Northwest Passage Achieved!
By Roger Swanson and Gaynelle Templin

Our attempt to transit the Northwest Passage aboard Cloud Nine in 2005 ended when we were turned back by pack ice in Franklin Strait. At that time I felt quite confident in saying “Never again”. This was my second unsuccessful attempt having been stopped by ice near Resolute in 1994. Two disappointments were enough. But I remained in email contact with Peter Semotiuk, a radio operator at Cambridge Bay located near the middle of the Northwest Passage. He commented in one of his letters that the passage had opened for a time during the summer of 2006. Early in the year Gaynelle and I wondered if we should try again. We discussed the question and decided to wait until June to review the early ice predictions before making a final decision.

On March 6 Gaynelle and I headed for Trinidad. With friends as crew we planned to sail to the Virgin Islands and have the boat ready to head north if we decided to try for the passage. Our trip was put on hold when Gaynelle tripped in a restaurant in Trinidad breaking both wrists. When the local doctor informed us that surgery would be required, Gaynelle flew home with a splint on one arm and an elastic bandage on the other not realizing at that time that the second wrist was also broken. After arriving back in Minnesota, Gaynelle spent four hours in surgery at Mayo Clinic repairing her right wrist.

While Gaynelle was recovering at home, I sailed Cloud Nine to the Virgin Islands so it would be ready to go and then returned to Minnesota to wait. By June the ice predictions were cautiously optimistic, Gaynelle’s wrists were healing, and we decided to go for it. On June 28 Cloud Nine sailed north from the Virgin Islands headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a three day R & R (repair and reconstruction) stop at Bermuda. Gaynelle was not part of our crew on this passage because her wrists needed more healing time.

Icebergs off Greenland, it is great to be out of the fog.We arrived at Halifax and proceeded to the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron marina arriving at 0600 on July 12 at Halifax. The RNSYS is the oldest yacht club in North America being founded in 1837. The 48 hours preceding our arrival found us sailing through pea soup fog the entire time. What made it especially challenging was that our landfall coincided with the arrival of 135 other sailing boats completing the Marblehead, Massachusetts to Halifax race, all of us in fog. It was noon before we cleared customs, found a mooring, and had a chance to settle down.

Gaynelle and the rest of our Arctic crew were waiting for us at Halifax. We were a crew of six. In addition to Gaynelle and I we had Doug Finley and Chris Parkman from San Francisco aboard, both of whom had been with us on our 2005 attempt. Also aboard were David Thoreson from Okoboji, Iowa and Matt Drillio from Halifax. David had been with us on our 1994 attempt and also on a passage to Antarctica in 1992. Matt joined us as a replacement for a last minute cancellation. Gaynelle had been busy prior to our arrival and her hotel room was filled with enough provisions to feed six people for 90 days in the Arctic.

Colorful Sisimiut, Greenland. Photo by David Thoreson.After moving everything aboard and making a few last minute alterations, Cloud Nine and crew left Halifax on Gaynelle’s birthday, July 19. Our route took us northeast along the south coast of Nova Scotia, and passed through Bras D’or Lake on Cape Breton Island traveling in fog much of the time. Bras D’or Lake is about 50 miles long and is unusual having a lock at the southwest end and open to the sea to the northeast. Good weather favored us as we departed the lake and headed north in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Much to our surprise, we found ice in the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and Labrador. As we approached Cape Baud on the northeast tip of Newfoundland, gale force winds overtook us resulting in a hard night as we worked our way into St. Anthony, our final stop before heading to Greenland.

After topping off fuel, water, and picking up a few fresh provisions we were ready to go again. Having waited as long as possible to get the ice outlook before committing ourselves to the passage, we now needed to keep moving. Leaving St. Anthony the morning of July 26, we saw several icebergs and soon ran into fog again. The large icebergs usually show up on radar, but the smaller ones and bergy bits do not, requiring a careful watch in the fog. Starting on an easterly heading before bending north we hoped to get through the greater concentration of icebergs floating south along the coastline carried by the Labrador current. Although the bergs thinned out the second day, the wind increased dramatically and we soon found ourselves running before another gale. Our only sail was a small jib, but we were moving fast and making good progress. For several hours we experienced exceptionally heavy rain, but eventually the gale blew itself out and conditions improved.

