A List of the Full Transits of the Northwest Passage
By Paul Homewood
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.
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.
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?