Three Irish yachtsmen conquer the hazardous Northwest Passage

 

The crew of a Knock-built sailing boat, the Northabout, has completed the first Irish navigation of the hazardous Northwest Passage.

The expedition, which covered some 7,800 miles, was led by Mr Paddy Barry, from Monkstown, Co Dublin, with Co Mayo skipper Mr Jarlath Cunnane and Mr Frank Nugent, a mountaineer from Palmerston, Co Dublin.

Speaking to The Irish Times from Nome, Alaska, Mr Barry said the success of the trip had exceeded the crew's greatest expectations.

"It was one of the last big adventures that's still as big as ever it was," he said.

"It's not in the Irish psyche to be talking about achievement, but we're very, very pleased and delighted. It feels terrific, it's wonderful."

The legendary Northwest Passage has provided a challenge to seamen for centuries. Early European explorers hoped the passage would open up a new route to the Orient but efforts to find a way through the ice often proved fatal for adventurers. The ill-fated Franklin expedition of 1845 caught the public imagination when the entire crew was lost.

Mr Barry said: "We managed to take in so much history by visiting lonely places where poor unfortunate souls lived out their lives when their ships were wrecked."

He said the team had planned to go further but the fast approach of winter made that impossible.

"We're very, very happy to wrap up in Nome. We'll all be back in Dublin by the middle of next week," he said.

Mr Barry said one of the highlights of the trip was the moment the 47-foot Northabout slipped its moorings at Rosmoney pier just outside Westport, Co Mayo, on June 23rd.

"There was anxiety and fear but there was also so much expected of us. There were all these ambitions resting on us and these days people expect you to deliver," Mr Barry said.

The boat crossed the Atlantic to Cape Farewell in Greenland, and sailed north up the west coast of Greenland.

The crew then headed through the ice-packed waters of Melville Bay and entered the Bering Strait at the weekend.

Getting stuck in the ice "in the passage proper" proved nerve-racking as did a close encounter with an iceberg, but the vessel did well to withstand treacherous weather conditions.