Sailor celebrates Northwest Passage transit, offers advice

Richard Husdon celebrates his passage through the Northwest Passage - photo by Natalie North
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While a disparate group of sailing boats head for the most difficult parts of the Northwest Passage, hoping for a break in the ice, and that forecast ice-free water will allow them passage, one Canadian sailor is able to celebrate his passage, having just sailed from Arctic waters down the Pacific to Vancouver Island after his transit - and offer some advice.

The computer systems administrator from Toronto became a part of the growing number of mariners who have taken advantage of the melting arctic ice and successfully navigated through the long transit of the arctic archipelago.

'I was wondering if I could finally make it,' says Hudson, who arrived in Victoria this summer on his 15-metre sailboat, Issuma, after completing the passage in 2011 and wintering in Alaska.

'It’s beautiful. When there are some clouds, so it’s not shining horribly brightly, and when the wind is not very strong … when the waves aren’t very big, so you’re not worried about being blown out onto a rock – that’s a beautiful day on the water.'

Issuma large
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According to Tony Soper, British author and arctic expedition leader who tracks all traffic through the passage, Issuma was the 151st boat through the famed Northwest passage.

In 2011, Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone, or NORDREG, tracked just 13 pleasure craft through the Northwest passage. In both 2009 and 2010, 11 small vessels made the trip each year and in 2008, NORDREG counted just six. Vessels under 300 gross tons, such as Issuma, aren’t required to file a trip plan and aren’t included in the count.

Hudson didn’t file a trip plan, but was connected to the world over the web via an Iridium satellite phone and knew of two other small boats in the passage at the same time. He spent the majority of the 13-month trip with two other crew members before wintering for six months in Alaska, after which time he sailed on his own across the Gulf of Alaska, eventually landing at West Bay Marina in Victoria near Vancouver.

Issuma is a 15m centreboard steel staysail schooner, and Richard comes from a long line of sailing adventurers. His great-uncle sailed with Ernest Shackleton on his famed, but ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1914-16.

Issuma route
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When undertaking the journey Richard, who had begun sailing at 12, had already sailed over 40,000 nautical miles and had been a teacher with the New York Community Sailing Association. His 7,500 mile journey started in Toronto on May 2, 2011, and ended June 3, 2012, when he docked in Victoria. Giant icebergs, pack ice, gales, fierce headwinds and equipment failures had not deterred him, but it was not as icy as they had anticipated and the journey was relatively trouble-free.

Greenland was the first major stopping point in his voyage. Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, Bellot Strait, Cambridge Bay, Ulukhaktok and Barrow, Alaska were on the route he chose. While in the Bering Strait, he sailed within 19 miles of Russia.

After reaching Dutch Harbor, Alaska, he headed out UnimakPass to the Pacific Ocean. Chignik, Kodiak, Yakutat and Hoonah, Alaska were other stops made as the autumn weather worsened. After wintering in Sitka, Alaska, he sailed singlehanded to Victoria in May and June, 2012.

Richard had begun his travels on Issuma in France in 2009 and from there sailed to Argentina, where he was obliged to divert after 'technical issues' en route to South Africa. After a layover in Brazil with dengue fever, he assembled a crew in New York in 2010, loaded the boat with dry goods, tools and spare parts and went after his dream of the Northwest passage.

And the advice? From a cabin still stuffed with spare parts, navigational instruments and a few comforts of home – Hudson this week sipped a coffee and doled out his words of wisdom to the mounting number of northbound adventurers attempting the passage this year. 'Spend as much time as possible on the water,' he told Saanich News, 'and as the boy scouts say: be prepared.

'The charts vary widely in how accurate they are in certain areas and it’s sometimes not easy to get weather forecasts,' he said. 'You have to be very self-sufficient.'