Rowing The Northwest Passage: The Last First Expedition Set To Get Underway

Way back in August of last year I wrote about a potential expedition that as set to take place this summer. The plan was for four adventurers to row across the Northwest Passage in a single season, something that has never been accomplished before. At the time, the expedition was still in the early planning stages with just a few details to be shared.

Now, the team is en route to their starting position and will soon hit the water for a 3000 km (1865 mile) journey through some of the most challenging waters on the planet.

Dubbed the Last First Expedition, the plan is to set off from Inuvik in northernwest Canada and row to Pond Inlet in the northeastern part of that country. Along the way they team of rowers will make their way through incredibly cold waters strewn with icebergs and other hazards as they hope to complete their journey while also helping to raise awareness of the impact of climate change.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Northwest Passage was accessible only by steel-hulled ships designed to slice through the ice. Now, it is freely navigable for several months of the year and while that window remains a narrow one, the fact that it is possible at all is a dramatic departure from what we’ve known in the past.

The four men making the journey include an experienced team of adventurers. They are led by Kevin Vallely who has skied to the South Pole, covered the length of the Iditarod trail on skis and raced in some of the toughest adventure races on the planet. He is joined by Paul Gleeson, who has rowed across the Atlantic and ridden his bike across Australia.

Frank Wolf is an award-winning filmmaker who has traveled more than 2400 km (1491 miles) on foot, bike and pack raft through some of Canada’s most remote wildernesses. Denis Barnett is the final member of the team and he has a background that involves rugby and sailing, but this will be his first major expedition.

As I write this, the team is now driving to Inuvik and should be there sometime in the next couple of days. Once there, they’ll get their boat ready for the Passage and will set out in a matter of days. You’ll be able to track their progress on the expedition’s website as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

Introduction from Mainstream Last First on Vimeo.

Kraig Becker

3 thoughts on “Rowing The Northwest Passage: The Last First Expedition Set To Get Underway”

  1. Is TheLastFirst Expedition with four lads actually rowing the Northwest Passage? Not in the slightest way… but more important are the dangers… here is the rest of the story I think the public needs to consider to answer the question "That's just crazy?":

    1) 1,500 miles from Inuvik to Pond Inlet is NOT anywhere close to one of the seven Northwest Passage routes; the shortest being 3,500 miles. A NW Passage is from the Pacific Arctic Circle to the Atlantic Arctic Circle depending on direction of travel.

    2) If it was not for the generous $250,000 from Mainstream Renewable Power (MRP) the four lads would still be sitting on a park bench on the upper side of North Vancouver wishing and hoping for an expenses paid vacation to go do a dare devil stunt – rowing in the Arctic. Do you really think anyone is going to be more aware or change because four men rowed in the melting Arctic ice? Climate change is already a Media circus. MRP should offer incentives for solar systems which would benefit everyone including the environment for 20+ years – not a $250K one time dare devil stunt. CEO 'Fast Eddie'? I think so too.

    3) Mathieu Bonnier in 2010-2011 already rowed SOLO between Greenland and Cambridge Bay. TheLastFirst is not the first to row in the Arctic. Yesterday, July 1st, Charles Hedrich who understands the concept of starting and finishing lines has set out to become the first to ever row the entire NW Passage in one year. You cannot say you climbed Mt. Everest from hiking to base camp – you must summit to the top of Mt. Everest. Start and Finish lines are not changeable. 135 boats have 185 times completed a NW Passage in the last 107 years. NW Passages are not because of climate change or melting ice.

    4) The ARCTIC JOULE rowboat failed its capsize test and TheLastFirst webmaster covered up this critical fact and removed the original video footage from their previously publicized announcement. Now the video jumps from half-way to the end without showing the critical failured video content. What a sorry situation to put four lads life on the line in a boat which fails such basic seaworthiness. I'd even dare call such a coverup action as criminal. It is for sure the boat would never pass a Canadian safety inspection for Arctic service.

    5) The lads are not very sea savy – not once have they used a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) (lifejackets) when operating the rowboat. Likewise, they typically fail to close the cabin hatch during operations which is a very serious safety concern should the rowboat roll over. The rowboat would rapidly fill with water and sink. A GOOD SHELTER is the first rule of survival.

    6) The kayak designer (not a naval architect) and fiberglass boat builder of the rowboat named ARCTIC JOULE failed to ensure a fraction of what a commercial boat's stability is required to be (remember four lives are at risk) and overlooked such simple details as the living cabin being insulated to prevent water condensation which unchecked will likely require crew developing respiratory medical problems to seek medical rescue and/or evacuation.

    That's just crazy? Yabetcha!

    Ronald Amundsen's definition for "Adventure is just bad planning."


    That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

    Douglas Pohl
    U.S. Coast Guard licensed Ocean Master of Motor and Steam Vessels, fifth issue, retired.

  2. 20130704 UPDATE:
    I just received an email and learned that the CAPSIZE TEST video has been restored to its original unedited video which clearly shows the ARCTIC JOULE fails to auto roll-over. You note the crane strap lifting to enable the rowboat to roll-over.

    How could anyone in their right mind place four persons lives at risk by using a boat which is so unsafe?

    Another rowboat that was rowing across the Atlantic a month ago capsized and required rescue – luckily it was in warm waters and someone was in the area.


  3. Thanks for these updates and comments Captain. There is definitely a lot of interesting stuff to digest here and you're right, safety should be the first consideration.

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