Snow Dragon II
I joined Frances and Krystina on their 49' sailboat and travelled 6000 nautical miles. I was a full crew member and had to stand on watch, steer through ice and fully participate in all aspects of the journey including washing up and cooking. We sailed from Lunenburg in Nova Scotia in early June 2015 and finished in Nome Alaska in September 2015 via Greenland and the Northwest Passage.
I've always needed mountains. It was a dream come true getting the chance to go to the Arctic. In May 2015 I hugged my mum goodbye at Glasgow Airport and I wondered when I’d see her again. The Northwest Passage is one of the most extreme maritime challenges, with only a handful of boats making it through each year. I was sailing with Krystina and Frances, who are family friends, on their 49’ sailboat called Snow Dragon II.
We left Lunenburg in Nova Scotia in early June. The voyaging over to Greenland was pretty intense and we were thrown around 24/7 and sleeping was almost impossible. I guess at least my climbing slings came in useful to secure myself into my bed as otherwise I just fell out all night. We took it in turns to be on watch and one time in thick fog we hit a small iceberg that didn’t show up on the radar. It was like crashing into a brick wall.
It was incredible for me crossing into the Arctic Circle. I was constantly looking at the co-ordinates as we neared that point. I decided to enter in to the Arctic Circle as a swimmer and so dived off the boat in my trunks. I was only in the sea for a minute or so until I’d swam into the Arctic waters but it was enough. The water was zero degrees. I could barely catch hold of the boat and struggled to get back onboard, nothing functioned properly. I’m glad I did it though.
Seeing Greenland for the first time was awesome. It was just like the Alps suddenly jutting out of the sea. The furthest North we got was Etha Fjord at 78 18N and that’s where we got trapped by ice for about four days but it could have been all winter. I loved it there and would have happily stayed. That was where I saw my first polar bear when I was on watch at 3 in the morning. I saw lots of seals and just felt certain I was going to see one and then suddenly it appeared. The terrain there was incredible too and I really enjoyed exploring the monstrous glacier that comes straight off the Greenlandic Icecap.
Philpott Island had what I thought was just jutting out rocks but then I saw about 40 walruses with their dark beady eyes watching my every move. They were all piled on top of each other and occasionally one would poke the other or omit a roar. I could have watched them for weeks. I also came face to face with another polar bear here. We’d gone for a hike and weren’t sure which way to head back so I ran up the hill to look. As I was jogging I remembered someone saying that on the brow of a hill take care as that is where you might see a polar bear. I slowed as I had that thought and it was just in time as there in front of me was this huge bear. She woke up, yawned and we looked at each other for a moment. I backed away and then I scooted back down to the others with her following me. We fired a gun in the air and she wandered off.
It was incredible after months of traveling to cross the line between the two lighthouses in Russia and Alaska that mark the official end of the Northwest Passage. Nome, my final stop, was a blast. It was full of gold miners and it felt as though I was in the wild west of America. I met some of the characters off Deadliest Catch and Gold Divers. I could also eat whatever I liked and I stuffed my face with burgers, chips and onions rings. We all celebrated an awesome trip.
Having spent several seasons in the Alps with very little snow at the beginning, I really saw the effects of climate change, so I'm totally committed to protecting that environment and want to help. The scary part for me being in the Arctic was not the rough seas or treacherous passage trying to dodge icebergs – it was the warm weather. Those NASA headlines about the warmest ever temperatures in the Arctic became very real as I put on suntan lotion not layers. I often sat on deck in a t-shirt surrounded by melting bergs and it just didn’t feel right. I wanted to be able to get inside everyone’s computer screens and shout at them that human activity is the root cause of global warming. That is why I'm so committed to Protect Our Winters
Frances Brann (owner of Snow Dragon II)
- 30+ years of ocean sailing experience. - 12 seasons in the high latitudes/Arctic. - 30 years of professionally refitting boats. - Built a 49’ ocean going sailing yacht. - Maintained and sailed yachts in over 30 countries.
Krystina Scheller (Snow Dragon II)
- 9 years of sailing expertise in remote areas. - Specialized in logistics and equipping of yachts for long distance voyages. - Adventure writer and professional photographer.
Erik de Jong (Skipper of Bagheera sailing with Snow Dragon II)
- 30 years of offshore sailing experience, 17 years as a skipper, totaling near 200.000 miles. - Sailed 14 summers and falls in the high Arctic, one of the harshest sailing environments on the planet. - Has sailed 7 trans-atlantics, of which 2 were single handed. - Designed Bagheera, his current expedition boat in his teen years and built it just a few years later. - Sailed this boat to the high Arctic for 6 seasons, across the Atlantic via the difficult route, and got awarded the “Royal Cruising Club Trophy” by the Cruising Club of America in 2014. - Has prepared numerous sailing vessels to sail around the world. - A professional yacht designer and builder. - 2nd place at world championships J24, - 12 national and European titles, including Dutch Offshore sailing champion. - Previous race participation includes: the Round Britain and Ireland race, 1000 miles race, 500 miles race and no less than 8 Schuttevaer triathlon races.