk a few hours before them. Then, they left directly for Cambridge Bay, while we had to go south to resupply in Kugluktuk and then go back north heading for Cambridge Bay.  We still manage to arrive there a few minutes before them.  So we paddled a longer distance in a shorter period of time. 

 

Their boat was very bad in the wind and they couldn’t progress when they were facing strong winds while we could.  Our kayak was light and was offering a lot less resistance into the winds.  With a kayak we can basically go everywhere (shallow water, around the ice, through the ice, on the ice, on land, over the mountains….) so we can change plans according to the weather and we can even progress on land if the weather is very, very bad instead of waiting at one place.

 

ExplorersWeb: A kayak seems so very exposed to the elements. How do you protect yourselves? How many hours do you stay in the kayak? You surely have to eat and drink during the day, how do you organise that? 

 

Sébastien: We were indeed quite exposed to the elements.  But in one way, that make you very efficient.  You don’t want to stay so exposed so you can’t set the anchor and wait like in a row boat; you just paddle and paddle faster so you can reach a safe spot as soon as you can.  You can also take advantage of the coast when it offers you some protection by staying close to it.  However that means more planning because you can’t get off the water everywhere so you have to make sure that if you hit the sea and it gets very bad, you’ll have a safe place to land.

 

At the beginning of the expedition we were trying to paddle 4 hours, then take a short break on land and paddle another 4 hours.  But at the end, the reality was more like a 10 hours straight paddling day.  So we drank and ate directly in the kayak.  One guy was paddling alone while the other was eating.  We had energy bars that we could eat very fast when it was not calm on the water, but we could also eat GORP, chocolate, beef jerky, sausages, cheese etc. when the weather was clement because we had to reach for that into the cockpit, meaning we had to take off the spray skirt.  

 

Other than that we were eating a big breakfast (oatmeal, cookies, cereals, bread…) on the camping spot in the morning and a good hot meal for dinner (lyophilized food) at night when we land.

 

ExplorersWeb: What was the most food that you had with you at a time? Where did you stock up?

 

Sébastien: Most of the weight that we carried was taken up by the food.  We were carrying about 15 days of food for each part of the expedition.  Most of that food was bought at the grocery stores in the villages where we stopped, except for the lyophilized food that we sent to the post office of these villages.  Someone at home was in charge of sending the food at a specific date so we could get it on time.

 

ExplorersWeb: What about camping spots? Were they easy to find and safe?

 

Sébastien: Prior to leave for the expedition, I carefully planned every camping spot to make sure we could land safely every night and have access to a lake or a river to get some fresh water.  In addition I carefully study the topographic and hydrographic design of the coast so we could find secondary camping spot in case we were unable to reach the planned spot.   

 

There was one night when we reached our campsite that we came face to face with a Grizzly bear!  We tried to scare him a bit at first but it started swimming towards us so we paddled away a bit.  The bear couldn’t smell us because of the wind direction so it get disinterested and it just left the spot.  We were not comfortable with staying at this spot but it was so perfect that we decided to stay anyway.  We set up the bear fence and made a big fire and never saw the bear again.

 

ExplorersWeb: How was the ice conditions? What were your scariest moments on the water? 

 

Sébastien: There was a lot of ice that summer.  I guess that was a bad luck because in 2012 they had a minimum year in terms of ice and this year set a new record in term of low ice coverage.  But still, we manage to stay off the ice most of the time and when we encountered some ice, we were able to paddle trough or around it.  But at the end that was not possible anymore.  Our route was completely covered with ice and there is even one part that stayed covered for the whole summer.  

 

But the ice was not the scariest thing.  The wind and the waves were!  I remember one time we got surprised by a sudden strong wind that quickly created waves of 20 feet.  I thought we would not make it and when we finally landed, we were exhausted.  I never paddled so fast for so long in my life.  It was like an interval training that lasted for hours… 

 

After that we knew that our kayak was able to support big waves and we got more confident.  So we started paddling further from the coast, sometimes being at 15-20 kilometres from land.  That allows us to cut shorter trough a bay instead of going around for example.

