The Row To The Pole – Reflections on the voyage itself
Our plan back in 2011 was to set out in late July or early August to maximise our chances of success. The ice floating on the ocean melts in the summer in the Arctic, but not everywhere – and a large part of the area we were rowing into typically remains ice locked or characterised as substantially floating ice. Currents move the ice around wildly depending on the weather conditions. There was no guarantee we would get even close.
For us it was going to be a game of ‘cat and mouse’, rowing when we could in stages, inching our way northwards and watching how the ice was in the channels. Some days it was going to impossible, but perfectly OK the next day. Our opportunity ‘window’ meant that we needed to be far enough north to make use of the maximum ice melt moment in late August or early September. If we missed that timing the waters would refreeze and make progress impossible.
Once we reached the 96 Magnetic North Pole, we would have no chance getting the boat out again. She would have to be left and our return journey would need to be by plane.
One of my biggest headaches, and costliest, was getting our specially designed boat from the UK to Resolute in Canada’s far north. That meant we had to design the boat to fit inside the cargo hold of the planes operating from Yellowknife to Resolute. So, our boat was not a millimetre longer than 9.5 metres and no wider than 2.3 metres.
Mark Delstanche and Dave Mans were amongst the crew to escort her on the journey. This is their video diary of the journey shot on a phone.
With the crew assembled in Resolute in Nunavut, northern Canada, the boat rigged, power and communications equipment installed and all our personal gear checked over, we were ready to leave.
Setting out from Resolute Bay
The project needed a completely new type of rowing boat – capable of withstanding the extreme weather, collisions with ice in fast-moving ice floes and periods when the only way forward would be physically hauling the boat over the ice.
Named The Old Pulteney, the boat needed a solution to drifting, but without having a permanent keel. A retractable dagger board, similar to those used in Dutch barge design, was added to one side of the boat. By July 26th all our preparations were in place and the conditions favourable to depart. It would take us a month, but on the day we set out, we had no idea if our attempt would be successful. This was a journey into uncharted waters.
You can read a full account of the expedition’s voyage in the book Furthest North, published by Frozen World Books. A few copies are available from them. Just email: firstname.lastname@example.org