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Northabout’s Skipper’s Earlier Trips Through The “Impassable” NE & NW Passages!

September 14, 2016

By Paul Homewood

Captain Nikolay Litau

Nikolay Litau


Nikolay Litau is the Skipper of the Northabout, the yacht which is taking David Hempleman-Adams on his Polar Challenge.

As we know, the purpose of the voyage is to demonstrate that the Arctic sea ice coverage shrinks back so far now in the summer months that sea that was permanently locked up now can allow passage through.


Intriguingly, the Polar Challenge website says this about Litau:

Nikolay Litau is the first Skipper in the world to complete both Passages twice


So, sailing through the Northwest and Northeast passages is not as unprecedented as we are led to believe!


Nikolay Litau is in fact a very experienced sailor, particularly in Arctic waters. In 2007 at the Moscow yachting festival captain Nikolay Litau was awarded the title “Legend of yachting”, and in 2013 had clocked up 150,000 miles under sail.


The Adventure Club website tells us more about Litau’s earlier voyages. Rather than do the Arctic circular, which the Northabout is attempting, his first two voyages aimed to circumnavigate the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

The first voyage set sail in 1996, decsribed by Adventure Club :


Фотография команды


In September 1996 the yacht "Apostol Andrey" of the Moscow Adventure Club started its route from Moscow to St. Petersburg in order to start its round the world sailing. For the first time in history the route of the yacht passed over the four oceans of our planet, including the Arctic Ocean.

The voyage was carried out under the blessing of His Holiness Alexey II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. His Holiness gave the name to the yacht. The voyage was dedicated to the 850th anniversary of the Moscow foundation and the 300th anniversary of the Russian fleet.

On November 14, 1996 the voyage started. After leaving behind the waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, the yacht arrived in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on October, 1997. On June 28, 1998 the yacht "Apostol Andrey" continued the route. The yacht had passed the Arctic seas: the Bering sea, the Chuckchee Sea, the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea. Under the conditions of approaching winter the crew of the yacht made a heroic attempt to go round the Chelyuskin Cape, the northern point of the continent, but was surrounded by young ice. Old ice fields shifted from the north towards the yacht and the "Apostol Andrey" was forced to return to the Tiksy port for a winter stay. In summer 1999 the voyage was continued. The crew of the yacht had successfully sailed along the North East Passage. After a short stay in Murmansk, the yacht "Apostol Andrey" sailed round Scandinavia and took course to St. Petersburg. On November 11, 1999 the round the world sailing over the four Oceans was accomplished at the berths of the North Capital.


There is also the chronicle of sailing:


August 9, 1996, Tver
– Launching of the yacht. Sailing to Moscow.

September 23, 1996, Moscow
– The Ceremony of Consecration and de-nomination of the yacht. Sailing to St. Petersburg.

November 14, 1996, St. Petersburg
– The start of the round the world voyage.

January 28 – February 01, 1997, Dakar, (Senegal)
– The most western point of the route.

February 02, 1997, Atlantic Ocean
– The yacht is in the point, named by sailors as the "a navel of the earth": Latitude – 0° and longitude – 0°.

March 30 – April 8, 1997, Cape Town, (South Africa)
– The first visit of a Russian yacht to Cape Town.

May 5–12, 1997, Kerguelen Is., Indian Ocean
– The most southern point of the voyage.

May 18–19, 1997, Indian Ocean
– Severe gale, magnetic storm. Nikolay Litau, skipper of the yacht, sent the telegram: "We have lost a rudder. We need help. All are alive". The next telegram from Nikolai Litaou: "The situation is under control. We are navigating by sails and continue to move towards Australia. We would like to ask not to bother our relatives and press-media".

June 16 – July 8, 1997, Fremantle (Australia)
– The yacht entered the port of Fremantle. To show his respect Mayor of Fremantle was meeting the crew on a cutter in the middle of the harbour.

July 25 – August 10, 1997, Sydney (Australia)
– Meetings with the Russian community.

September 4–6, 1997, Senyavin Isls. (Archipelago Caroline Isls.)
– The first visit of a Russian yacht to the Senyavin Isls.

September 28, 1997, Pacific Ocean
– Record speed – 215 miles were passed during twenty four hours.

October 9, 1997, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia
– The accomplishment of the first stage of the round the world sailing.

June 28, 1998, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
– The start of the Arctic stage of the voyage.

July 1–4, 1998, Bering Is.; Commander Isls.
– On behalf of the Moscow government the crew put the wreath on the grave of Witus Bering.

August 1, 1998, Bering Strait
– The yacht passed round the Deshnev Cape – the eastern point of the voyage.

August 8 – September 11, 1998, Shmidt Cape, Chukotka
– Three unsuccessful attempts to push through to the West: on August 12 – 2 miles; August 14–20 – 5 miles; September 1-2 – 38 miles.

