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A List of the Full Transits of the Northwest Passage

September 16, 2016

By Paul Homewood 


h/t Francis




Following on from the lengthy account of some of the boats which have made their way through the Northeast Passage down the years, Nauticapedia have a handy list of ones that have crossed the Northwest Passage.

The list is a long one, and many are icebreakers, so I won’t bother rehashing the lot. But some do stand out:





Pride of place, of course, goes to Roald Amundsen, who made the first crossing in a 30-year old fishing boat, the Gjoa.

The crossing took three summers, but of course this was primarily an exploration, not a race.


Vessel image













In 1944, a wooden Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol boat, the St Roch, passed through with the help of a 150hp engine, two years after making the first West to East passage.




RCMP St Roch




The Williwaw was the first transit by a sailing yacht in one season in 1976. The sloop only had a small 7 bhp diesel engine.






The JE Bernier II, a sailing boat of 11 meters, remains the smallest vessel to have cleared the crossing in one season.



In 1995, the Dove was the fourth yacht to make a full crossing in one season.



Many other yachts have made it through the passage over the years, but hats off to British yachtsman, David Scott Cowper, who achieved the feat solo handed three times, between 1986 and 2009, each as part of round the world voyages.


Cowper biophoto.jpg

David Scott Cowper





Many reports mentioned particularly heavy ice conditions during some of the 1980s voyages. However, the St Roch appears to have had little problem making the trip in 1944.

There is an intriguing historical account in a University of Calgary publication, which attempts to explain exactly why the voyage took place at all.

They claim that there were secret war aims involved with regard to Greenland, then a part of Denmark which had just been invaded by the Nazis.

The article concludes:




“had it not been for the war, we would never have had the occasion or opportunity to make this passage”.


It is a point I have made before. Nowadays there are all sorts of explorers, publicity seekers and environmental campaigners with axes to grind, all of whom have plenty of funding to be able to make these sort of trips.

Back in the 1930s and 40s, there was very little incentive or reason to attempt the Northwest Passage. How many more boats could have made the crossing during those warmer decades if there had been?

  1. PGBerkin permalink
    September 16, 2016 6:16 pm

    Here’s the same info in a well-presented format as well…

    Click to access NWP-2015.pdf

  2. PGBerkin permalink
    September 16, 2016 6:23 pm

    Here’s some less well-presented info for the Northern Sea Route. The number of vessels making the transit, up to 2015 seems to have peaked in 2013:

    2011/41 vessels
    2012/46 vessels
    2013/71 vessels
    2014/53 vessels
    2015/18 vessels

    But it could just be that the information is incomplete.

    • September 16, 2016 6:34 pm

      Yes, that link goes to the official record of transits through the North West Passage is kept at the Scott Polar Research Institute. The listing begins with that first transit by Amundsen and provides details of the 236 crossings recorded through 2015. 13 ships passed through the NWP last year, and the highest number was 29 in 2013.

  3. Mark Hodgson permalink
    September 16, 2016 6:56 pm

    Slightly off-topic, for which, profuse apologies. However, it’s a slightly related theme – the attempt by alarmists to deny or re-write history, and pretend that our current climate (weather?) and related conditions are somehow unusual, and therefore must be attricuted to AGW. As I’ve just commented on a discussion thread at Bishop Hill:

    “I just stumbled on the following, of interest to me as a resident of the often flood-blighted Cockermouth. A useful counter-balance to those who seek to deny/re-write history. Plus ca change…:”

    • Nordisch-geo-climber permalink
      September 16, 2016 11:03 pm

      I can confirm as a local, I lived in places mentioned in this fascinating piece, was taught by people mentioned in it, knew the locations inside out. My mother in her nineties remembered all the floods where she lived in High Sand Lane – her name is mentioned (her father’s yard), so much accurate information. Even before they built the Walkers factory in 1968 or so, as a school geography project we sampled the substrate at the building site – all river gravel! The river used to flow there. There is nothing new about what Cockermouth experienced on November 19th 2009 and on December 5th 2015. There is so little new – yet we have never learnt as the Romans did – to live away from the river on a hill. They lived at Papcastle high above the river.

      • Mark Hodgson permalink
        September 17, 2016 8:04 am

        Thanks Nordisch-geo-climber.

        Glad you enjoyed the link.

  4. AndyG55 permalink
    September 16, 2016 7:13 pm

    It should be pointed out that if the Northabout had chosen to use either Amundsen’s or Larsen’s 1944 route…..

