The Northwest Passage Expedition: The Ultimate Ocean Row
The Last Great First – A True Test of Human Achievement
The dangers facing 15 intrepid explorers who plan to row the notorious 2,300 mile Northwest Passage next year are multiple. Rough seas, 50 foot waves, the cold and starving Polar Bears.
To take on this immense challenge, Expedition leader Leven Brown, a venerable figure in the ocean rowing community, has assembled a diverse crew with a broad skillset.
There’s a Team GB rowing world champion, an Alpinist expedition medic, an SBS veteran, a former fireman and other highly experienced rowers who have set and broken records, clocking up around 100,000 nautical miles between them.
The aim is to row three 9 metre long fast and functional purpose build boats non-stop from east to west from Pond Inlet to Point Barrow in Alaska, not touching land unless there’s an emergency.
Taking place during the summer months next year, the temperature will average a chilly -5 with almost constant daylight.
This feat, the environment and the wildlife will be captured by an Emmy award-winning camera crew and will be closely followed by Solis Marine which has become a sponsor of the Expedition.
Journey To The Start
Taking an ethical approach, the Expedition aims to have a zero environmental impact on the Arctic landscape. It will use 100% renewable energy.
Navigating by GPS, land and sextant if the tech lets them down, the team is using the challenge as a barometer of what is happening to the climate in the Arctic and will be collecting data for the University of New York.
Mid global pandemic, the preparations are complex. Every detail has been carefully planned in association with the Canadian authorities which means original plans to embark on the row this year have been postponed to 2022.
Leven Brown has been actively reaching out to the Inuit people of North Canada to ensure the Expedition passes through their land “with their blessing”. And there are plans to work with ITK, an Inuit Charity.
Getting all the kit to the start line is a challenge in itself and the Expedition is weighing up various options from flying it in via a Hercules to a freighter or some other sort of transportation via Ottawa.
This is where more sponsorship is required, something the Covid crisis has hampered to date.
“We’re ordinary people trying to do something extraordinary” – Leven Brown
Then there are the physical and mental challenges of survival in such a punishing environment.
Rowing two hour bouts for 12 hours a day on a moving seat. Living together in such closely confined spaces with just a conspicuous yellow bucket as the lavvie.
Sleep deprivation is a major problem, ocean rowers often preferring 40 winks over food even though they need to consume 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day.
“You have to compromise, there is nowhere to run,” says team member Phil Kite who first took up the sport aged 57 by rowing the Atlantic.
In preparation for the 2022 challenge the team will be rowing from Newcastle to Orkney and back in the summer to visit the Distillery which is producing the Gin the Expedition has created to help raise funds.
“It will be a good test,” says Brown.
As the Expedition unfolds, people will be able to watch its progress via beacons on a tracker app.
It’s something most of us will follow – from the comfort of our armchairs – with awe.