A well earned celebration after entering Canadian waters after 4 days in fog. L-R: Doug Finley, Roger Swanson, Gaynelle Templin, Chris Parkman & David Thoreson.A day later we were motorsailing due north in clear calm conditions. One crew member saw a green flash as the sun went down and we continued under a full moon in the semi dark Arctic night. Later, a brilliant display of northern lights made the evening unforgettable. It is nights like this that cause us to forget the unpleasant weather and continue sailing year after year.

Much of our passage to Greenland was in fog, often heavy, but the light northerly wind was not unpleasant. As we progressed north, we started to experience difficulty with our e-mail. Our mail comes in via high frequency radio making it subject to high latitude propagation problems. This was no surprise because 2007 was expected to be a bad year for sun spot activity. For this reason we carried a satellite telephone giving us backup communication when needed.

On August 1st our headwinds increased to 25 to 35 knots making for heavy going, but we had not seen any ice since clearing the Labrador coast. As we approached Greenland one incident really got our attention. Gaynelle finished dinner and went up on deck to relieve the watch so they could come down and eat. She checked the radar before going up and found it clear, but only moments later, a large iceberg suddenly loomed out of the fog directly ahead of Cloud Nine. Gaynelle immediately took control from the auto pilot and narrowly missed the berg. Moments later it disappeared back into the fog again and careful examination of the radar revealed no sign of it. This was a dramatic warning that even large icebergs are not always visible on radar.

Doug Finley on left and Chris Parkman assist David Thoreson who went diving 70.5 degrees north to free the prop. Fortunately, it was good weather. Photo by Gaynelle Templin.The next day Cloud Nine crossed the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees, 33 minutes north latitude formally entering the realm of the Arctic and the beginning of the Northwest Passage. The heavy weather with fog continued and we were taking a lot of water over the bow. It was cold, in the 30s at night, and everyone was getting tired from fighting the constant headwinds and the strain of the continuous ice watch. Although planning to make our first Greenland stop at Aasiaat, we decided to divert to Sisimiut until the weather subsided. Perched on rocky hillsides just north of the Arctic Circle, Sisimiut is Greenland’s second largest community with a population of about 5500. While waiting for better weather, we had two days to explore the town. Finally the north wind eased at which time we were underway again. Encouraging ice reports influenced us to skip Aasiaat and continue on to Upernivik, about 350 miles to the north. For most of this passage our weather was clear and relatively calm. This was an unparalleled luxury after the nearly constant fog and often heavy weather that had accompanied us since leaving Halifax.

One afternoon at seventy and one half degrees north latitude and several miles from the Greenland coast, our engine RPM suddenly dropped. It acted like a dirty fuel filter, but that was not our problem. Rope particles in the water suggested a fouled propeller. This was not good news at this latitude, but fortunately it was calm. We dug out our cold weather diving equipment, put the dinghy in the water, and David volunteered to go down. He found and cut away a heavy entanglement of 1/2 inch polypropylene line. It was a relief to be on our way again without a bent shaft or other damage while David warmed up sipping hot drinks.

Bullhead whales were especially welcome and interesting. Beluga whales were also a common sight. Photo by David Thoreson.The weather remained placid, but at times we encountered many icebergs. On one occasion we counted 79 bergs all visible at the same time. Motoring through these magnificent castles of ice is a humbling, but an indescribably exhilarating experience.

On August 6th we moored at Upernavik and radar repair was our primary concern because it had failed during our passage from Sisimiut. Being well past the summer solstice, our 24 hour daylight was gone. With a few hours of darkness each night, we needed our radar. Fortunately a fishing boat in the harbor was able to provide us with an antenna rotation motor that seemed to solve our problem.

Shortly after arriving in Upernavik, another sailing vessel came into the harbor and moored alongside us. Much to our surprise, it was Jotun Arctic, the boat with whom we had spent so much time while marooned by the ice of Franklin Strait two years age. Not knowing they were in the area, we could hardly believe this amazing coincidence as they arrived. Her skipper, Knut, explained that he was committed to a research project in Greenland and would not be attempting the Northwest Passage this year.