September 25, 1998, 75°30′ N.L. 121°32′ E.L., Laptev Sea
– The northern edge of the route in 1999. The yacht is surrounded by young ice. Icing. The yacht is forced to return to the Tiksy port.

September 28, 1998, Tiksy, Yakutiya
– The yacht was left for the winter period.

July 24, 1999, Tiksy, Yakutiya
– Continuation of the sailing along the Arctic seas.

August 11, 1999, Chelyuskin Cape, Taimyr peninsula
– The northernmost point of the voyage.

August 21–27, 1999, Dickson, Taimyr peninsula
– Seven days stay.

September 12–29, 1999, Severomorsk, Murmansk
– Accomplishment of the voyage along the North-East passage.

October 14, 57°46′ N.L. 10°44′ E.L., The Kattegat Strait
– A circle with a 31 thousand miles length was finally closed. The yacht "Apostol Andrey" crossed the point which she passed three years ago at the start of the voyage.

November 11, 1999, St. Petersburg
– The finish of the round the world voyage over the four oceans.


Note that they were forced to winter in Tiksy, after being unable to make their way through young ice in the Laptev Sea.

But note also the date. It was as late as Sep 25th when they were forced to retreat. It it is extremely unlikely that the Northabout would be able make its way through the Laptev Sea at such a late date this year either.

The following year, of course, the Apostol Andrey made it comfortably back through the Laptev in late July and early August.




The Second Circumnavigation

On October 14, 2001 a famous Russian yacht "Apostol Andrey" started its second circumnavigation.

In 1996–1999 this yacht of the Moscow Adventure Club carried out the first unprecedented circumnavigation around the Eastern Hemisphere, establishing three world records at the same time:

  • for the first time a circumnavigation was carried out along the meridian;
  • for the first time the route of the voyage crossed the waters of all four Oceans of our planet;
  • for the first time in the world seafaring history a sailing vessel had crossed the Northeast Passage.

The Royal Cruising Club of the Great Britain acknowledged the first expedition on the yacht "Apostle Andrew" as the most outstanding achievement in the world seafaring in 1999.

The first sailing was carried out under the blessing of His Holiness Alexey II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. His Holiness gave the name "Apostol Andrey" to the yacht.

The route of the second circumnavigation of the yacht "Apostol Andrey" will pass around the Western Hemisphere and would be no less difficult and fascinating. The Russian yacht will start in St. Petersburg and after crossing the Atlantic Ocean she will reach the coast of the Antarctica. Paying the tribute to the Russian first explorers of the sixth Continent, the crew will visit the Russian Polar Station "Bellingshausen" and the Island of the Peter the Great in the Bellingshausen Sea. Then the seafarers will continue their route over the Pacific Ocean to Alaska. A sailing along the northern shores of Alaska and the channels of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago would become the culmination point of the route.

In case of successful completion of the voyage the yacht "Apostol Andrey" would become the first Russian yacht which has sailed through the Northwest Passage.




The ship’s Diary records the day they left the Arctic Circle behind them:


September 27, 2002
The Polar Circle was left behind!

On September 26, 2002 at 8:25-p.m. we crossed the Polar Circle. The thirs [?] Arctic navigation of the yacht "Apostol Andrey" was completed. The North West Passage was passed. Now we will return home, to our motherland.

The navigation of 2002 was rich of events in the transpolar yachting. Four yachts during one navigation managed to realize a through sailing over the Arctic Ocean. New records were established. Undoubtedly the main achievement is the sailing along the North West Passage of the first women’s crew on the French yacht "Nuage", Michele Demai – a skipper.

Two yachts at once managed to improve the achievement of the yacht "Apostol Andrey" and to pass over the North East Passage during one navigation: the French yacht "Vagabond" (skipper – Eric Brossier) and the German yacht "Dagmar Aaen" (skipper – Arved Fuks). These two yachts together with the yacht "Apostol Andrey" became the first yachts in the world, which sailed over the two North Marine Passages, enclosing a specific circumnavigation along a perimeter of the Arctic Ocean. What is next? It is a favorite question of all journalists. And the next step would be a complete circle along the Arctic Ocean during one navigation. I think that a skipper who takes this task must be an extremely lucky person.



So, to sum up, we discover that supposedly permanently locked up passages were traversed as long as 18 years ago, and in a very similar yacht.

Similar trips had also been made at around the same time by other boats.

You will not hear any of this on the BBC.

  1. Gamecock permalink
    September 14, 2016 1:05 pm

    Roald Amundson did the Northwest Passage in 1906. It has been done several times since. The Arctic Sea ice comes and goes.

    ‘establishing three world records at the same time’

    Reminds me of Bonneville racers, looking for opportunities in the myriad categories. Like fastest motorcycle under 250cc with a blower and nitro methane.