    They would NOT have been able to get through.

    They picked the most southern route possible, not something you would do if you wanted to show sea ice was declining.

    Having the benefit of constantly updated satellite sea ice charts and weather charts was also a massive benefit to them

    • September 16, 2016 10:11 pm

      And the Prince Regents Strait that they struggled to get thru pm of 9/12 at 3/10 ice was permanently closed by 9/10 ice in winter refreeze mode on 9/15. Which Ben, the 14 year old, blogged. Kid obviously did not get the PR memo about how this was supposed to be easy. They made it by 2 days.
      Spun as Arctic ice death spiral, but in reality mostly luck.

      • AndyG55 permalink
        September 17, 2016 4:11 am

        Because of access to regular satellite sea ice charts, they knew they were trouble.

        That’s why the skipped a layover or two, and ran FLAT CHAT on the fossil fuel engine through Cambridge Bay region and through Bellot up to Lawrence Sound.

        They have only succeeded in proving just how much sea ice there is up there.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      September 17, 2016 8:56 am

      But the most southern route is surely the one you would pick if the objective was to “prove” the ice was declining whether it was or not. Yes?

  5. September 16, 2016 11:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    “Ice-Free Arctic” before Al Gore.

    Historical list of “Inconveient Truths” via Paul Homewood…

  6. Ben Vorlich permalink
    September 17, 2016 9:49 am

    I often wonder how much easier it would have been for these early attempts had they had access to all the modern aids available today. Principally satellite and aerial reconnaissance. These give a huge advantage in knowing where there is open water and what weather conditions are going to be like in the next 24 to 48 hours.

  7. RAH permalink
    September 17, 2016 11:35 am

    I guess the bottom line is that though it was a great adventure for some of the crew they didn’t really prove anything of import. Ice comes and it goes. They, using all the advantages of modern technology in a vessel specially designed for such a transit, made it through but just barely. Glad they didn’t end up polar bear food nor force anyone to take risks or expend assets to rescue them. But anyone that points at this trip as some kind of proof of climate change should be laughed at.

  8. Richard permalink
    September 17, 2016 11:41 am

    You need to add on the Hudson bay company use of the North west Passage.



    North-West Passage

    and not sure if this event happened-


    Dash Through North-West Passage.

  9. Richard permalink
    September 17, 2016 11:42 am

    SS MAnhattan went though the NWP in 1969.

  10. Richard permalink
    September 17, 2016 11:52 am

    Richard Collinson was the first to take took his ship through the North West passage in the 1850’s.

    “but Collinson took his
    ship safely through to England. The
    North-west passage was not again
    made until Roald Amundsen navigated
    the tiny Gjoa, a sailing sloop with
    gasoline engine, from the Atlantic`’

  11. September 17, 2016 11:52 am

    Times : Cruise ship makes light of route that defeated explorers

    Note the ridiculous hyperbole they begin with ..and then a second quote below from 9 years ago by the SAME author talking about a ship doing the passage in 1984

    For centuries it was an impossible dream. Sir Walter Raleigh searched for it and Sir John Franklin perished with 129 men when his two ships became engulfed in the ice of the fabled Northwest passage.

    Then global warming began to clear the ice from the route and the crossing that defeated generations of sailors has been achieved by middle-aged cruise ship passengers. Yesterday the Crystal Serenity, an 800ft (245m) Norwegian liner, docked at a Manhattan pier on the Hudson River at the end of a 32-day journey from Alaska across the top of the Americas.

    ..Like as if ships haven’t made it thru many times in the past almost every year.
    Oh here’s a 2007 article also bylined by the same Times writer Will Pavia

    The MS Explorer was the first cruise ship to transit the Northwest Passage in 1984.

    Here she is sinking off the Antarctic last year after hitting a submerged object.
    Ice may have been involved; despite the open water in this particular photo, there was a lot around.

    (hey the Times is opening the paywall 2 articles/month)

  12. September 17, 2016 12:22 pm

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News.

  13. September 18, 2016 1:09 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  14. Joe Public permalink
    September 19, 2016 6:33 pm

    You missed one. (Late, I know, but only reported today)

    The Crystal Serenity, a luxury cruise liner, has made history by successfully navigating the icy Arctic waterway between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans – also known as the Northwest Passage. The trip was made possible mainly due to global warming. A fact that’s weighing on both the ship’s crew and passangers.

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