French Explorers Abandon Attempt to Sail Across the Arctic Ocean


Back in early July I posted a story about three French explorers who were attempting to sail from Alaska to Svalbard across the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole. If successful, it would have been the first time anyone had pulled off such a feat, which would only be possible thanks to the melting ice caps. But now, it seems the team has given up on this expedition after facing challenging conditions and the impending return of winter in the north.

ExWeb is reporting that Vincent Colliard, Sébastien Roubinet and Eric André have pulled the plug on their Quest Through the Poles journey after 57 days at sea. The trio started off making good progress, but things slowed as they went further north, where they continued to run into large chunks of ice. The real showstopper came around the beginning of August however, when the team found its progress slowing to a crawl. A strong headwind only allowed them to cover about 15 km (9.3 miles) per day for more than ten days. At that pace, they soon found themselves running low on food and supplies, without any meaningful progress to show for it. It was then that they decided to abandon the attempt at the crossing and head to Canada.

The Frenchmen were about 1000 km (621 miles) into the what was expected to be a 3000 km (1864 mile) journey. According to ExWeb, they were about 50 km (31 miles) short of the 80th parallel when they began to struggle. They’ll now head to the village of Tuktoyaktuk and making good time again. They should reach that point by the end of August.

Apparently, the team encountered heavier than expected what ExWeb calls porridge ice, which is too thick to sail through but not strong enough to support a person walking on it. The original plan was to sail as much as they could, then manhaul the light catamaran they were traveling in across sections of ice that got in their way. Unfortunately, they were unable to do that, forcing them to halt the journey.

For Roubinet, this was the third attempt at an Arctic crossing, all of which have obviously been halted for various reasons. While you have to applaud his adventurous spirit, I have to believe that it is still a bit early into the climate change models to take a serious attempt at this crossing. If the planet does continue to warm however, this is likely to be something that someone will be able to do at some point. For now though, the North Pole and Arctic Ocean remain a difficult and forbidding place.

Kraig Becker