  2. Sara Hall permalink
    September 14, 2016 1:17 pm

    As a one time long distance sailor (as crew & not through icy seas however) I closely followed the voyage of Northabout through their (b)logs, after their departure from Murmansk in mid July and I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that this polar circumnavigation would have been an impossibility without the professionalism of the skipper Nikolai and his first mate, Denis, their apparent daily vodka sessions notwithstanding.
    How I would love to sit down over a few shots of the stuff and hear the story straight from the horse’s mouth and I might even have a go at using my smattering of Russian too. Za zda-ró-vye!

  3. Francis permalink
    September 14, 2016 1:18 pm

    To add a bit of “weight” to your comment that the Northwest Passage has been transmitted a number of times, please view the list at the following link:

    • Gamecock permalink
      September 16, 2016 12:23 am

      Thanks for list!

  4. September 14, 2016 2:36 pm

    It is possible that the Northabout is just singing for its “green” shilling, many of which have been provided for this latest AGW publicity stunt, but the ships logs suggests otherwise, with talk of terrifying loss of ice, though other days report nearly enough ice to either sink or stop them.

  5. Bloke down the pub permalink
    September 14, 2016 4:05 pm

    To be fair,though I don’t know why I should be, ice cover is heavily dependent on wind direction and as such it might have been rarer in the past for both the NWP and NEP to be open at the same time and therefore for a round trip to be made in one year.

  6. AndyG55 permalink
    September 14, 2016 7:52 pm

    Artic sea ice level has bottomed out and is climbing quickly.

    There was only one single route for the Northabout, and that was shown to the crew by the continually updated satellite sea ice charts.

    Without that help, they would never have got through.

  7. tom0mason permalink
    September 14, 2016 10:50 pm

    Why is it everyone in medialand and beyond seem to think ice covering the North pole is important? IMO it is not!
    Some activist called James Hansen said it was important, and from then onwards everyone has been wasting huge amounts of money watching it. Considering the rest of his completely off target projections of the sea-level rises flooding New York, global temperature rises causing enlargement of deserts, etc. Surely only other advocates would seriously follow his inaccurate predictions. Those were model predictions from a model activist!

    Attempting to sail the Northwest passage makes a little more sense, as it impacts on trade costs.

    Where is the evidence that this ice increasing or decreasing its coverage, or even its disappearance, in the short term portends any major global climatic event? IMO it is a reasonably good indicator of sea temperature and wind strength and direction about this polar region but not much else.

    To my mind a better indicator of trends in change of climate would be the changes in the ice coverage on the LAND surrounding the polar region (but over a longer time period).

  8. Malcolm permalink
    September 15, 2016 10:42 am

    Lord Franklin’s fated expedition had to have some record of the forcing of the passage behind else it surely would not have been attempted, been considered too reckless. If no historic record was available at that time there surely there would have been some sort of folk tale/remembrance of the feat as a basis for such a journey. Bearing mind that this is Inuit country then migration along such a route could have been part of the legend of their ancestors.

  9. Gerry, England permalink
    September 15, 2016 12:28 pm

    Any truth in the rumour that they made convenient use of a passing ice breaker and tanker to get through the Laptev Sea? It was known that these vessels were near – somebody even posted the fact on their website as they struggled with the ice, the post was soon deleted of course. Then there is a suggestion of the location beacon going missing for a while.

    • Sara Hall permalink
      September 15, 2016 1:07 pm

      I was following their progress through the Vilkitsky Strait live online for a while but neglected to take any screenshots, as I was rather stupidly unaware at the time that I was actually able to do so. I’m pretty sure that others who’ve been following Northabout will have been more on the ball than I was however…

    • Nigel S permalink
      September 15, 2016 3:07 pm

      They certainly have cause to give thanks to Rudolf Diesel, I’m sure the irony is not lost on them. Interestng that the ice charts were taken off the site as soon as the press release went up. Too much inconvenient truth no doubt.

      • wert permalink
        September 15, 2016 4:03 pm

        Interestng that the ice charts were taken off the site as soon as the press release went up. Too much inconvenient truth no doubt.

        Ice is inconvenient. These people are pretty mad but they were lucky and they had diesel. It is just sad that they’ll try to explain the ice is gone when in fact they had a very short window to navigate through, and the September minimum has nothing to do with this ‘Santa & polar bears gonna drown at North Pole’ stuff.

  10. September 15, 2016 1:25 pm

    The hype was even broadcast on the ITV News last night: I had thought that Tom Bradby had more integrity: conned hook, line and sinker! My wife is now even more convinced that I am certifiable; if the nice Professor Cox and even nicer Tom believe it, AGW must be true.

    I doubt whether Goebbels publicity machine equalled the AGW campaign in its ability to re-write science and history.

  11. September 15, 2016 8:05 pm

    Have just heard that Sarkozy has come-out as a Climate Sceptic and it is in the French press. He’s the first significant Eurocrat to do this and it might even get reported in the UK news / press (I’m also looking out for the flying pigs).

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