When two sailing pals — two-time solo circumnavigator Mark Schrader and environmentalist David Rockefeller, Jr. — conceived of a journey “Around the Americas,” they envisioned the continents of North and South America as a single, grand entity encircled by waters under multiple threats from ocean acidification and climate change. A voyage around this “island,” they thought, would not only be a grand adventure, it could also focus awareness on the issues and themes in the seas through which it would pass.
Late last May, setting forth from Seattle, their vision became reality. With a crew of four full-time sailors — skipper Schrader, first-mate Dave Logan, sailing journalist Herb McCormick and photographer and Arctic veteran David Thoreson — the 64-foot Bruce Roberts-designed steel cutter, Ocean Watch, began the first leg of its journey, bound for the Northwest Passage (www.aroundtheamericas.org).
Sponsored by Rockefeller’s ocean conservation group Sailors for the Sea and Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, and with grants from the Tiffany & Co. Foundation and several private donors, Ocean Watch is engaged in several scientific projects in conjunction with several institutions including the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmosperic Administration. A rotating group of scientists and educators are joining the permanent crew for various legs of the voyage. The goal was to reach New York by late September, to round Cape Horn this winter, and to return to Seattle early next summer.
But first, of course, Ocean Watch had to negotiate the tricky Northwest Passage, and though a dozen boats made it through the relatively ice-free Arctic in 2007 and 2008, increased ice concentrations in 2009 made safe navigation through the passage a far more challenging endeavor than in the previous two summers. Though scientists were still predicting a continuing, and even dramatic decrease in the overall Arctic ice cap, melting bergs of old ice had drifted south to narrow passages like Amundsen Gulf and Peel Sound, leaving progress through those crucial waterways anything but a foregone conclusion.
By mid-August, Ocean Watch had made it as far as Cambridge Bay, and they had company. Two other yachts were also attempting west-to-east transits, and the first of several boats coming from the east — French offshore racing star Philippe Poupon’s 60-foot Fleur Australe, with his wife and four kids onboard — had made it through Peel Sound and was bound for Alaska. The next stop for Ocean Watch was Gjoa Haven, where Roald Amundsen stopped for the winter in 1903 and ’04 during his own historical voyage through the passage. The crew aboard Ocean Watch hoped to avoid repeating history.