Survival Of The Arctic

“Fog was a major consideration and within that lay icebergs, ice and large fragments of ice”  Vaughan says he spent considerable effort understanding how to use radar better. “We had reasonable visibility most of the time because it was daylight but there was ice everywhere, so when it was foggy, we used radar to find a route and had spotters out permanently. We had a course to steer but were often picking through ice floes. Without radar it would have been difficult.”   He recommends adjusting the length of watches according to outdoor temperature on passage – the colder it gets, the shorter they are – and investing in a one-piece suit “effectively with your socks sewn in” to stay dry and warm. He adds: “One tip was getting boots that people who work in refrigerated environments wear. People who bought those instead of standard sailing boots said they were a really good investment.”  While anchoring was no more taxing “than a nice day in the Solent” in the light winds he encountered, he advocates anchor watches, nevertheless. On-watch crew had extra-long boat hooks to fend off small ice, plus a dinghy ready to push away approaching ice fragments.   Above all, he says, prepare. “Beforehand we realised our standard drills to return to someone falling overboard were pretty slick but there had to be less faffing around getting them out of the water. The amount of time someone can survive is significantly reduced in water that’s zero degrees. When I put a timer on it, that concentrated the mind.”    Think ahead. Minimise risk. Know the drill. All central to a Yachtmaster Instructor’s mindset. It reminds me of a quote by Roald Amundsen when asked about the adventure of his polar expeditions: “Adventure is just bad planning.”  Solo challenge  Of course, Ella won’t have the luxury of crew. For her there’s just a UK shore team: her dad, a former British Army helicopter pilot, handling weather-routing and her mum, managing social media.   She estimates between five and six months to complete the clockwise trip – a start point west of Norway then Iceland, Greenland, the Northwest Passage, Alaska, Russia, northern Norway – and return to Gosport. “I’m hoping it won’t be quite that long. In areas of open water I can push the boat to six, seven knots. In pack ice we could be as slow as half a knot.”  She adds: “I’m sure there will be moments where I get frightened and think ‘Why did I put myself through this?’ but part of the challenge – being out there by myself – is what I’m most excited about. I’m looking forward to putting myself through those challenges and coming out the other side.”  Perhaps that’s why Ella has reached out to Kirsten Neuschäfer, winner of the 2022 Golden Globe solo circumnavigation race, and has been picking the brains of Arctic specialists such as Bob Shepton and YouTuber Eric Aanderaa. “They think it’s slightly insane”, she admits.   “Everyone has been supportive but there’s the knowledge this hasn’t been done before.”  Ella points out her attempt is only possible because of the climate emergency. “Some scientists are estimating the Arctic could be ice-free in summer as early as 2045, which means before I’m 50 we could sail from Scotland to China across the top of the world. The more accessible it becomes; the more traffic moves into the area and the more the problem escalates.”  For her the adventure – even the record – is beside the point. “I don’t feel people are getting the knowledge about how intricately linked we are to the survival of the Arctic. If we let the ice continue to deplete at the current rate, not only will it be devastating for the Arctic environment and wildlife and inhabitants, but for us too. 

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