Ice reports told us there was still a large concentration of pack ice in Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada, but by going far enough north, we should be able to maneuver around it. With fuel and water tanks full, Cloud Nine was underway from Upernavik on August 8th in clear weather picking her way through 20 miles of icebergs and offshore rocks before reaching open water. The bergs thinned out as we headed northwest, but heavy fog soon set in lasting nearly all 400 miles across Baffin Bay. Near the half way point we encountered the northern edge of the ice pack but worked around it reaching 74 degrees, 53 minutes north latitude, the northernmost point of our entire trip.

Polar Bear. Photo by David ThoresonFinally we were able to bend southwest toward Lancaster Sound, still in fog. The routine continued with our watchstanders staring holes in the fog looking for ice. It was frequently necessary to alter course to avoid the occasional berg. Fortunately it was calm most of the time, but temperatures were in the 30s, cold in the Arctic dampness. Upon reaching Lancaster Sound on August 11 we had a party on deck using our fuel drums as cockpit tables to observe our entry into the Canadian Arctic. Later in the day the fog cleared and we saw several white citadels floating nearby not visible on our radar. We wondered how many we had unknowingly narrowly missed in the fog.

The ice disappeared as we proceeded west in Lancaster Sound. Our radar failed again, but the fault seemed unrelated to our previous antenna problem. It was a glorious clear day as we continued west in calm waters. Since our ice reports told us that Franklin Strait was still closed ahead of us, we decided to take a break and anchor in Port Leopold on the northeast corner of Somerset Island. This is a desolate bay and a lone deserted house on the beach was the only sign of previous habitation. Port Leopold is the harbor where James Clark Ross wintered with his two ships, Enterprise and Investigator, for 11 months during the winter of 1848-49 while searching for evidence of the John Franklin expedition. As we entered the bay we found it teeming with Beluga whales. There must have been well over a hundred Belugas spouting around the bay. It was fascinating listening to them as we turned in for the first good night’s sleep in several days.The whales were still with us in the morning and we spotted three polar bears on the beach. Four of our crew went ashore in the dinghy well away from the polar bears, but carried our shotgun just in case. On our trip two years ago, the Canadian Coast Guard warned us to “Never, never, never go ashore in the Arctic without a firearm”. Soon underway, we proceeded west along the north shore of Somerset Island in ice free water. This was an almost unbelievable contrast to our '94 and '05 trip where we were completely blocked by ice in this area for several weeks.

Gjoa Haven with Cloud Nine anchored and the town in background. Photo by David Thoreson.Peel Sound was also ice free as we headed south. We chose a route along the east side of the sound hoping we could see Bellot Strait and Camilla Cove where we spent so much time in the ice in '05. We were hand steering much of the time. The auto pilot’s magnetic compass was not dependable because of our close proximity to the north magnetic pole. Our shipboard compasses were also nearly useless for the same reason. Running blind in the fog with no visual references, we could only determine our course by referring to the GPS.

On August 15th a brisk following wind carried us past Bellot Strait and Camilla Cove, but the fog prevented us from seeing either location. Ahead lay the Tasmania Islands. Until two days ago our downloaded ice charts showed pack ice blocking our passage beyond the islands. Yesterday’s report showed a lead just starting to open south of the islands along the east side of Franklin Strait and Larsen Sound. But would it stay open? In '05, just 30 miles north of here, a lead very similar to this one had opened for us. After starting through with Cloud Nine, it closed again trapping us for nine days in Camilla Cove.

As we approached the Tasmania Islands, the wind eased and the fog cleared which was a big relief with possible ice ahead. Once in the lee of the Tasmania Islands we slowed and waited until midafternoon for the updated daily ice chart to come in via our satellite telephone. When it became available, it appeared that the lead would still be open. With the wind down and fog free, conditions were ideal for passage. The word was “Go” and we headed south with all possible speed. Much to our relief, we did, in fact, find the lead open. We followed the eastern edge of Franklin Strait along the west shore of the Boothia Peninsula and although we could not see the ice to starboard, we knew it was close by from our ice information. Pack ice can only be seen if it is less that three miles away because it lies low in the water in contrast to the towering icebergs that can be seen for many miles.

