Boat that sailed around Arctic arrives in Westport

‘Northabout’ completes circumnavigation in seven weeks highlighting polar ice melt

An Irish-built yacht which made a record North Pole circumnavigation due to the impact of global warming has berthed in Westport, Co Mayo.

The 15-metre aluminium yacht Northabout, which originally took two summers to make the first circumnavigation of the Arctic ice cap by a small boat, completed this latest voyage in just seven weeks due to lack of sea ice.

The Polar Ocean Challenge was led by British adventurer David Hempleman- Adams, who acquired the Northabout in Ireland due to its ice-strengthened hull.

Most of the crew, including Irish woman Barbara Fitzpatrick, left the boat in Greenland after completing the east-west circumnavigation.


The expedition was led by experienced Russian captain Nikolay Litau and included 14-year-old Ben Edwards from England, who remained on board while a professional crew took it on its voyage home to Bristol, England, in testy Atlantic conditions via the Irish west coast.

On board for the short trip from Blacksod Bay into Westport on Thursday evening was the boat’s Co Mayo builder, Jarlath Cunnane.

Mr Cunnane was skipper of the Irish expedition on Northabout which navigated the Northwest and Northeast passages in the Arctic in 2001 and 2004 respectively. He was awarded the Blue Water Medal by the Cruising Club of America for his efforts.

“We would never have imagined that within 14 years of setting out on our two-season voyage, climate change could have such an impact,” Mr Cunnane said.

Original voyage

Dr Michael Brogan, who provided an escort into Westport by rigid inflatable, was a fellow member of the original Northabout voyage along with Dublin sailor Paddy Barry.

Dr Brogan recalled that both the Northeast and Northwest passages were “choked with ice” between 2001 and 2005.

"It's scary how the ice has disappeared in 10-15 years, but it is also a testament to Jarlath who built the boat that Northabout has achieved and survived those two historic voyages," Dr Brogan said.

Ms Fitzpatrick (49) from Ballybay, Co Monaghan, who took up sailing for the first time several years ago, was on Mr Hempleman-Adams's crew panel and has become the first Irish woman to sail through both the Northeast and Northwest passages from Russia to Canada and west Greenland.

Five years ago, two Irish women, Máire Breathnach and Sibéal Turraoin became the first Irish women to sail through the Northwest passage – then an ice-bound Arctic route linking the Atlantic and Pacific.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times