 

ExplorersWeb: What type of kayak did you use?

 

Sébastien: We used a Beluga tandem kayak from Boreal Design.  It’s a 21 foot long composite kayak.  We chose a tandem kayak instead of two solo because we manage to paddle faster with less energy that way.  We could have had a little more storage with two solo but it was not our priority.  The tandem kayak was also more stable.  

 

An expedition is always a question of compromise so we choose rapidity and stability instead of storage capacity.

 

ExplorersWeb: Anything else?

 

Sébastien: The midnight sun was a big advantage for us.  We established at the beginning that we would try to rest 7 hours every night.  This way our body would recover easily and we would be more concentrated during the day and more efficient too.  So we calculated our timing from a 7 hour sleep, no matter what was the time we would wake up after 7 hour of sleep.  So if we stopped our progression at 6 pm, we were ready to go to bed at 8pm so we would wake up the next day at 3 am.  

 

At the opposite, if we had a bad day and we had to paddle until midnight, we would go to bed at 2am and there still was some sunlight to see easily.  Some people said we would have problems sleeping with the midnight sun, but we were so exhausted after a full day of paddling that it never bothered us.   What can be a problem for some was and advantage for us!

 

Data:

Start date:  July 18, 2013

End date:  September 12, 2013

Total distance: approximately 2800 km

 

Water temperature: around 3 degree Celsius at the begging and around 0 Celsius at the end.

 

Air temperature: from 18 Celsius to -10 Celsius

 

Windspeed: We suffered from a few arctic storms of 25-35 knots but the worst was around 50 knots (that day we stayed in the tent).  However we managed to paddle against strong winds of 15-20 knots or so.  The progression was not very good, but we were able to complete the day with something like 30 kilometres of progression.  Better than waiting for it to pass!

 

The Northwest Passage is a ship route, stretching from the Arctic Circle in the Pacific Ocean near the Bering Strait to the Arctic Circle in the Atlantic Ocean in the Davis Strait, or visa versa, along the sea passage of the northern coast of the Northern American continent.

 

Previous/Related

 

Expedition Website

Expedition YouTube

 

Northwest Passage paddle: Kevin Valley recalls, while Anne Quemere turns back

 

Anne Quemere to kayak 2500 nm in the Northwest Passage

 

ExWeb interview with Kevin Vallely, the Northwest Passage, the iconic crux to the northern sea route

 

 

#polar #nortwestpassage #sebastienlapierre #oliverglasson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sebastien Lapierre: "We chose a tandem kayak instead of two solo because we manage to paddle faster with less energy that way."
courtesy Sebastien Lapierre, SOURCE
"Every kilometre must be paddled and you cannot wait for perfect weather. You have to deal with the elements [...] It's a constant battle and no matter what you do you have to take advantage of every tiny moment you on the water.”
courtesy Sebastien Lapierre, SOURCE
"At the beginning of the expedition we were trying to paddle 4 hours, then take a short break on land and paddle another 4 hours. But at the end, the reality was more like a 10 hours straight paddling day." (Image: meeting locals)
courtesy Sebastien Lapierre, SOURCE
"There was one night when we reached our campsite that we came face to face with a Grizzly bear!"
courtesy Sebastien Lapierre / Oliver Glasson , SOURCE
"Prior to leave for the expedition, I carefully planned every camping spot to make sure we could land safely every night and have access to a lake or a river to get some fresh water." (click to enlarge)
courtesy Sebastien Lapierre, SOURCE
"But the ice was not the scariest thing. The wind and the waves were! I remember one time we got surprised by a sudden strong wind that quickly created waves of 20 feet." Image: Sebastien writing his journal.
courtesy Sebastien Lapierre, SOURCE