The next day in Larson Sound we encountered an 11 mile ribbon of pack ice, but were able to bypass most of it. Our next concern was James Ross Strait which is a shallow shoal and rock strewn area about 20 miles long. Amundsen went aground in this strait in 1903 and nearly lost his ship, Gjoa. Without ice and with the benefit of GPS, we carefully passed through without incident and continued on. Morning found us anchored off the village of Gjoa Haven where Amundsen spent two winters. It was August 17 and this was a major milestone for us. I have been trying to get here for 13 years!

Gjoa Haven is a quiet settlement of about 1200 people, primarily Inuit. The small hotel was closed and there were no restaurants, but two grocery stores were open and seemed to be the center of most social activity. I suspect they don’t get many tourists, but everyone was very friendly and made us feel welcome. Although there were a handful of automobiles, four wheelers seemed to be the principal means of local transportation. We met two individuals who claimed to be direct descendants of Amundsen; a grandson and a great granddaughter. We wondered how many cousins they had!

After spending a second day in Gjoa Haven, we were underway at 0340 in the morning of August 19 in light rain headed for Simpson Strait. This is another passage requiring careful navigation with many course changes to avoid shoals. With relatively calm weather and no threat of ice, all went well despite running in fog much of the time. Next came Storis Strait and Requisite Channel also requiring careful piloting, but all went well. In Requisite Channel we met and talked with Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Canadian icebreaker we came to know two years ago. Sir Wilfred was in the process of setting channel markers in the narrow straits, but we had already come through the difficult areas without them.

In Queen Maud Gulf we had to tack through 20 to 25 knot winds directly on the nose. We were all pretty tired when we eventually reached the village of Cambridge Bay on the southeast corner of Victoria Island. This was another major milestone for us. We were finally able to meet Peter Semotiuk who had been such a help to us, both this year and in '05, relaying ice and weather information via radio and satellite telephone. He had good news for us. The new radar we ordered had arrived in Cambridge Bay and was in the back of his truck.
Peter had dinner with us aboard Cloud Nine that evening and we learned he is an electronic technician working at the North American Warning System installation at Cambridge Bay. This is part of the updated and very sophisticated surveillance system that replaced the old Dew Line that was built in the late 50’s to guard our northern frontier during the Cold War. It was interesting to learn that the Russian Bear is by no means dead and there is periodic international sparring that is seldom mentioned in our news.

Cambridge Bay was a little larger than Gjoa Haven with a population of about 1500 and seemed more active. It apparently gets a few tourists and occasionally an Arctic icebreaker cruise ship. Stone carving is an important Inuit art form and visitors give the artists a chance to sell their work. In contrast to Gjoa, Cambridge Bay has an operating hotel and a small gift shop. A Wall Street Journal reporter was doing an article on Arctic passages and spent several hours with us. His article was printed on September 13 and I was quite surprised to find my picture on the front page of the WSJ. A friend noted that some people pay their lawyers a lot of money to try to keep their pictures OFF the front page of the WSJ.

Our most important priority was installing the new radar and we were relieved to have it working again. Also important were our first showers since leaving Greenland and the availability of laundry facilities, much enjoyed by all! After the usual shipboard maintenance, plus replenishing fuel, water and a few provisions we had Cloud Nine ready to go again. It was important for us to hurry. Although the huge ice pack in the Beaufort Sea north of Canada and Alaska had been relatively stationary, several days of strong northerly winds could move it south and block our way ending our hopes of completing the passage.

Just before leaving Cambridge Bay the English sailing vessel, Luck Dragon, arrived in the harbor. We met her skipper, Jeoffrey, and his crew briefly in Sisimiut and knew they were also attempting the Northwest Passage. Their high frequency radio was not working so they had not been in contact with either Peter or ourselves, but they had made good progress after leaving Greenland a few days behind us.

Our next leg would take us about 600 miles along the south coast of Victoria Island into the Beaufort Sea to Tuktoyaktuk in the Mackenzie River delta. Much of the time we were in fog. We experienced all kinds of weather, most of it relatively good but were occasionally tacking into strong winds with waves washing over our coach roof bouncing us around a bit. Along the route we saw several old Dew Line surveillance stations. Peter had explained that some of these were obsolete and abandoned, but others are active using sophisticated new technology.

