In 2017, Captain Erik Rosner was the first, with MV Africaborg. Now Captain Vladimir Manaev has also pulled off this difficult feat with MV Atlanticborg: a successful voyage through the Northwest Passage. He departed on 9 September 2017 and a month later completed this memorable voyage for Wagenborg. Here are excerpts from his logbook.
9 September 2017 – 00.25 hours
We’ve left the Chinese port of Lianyungang, whose name means “port connected to the clouds”. We are laden with pallets of carbon anodes for Baie Comeau in Canada. Backed by a favourable wind, we are headed through Japan via Tsugaru Strait. From there, we set a “Great Circle course” for the Panama Canal.
14 september 2017 – 12:45 hours
The decision to go via the Northwest Passage was made by the office a few days later. We then sailed almost to the entrance to the Bering Sea.
22 september 2017 – 10:05 hours
We were about 3.5 sea miles off Nome, Alaska. The weather was good and sunny. The wind was northerly, force 4 to 5. The Canadian ice navigator Paul Cordeiro came aboard from the pilot boat Juliana 3. We welcomed him on board and continued on towards the Bering Strait along the coast of Alaska.
“There are five different routes through the Northwest Passage. In consultation with the Ice Adviser, we had chosen to follow the shortest and least-used route.”
22 september 2017 – 18:10 hours
A few hours later we passed through the Bering Strait, that remarkable strait between Asia and North America. There was a moderate swell with a northern wind, force 6. It was obvious that we had entered the Arctic Ocean because at night we could clearly see the aurora borealis, the “Northern Lights”.
23 september 2017
All the way to Point Barrow, the northernmost point of the United States, we were heading into a northerly wind and a bumpy swell. Everyone noticed that the Chukchi Sea has the same appearance and behaviour as the North Sea on the other side of the world.
24 september 2017
The Beaufort Sea welcomed us with calm weather and a cloudy sky. The absence of sunshine and a coloured sea immediately made us realise that we had started on our serious effort to pass through the north of Canada via that route. We continued to follow the coast of Alaska so as to avoid ice in the northern Beaufort Sea.
“I would like to express my deep appreciation for all the good work put in by all the crew!”
25 september 2017
There are five different routes through the Northwest Passage. In consultation with the Ice Adviser, we had chosen to follow the shortest and least-used route: via Bellot Strait and Fury and Hecla Strait, then passing to the south of Baffin Island and out via Hudson Strait into the Labrador Sea. This 254-mile shorter route has been explored so little that it is only possible to tackle it using paper charts.
The weather and the ice conditions for the planned route appeared to be favourable. The Ice Advisor for Larsen Sound had arranged icebreaker assistance. This thick ice cover makes this the hardest section of the passage.
26 september 2017
Via Cashe Point Strait, we started on the Northwest Passage. We trimmed the ship slightly and reduced our speed to 6.0 knots. Those measures are to prevent us from getting stuck on unforeseen “pingles”, i.e. ice formations on the seabed.
28 september 2017 16:00 hours
South of Victoria Island we met the Arcticaborg, on its way to Vancouver, Canada. Wow! Two Wagenborg ships in this deserted polar region and nobody else to be seen. Wagenborg on top of the world – literally! A little later we passed the first pieces of old, multi-year ice, recognisable by its blue colour.
28 september 2017 18:00 hours
We approached Jenny Lindt Island, where we were joined by the icebreaker Terry Fox, which escorted us all the way to Bellot Strait. This section of the route took us through Larsen Sound. This area is dangerous due to the huge presence of big chunks of multi-year ice. This type of ice is much harder than we are used to in the Baltic and Cabot Strait. Even a relatively small piece can bring a ship to a standstill, even an icebreaker!
“Two Wagenborg ships in this deserted polar region and nobody else to be seen.”
29 september 2017 23:00 hours
We slowly made our way into Bellot Strait, the narrowest part of the entire route. It was 3½ hours before high water. We’d planned our route so as to be at Magpie Rock, at the end of the strait, at low water. Magpie Rock is the bottleneck at the exit from the strait, where there are strong turbulent currents. Halfway through Bellot Strait we passed Zenith Point at latitude 72° N, the northernmost point on our route.
30 september 2017
We left Bellot Strait behind us and said goodbye to the icebreaker Terry Fox. We then continued in the Gulf of Boothia towards Fury and Hecla Strait. There, mountainous waters awaited us, a term used for a sea with many icebergs. The ice navigator on board gave us valuable information and practical tips from his time with the Canadian Coast Guard on how to operate safely in these mountainous waters.
1 october 2017 19:00 hours
We entered Fury and Hecla Strait, the least visited strait in the world for merchant ships. We successfully passed through the iced-up Labrador Narrows.
4 october 2017
After passing through the Foxe Channel, we entered Hudson Strait, which had more mountainous waters in store for us.
5 october 2017
We passed latitude 60° N, which meant the end of our Arctic voyage.
6 october 2017
In the course of the day we saw a number of huge icebergs in Hudson Strait. After sunset the Northern Lights once more filled the sky. Together with a bright full moon, that meant a beautiful and unusual combination. The next stage was to safely reach Belle Island Strait, the southern boundary of the mountainous waters. Hooray! MV Atlanticborg was back in the Atlantic Ocean.
8 october 2017 12:00 hours
We entered Belle Isle Strait. Our next stage was onward to our destination at Baie Comeau.
10 october 2017 11:00 hours
We moored at Baie Comeau and our voyage from China to Canada was at an end. It’s worth mentioning that, if we count our previous journeys, then in 4 months and 28 days we’ve circumnavigated the Earth from Baie Comeau to Baie Comeau. At the end of this journey I would like to express my deep appreciation for all the good work put in by all the crew, and valuable assistance from our ice navigator Paul Cordeiro.
“The journey from China to Canada via the Northwest Passage is approximately 3,750 nautical miles shorter than the traditional route via the Panama Canal, resulting in a shorter journey and thus reduced emissions of over 40%!”
First North West Passage
At the end of 2016 Royal Wagenborg had the scoop with the ice-classed vessel. Africaborg: she sailed from Lianyungang in China to Baie Comeau in Canada via the Northwest Passage. This made Africaborg the first European merchant ship to cross the entire Northwest Passage without assistance from icebreakers. The journey from China to Canada via the Northwest Passage is approximately 3,750 nautical miles shorter than the traditional route via the Panama Canal, resulting in a shorter journey and thus reduced emissions of over 40%.