Gaynelle Templin downloading ice charts which were received via satellite phone to the left. In good weather this critical function was performed on deck, in bad weather only the antenna was above deck. Photo by Roger Swanson.Gaynelle downloaded an ice chart that showed the pack starting to move south in Prince of Wales Strait between Victoria and Banks Islands threatening to cut off our route, reminding us to keep moving as fast as possible which is exactly what we were doing.

One morning when I got up at 0200 for my watch, I was greeted with a cloudless sky. It was dark, but the Arctic darkness is not complete with the pink and red twilight along the northern horizon. The full moon was visible low in the southern sky. Because of all the fog and cloudy weather we had not seen the moon at any time since the last full moon nearly a month ago. Varicolored northern lights flickered overhead. Then a shadow started to appear on the upper left portion of the moon. To our surprise, it was the beginning of a total lunar eclipse that started about 0230 and did not clear until well after daybreak. I called the rest of the crew and we were awed by the beauty of this nocturnal display.

Shortly before entering Tuktoyaktuk on August 29 in the Mackenzie River delta we saw several whales that we later learned were probably Bowheads. Tuk was primarily a fuel stop with an entrance channel over four miles long and only 12 feet deep. It is the major supply port for the Mackenzie River and western Arctic area. With the shallow water, supplies are generally transported by barge. It was a little smaller, but otherwise similar to the other Arctic settlements we had seen.

The next morning we set our clocks back two hours to Alaska time and were underway toward Point Barrow, now about 500 miles away. On August 31 we entered Alaskan waters and discovered that Alaskan waters looked much like Canadian and Greenlandic waters. FOG! Over our VHF radio we could hear an Inuit hunting party asking for assistance in towing a 34 foot whale ashore. The indigenous Inuit people are allowed to take a quota of certain whales each year and this was causing a lot of local excitement.

About midway along the north coast of Alaska strong easterly winds were predicted. Easterly winds were good news and they arrived quite rapidly in force at 0400 the morning of September 1st. The following is a page from my journal describing our conditions:

“Additional hands were called on deck to put a second reef in the mainsail. This was a challenge in the nearly dark Arctic night with the temperature at 32 degrees and everything wet from the mist and occasional rain. In order to perform these operations, we had to work bare handed in the biting cold. We completed the second reef and furled the staysail as the weather increased. With the wind off our stern we needed to wing the jib to starboard on the spinnaker pole in order to balance the rig. It is difficult to move about in our heavy Arctic clothing, particularly on the pitching foredeck with the boat rolling and plunging in the heavy seas. We waited for daybreak for this operation, at which time we got everything in place and continued on. Wind continued to increase and twice we reduced headsail size by rolling in much of the jib. During the late afternoon we furled the mizzen since it was disturbing the airflow over the mainsail and also causing us to round up. We were now averaging over nine knots under gale force winds carrying only a double reefed main and a scrap of poled out jib through the day and into the next night. We weren’t sleeping very soundly but were making good time with Point Barrow less than 100 miles ahead.”

The winds held and carried us past Point Barrow where we jibed and headed southwest in the Chukchi Sea. The seas were running about 15 feet and occasionally one would wash into the cockpit giving the crew a cold salt water bath. With Point Barrow abeam to port and all ice threats behind us, we all heaved a big sigh of relief. It was September 2nd and our spirits were high as the weather moderated and temperatures rose as we continued south.”

As we passed Icy Cape we recalled that this was the farthest north point reached by Captain Cook during his third and last voyage. From here he proceeded to the Sandwich Islands (later called Hawaiian Islands) where he was killed by natives. The Chukchi Sea is very shallow with most of it being less than 150 feet deep which was surprising to us.

On September 5 Cloud Nine and crew, recrossed the Arctic Circle concluding our transit of the Northwest Passage. This called for a bottle of champagne to celebrate the occasion. Our distance from the Arctic Circle going north to the Arctic Circle going south was 3433 nautical miles taking 34 days to complete. We knew we still had a long way to go to reach Kodiak, but right now we were feeling pretty good. After carefully reviewing Northwest Passage statistics, as far as we can determine, Cloud Nine is:

  • The first American sailing boat to complete the passage in one year.
  • The first American sailing boat to complete the passage from east to west.
  • The first boat of any flag to make the passage east to west this year, 2007.
  • At 76, I am probably the oldest man to attempt this passage.

We didn’t realize that the hardest part was yet to come.

Our next landmark was Cape Prince of Wales, the westernmost point of the mainland continent of North America. It is only 44 miles across the Bering Strait to Siberia. Looking at our longitude, it was interesting to note that we were west of the Hawaiian Islands.

Weather fax showing the convergence of two "967" lows over the Bering Sea. Careful analysis of this type of information is critical in the decision making process. Photo by Roger Swanson.The next day we arrived in Nome just as headwinds were starting to increase. The harbormaster had the latest weather information and told us several days of gale force southerly winds were predicted. Since our course to our next destination, Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island, was almost 700 miles due south, we had no reasonable choice but to wait until the weather improved. The next several days we listened to the strong winds howling overhead, but were quite comfortable and secure behind the large steel pier in Nome harbor.
It was surprising to learn that Nome is experiencing a new boom period. With gold topping $700 an ounce, gold mining has become profitable again. Prospectors, professional and nonprofessional alike, are infected with gold fever. Hotels are completely sold out and there is not a room available anywhere in town. Old run down homes are being renovated and everything livable is fully occupied.

With time on our hands, we saw a lot of Nome. The sign said “There’s No Place Like Nome” and we would agree. In many ways it resembled a western frontier town with more saloons than restaurants. Dancing girls (strippers) from Anchorage were being imported for weekend entertainment at one of the hotels. Several homemade gold dredges were in the harbor hiding from the bad weather outside. They were rather fragile looking Rube Goldberg creations but they apparently work well enough to find gold. With a rented car we drove to the village of Teller, about 70 miles north of Nome seeing many caribou and musk oxen grazing along the highway.

Nome history is interesting. Three Swedes found gold on nearby Anvil Creek in 1898 and soon the rush was on. By winter the news had reached the Klondike and by the following year the tent city that miners originally called Anvil City had a population of 10,000. The news soon reached Seattle that gold was being found on the beaches of Nome with no mountain range to cross before reaching it. By 1900 the tent and log cabin city had a population of 20,000 prospectors, gamblers, claim jumpers, saloon keepers and prostitutes. Included was Wyatt Earp who established the Dexter Saloon in Nome and is reputed to have eventually returned to California with $80,000, a nice nest egg for that day.

We waited in Nome for nine days while successive low pressure cells moved north up through the Bering Strait giving us gale force southerly headwinds. On September 15 another huge low was approaching, but it appeared we had a two day window before it arrived. Hopefully this would allow us to reach the island of Nunivak about 275 miles south of Nome that afforded good protection. Knowing that we weren’t going to get through the Bering Sea without some punishment we got underway the afternoon of September 15.

The headwinds kept us close hauled all the way with mist and occasional rain, but the wind seldom exceeded 25 to 30 knots. We pushed as hard as possible hoping to make Nunivak before the next low arrived. Two days later we were quite happy to drop the anchor in a well protected cove on the north shore of the Nunivak Island anchorage just as the headwinds were becoming strong.

We spent two days waiting at Nunivak while the large 965 millibar low moved up through the Bering Sea northwest of us buffeting the island with strong southerly winds. During the afternoon of the second day the wind eased a bit, but another low was forming following on the heels of the present one. A possible shelter between Nunivak and Dutch Harbor was St. Paul Island in the Pribilof Group about 250 miles to the southwest. It was still blustery, but we got underway that evening hoping to get as far as possible toward St. Paul before the next gale arrived. Once clear of the lee of the island conditions were pretty tough, but later the next afternoon the wind eased enough so we were able to make reasonable progress toward St. Paul Island.
As we approached the island a day later, our surface analysis and text weather reports indicated we could expect an exceptionally deep low and would probably take four or five days to pass. This was bad news but Gaynelle downloaded other wind charts where it appeared we were on a ridge between the two lows. This matched our present conditions with moderate winds less than 20 knots. Rather than wait at St. Paul, it looked like we could head directly for Dutch Harbor staying between the lows, making it most of the way before the strong southwesterlies overtook us. If we were caught before reaching our destination we could heave to and ride it out at sea.

The autohelm driving in twenty-five foot waves in the Bering Sea. Photo by David Thoreson.This looked like our best alternative and we altered course for Dutch. That night the wind went light and the following morning started filling in from the north. We guessed right. By the time we reached Unalaska Island the wind had backed to the southwest and starting to pipe up, but on the morning of September 24 we were safely moored in Dutch Harbor. The Bering Sea was finally behind us and we were quite happy to have bypassed St. Paul Island where the gale was now really roaring.

Next to us at the dock were two vessels that are featured in the TV series The Deadliest Catch about crab fishing in the Bering Sea, namely Maverick and Far West Leader. I suspect they were in port for the same reason as ourselves, to escape the storm conditions outside the harbor.

The history of Dutch Harbor goes back to the 1700’s when the Russian American Company made it their headquarters for the sea otter fur trade. Their treatment of the indigenous Aleut population was unbelievably brutal as they forced them to deliver sea otter furs to the traders. More recently, Dutch Harbor was a major base in the Aleutians campaign during WW II. The harbor was heavily bombed by a major Japanese carrier task force in 1942. It was supply port for the recapture of Attu Island in 1943 that resulted in the heaviest casualty rate of any of the Pacific island campaigns with the exception of Iwo Jima. Remains of pill boxes, gun emplacements, and concrete bunkers in and around Dutch Harbor reminded us of the German fortifications at Normandy.

Dutch Harbor was interesting but our primary concern was finding a weather break that would allow us to make the final 600 mile dash to Kodiak Island where Cloud Nine will spend the winter. The wind had been blowing hard in the harbor, up to 50 knots, as the low pressure cell passed north of us. The good news was that our course would be east northeast and the wind should be on our backs

The Northwest Passage was transited by Cloud Nine on her third attempt in 2007. It wasn't easy, many difficulties were overcome. The crew from left: David Thoreson, Doug Finley, Matt Drillio, Roger Swanson, Gaynelle Templin and Chris Parkman.When the wind started to ease, it looked like we might have another two day window that should get us at least half way to Kodiak and we could take shelter in the Shumagin Islands if necessary. We left the evening of the 25th going through Unimak Pass into the Gulf of Alaska. The second night out the barometer started to drop and the weather deteriorated. For about 36 hours we had gale force winds including several hours of storm conditions of 55 to 65 with gusts to 70. During the blow the seas reached 25 feet but fortunately the wind remained behind us. Our only sail was a reefed mizzen and a small jib. The downwind ride was uncomfortable but it was rather exciting on deck trying to steer the boat down the face of the waves while trying to avoid a broach or burying the bow in the short steep waves. In 46 hours the barometer had fallen 32 millibars.

As we approached Kodiak, the wind dropped dramatically giving us comfortable sailing conditions the rest of the way. About 1700 on September 29, Cloud Nine and crew moored in the Kodiak Marina and our trip was over; 73 days and 6640 miles from Halifax. The total trip from Cloud Nine’s starting point in Trinidad on March 17 was 8925 nautical miles or 10,264 statue miles. It was a satisfying feeling to finally tie up for the last time.
After arriving at Kodiak, we learned the sad news that the English sailing vessel, Luck Dragon, had to be abandoned at sea in heavy weather south of St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea. The crew was rescued by a fishing vessel and brought to Dutch Harbor. The sailing boat sank a short time later.

But for us it had been a good trip with a good crew and we were all happy to have finally completed our Northwest Passage transit. We put Cloud Nine to bed in Kodiak for the winter and one by one the crew members packed up and headed home, with Gaynelle and I finally leaving October 5th.

Roger Swanson is from Dunnell, Minnesota. He has cruised Antartica twice, the northwest passage three times and circumnavigated four times. He has received numerous international awards for cruising and seamanship. His wife, Gaynelle Templin, has played increasingly larger roles on their adventures. She completed her first circumnavigation in 2006.

David Thoreson has sailed seven times with Roger Swanson including twice to the Arctic and over 35,000 nautical miles on Cloud Nine. He has an interesting blog of the trip on his website which is his professional studio at:

For more photos visit the Celebration Festival Pages in this February 2008 issue.