Adventures / Sailing / Quest for a True First: Crossing the Arctic via the North Pole

Our buddy French explorer Vincent Colliard (right), expedition leader Sébastien Roubinet (center), and crew member Eric André (left) just set sail in a custom catamaran mounted on skis to attempt to cross from Alaska to Svalbard, Norway, via the North Pole. The expedition, Quest Through the North Pole, is a daring 1,750-mile, 3-month adventure of ice and open water only conceivable thanks to climate change. The team hopes to pull off a true prize in Arctic exploration.

But it’s going to be insanely difficult—members of the team have made two previous attempts and failed. Using just human power and the wind means progress North is slow and the potential to drift away from the target is high. “For now, the zig-zag party continues, sometimes North, sometimes East,” writes Vincent on Day 19, when forward progress was limited to one nautical mile. Still they are optimistic that their progress will improve as the summer season warms and the ice releases the choke-hold on their boat.

Tune in for our updates here.

Day 1

Last Saturday, my girlfriend Léa and I left each other at the Paris airport. We had been working the whole week on a commercial shoot for Mercedes. The week was intense and suddenly Lea was travelling to Tahiti and myself to Alaska. Lea will be working on another shoot, documentary style this time, as she is the protagonist of the episode two of a TV series Living Simply. On my side, I am getting ready to commit to my longest expedition, crossing the Arctic Ocean from Alaska to Svalbard, Norway, via the North Pole.

Couple of days ago, I joined Sébastien Roubinet, Eric André, their families, and Arnaud, the cameraman, in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Sébastien is the captain of the trip and Eric is his good friend. They have been on a sailing expedition together in back in 2007. I am glad to join these guys as I feel we will be on the same page regarding safety. When I see their wives and kids, I can only think of two adventurous persons with the right attitude toward safety.

It’s Tuesday, June 19, our day 1. We still need to wait for a rifle delivery before the official start. The day before, I checked the rifle we already had and realized the bullets weren’t fitting the rifle. Instead of being long cartridge, the rifle has short cartridge insert. Our bullets don’t fit! Better to see it here and now than later and in he middle of the Arctic Ocean.

It’s 18:30, our delivery is here. We are moored on the Sag River. After giving our GPS position to some locals, we finally meet them and collect the rifle. The adventure officially starts!

We go down the river for few hours either paddling or walking in the current. There is water in our boots. It’s now 00:43, time to sleep. We are still moored along the Sag River. It’s raining…

Day 2

It’s difficult to control a situation you can’t control. We descended the Sag River for about 28 nautical miles. We sailed and paddled. Two in the front and one in the back. I am together with Eric in the front, paddle in the hand. Seb is in the back steering and dealing with the sails.

It’s the first time of my life that I sailed down a river. The wind was blowing straight in the nose so we had to zig-zag down. What a unique set up. I imagine the birds seeing us and wondering, “What are these guys doing? Weird humans…”

It became more tricky further down when both sides of the river were covered of a short wall of ice with sharp edges. Eric and I paddle and Seb steers, until he says, “There’s nothing we can do here!” The boat goes down nearly backwards and we head straight towards the ice edge. The boat hurts the ice. Fortunately, the bow isn’t damaged, but there is a pipe of carbon on the left that cracked.

“Merde!” says Seb. I imagine the frustration when you build your own boat and it gets damaged on Day 2. However it’s not a major issue and he is very good at fixing. It’s 8 p.m. Time for “Choux Rouge avec Agneau.” Dinner is good and served. We are moored along the Sag River. Two ice axes are holding the boat in place. We are 5 nautical miles from the ocean. Looking forward!

Day 4

Through the fog. 15 nautical miles, half on open water and half on the ice. And 6 nautical miles in the right direction toward the Pole. For the ones following the journey, we are trying to cross the Arctic Ocean from Alaska to Svalbard (Norway) via the North Pole. It is about 3,300 kilometers from where we are to the village of Longyearbyen.
It feels good to be out of the muddy delta and its shallows waters. However, I am the weak one at the moment. My stomach hurts. I nearly vomit in the morning. Hopefully, I’ll be able to identify the reason of that ache, and soon. Being sick on expedition sucks!!

It’s 8.41 p.m., sun just burnt the fog. Time for delicious Magret de Canard 😉

Day 5

Last piece of land, an island called Narwhal.

We covered 6 nautical miles. Our legs and arms work out hard as we progress through a beautiful day. Warm though. The very low wind barely helps moving the boat.

The coastal ice between the land and the outer island is flat. We have the impression to walk in the middle of an ice sheet. Eric is in the front pulling with the help of a strap, Seb and I are in the back pushing on their legs like rugby players in the pack. The we change position. It is mainly hard surface. From time to time, we go through the ice. Lots of ponds are around. They are fortunately knee-high max which allows us not to wear the dry suits. Our dry suits are such a great piece of gear in case we would go all the way deep down through a thin layer of ice. However, all the sweat is kept inside! It’s a matter of knowing the terrain and judging when to wear the full dress. Sébastien is good at it.

Goal reached! We are on the side of a last piece of land. It’s Narwhal Island. Let’s leave the boat and go explore! We saw bear tracks. I love the feeling about being on a polar bear territory. It makes the atmosphere so unique. I touch the ground with my hand and enjoy the warmth of it. Hopefully, the next time this happens, it will be in Svalbard, on the other side of the Pole…

Day 6

Impressions from the first pressure ridges. We leave Narwhal Island on a pretty smooth ice. The sky is clear, the day is warm and the wind pretty low. It promises to be a sweaty day. Seb decides to launch the spinnaker to take advantage of what the wind is offering. The sail is up, and its red color contrasts the tones. Off we go! Where? Plenty North this time. One in the front pulling, two in the back pushing. We are improving our routine. The zig-zag game starts as we can’t go straight all the time. We are surrounded by icy ponds. The water inside these mini pools is crystal clear.

We are nearly at the first pressure ridge when a part of the steering set up breaks. We continue slowly towards the ridge… “Let’s call it a day!” goes Seb. Eric and I agree. It is a good day to make repairs and that sun will help drying the resin. The gps indicates 2 nautical miles covered.

Meanwhile, we leave the boat behind and decide to see over the ridge. Seb is still at the boat when I see him sitting in the ground. We run back to him. The safety pin of the pepper spray used for bear protection came off. The orange spray is over the walls mainly. Seb recovers well. However, we taste the spice of the spray for the rest of the day… I had a similar situation last year on a shoot with my girlfriend Léa. We ended in the tent with pepper spray all over our stuff! We actually got scared as we didn’t know how far it would go…

Over the ridge, the ice is broken. We push it, walking, to the second ridge which seems even higher. The ice is dense and even more broken… We go back to the boat, thinking… Is it too early in the season?

We plan to head back to Narwhal Island, get an AirDrop of food and wait there for few days hoping for a changing landscape. I get in touch with my good friend Molly. She is back in the lower 48 but she has a friend in Fairbanks, Kent, who could help us… It’s nearly midnight.

Day 7

Let’s wait for a change. We still think of yesterday’s pressure ridge. All these blocks compressed going in all directions. Looked like these guys had too much drinks last winter! Above all, not a wise place for a vessel…
We pulled the boat, like a dog-sledge team, back to Narwhal Island following our 2 nautical miles tracks from the previous day. We are going to wait here for the next days… In the meantime, we have organized the food to be shipped tomorrow from Fairbanks to Prudhoe thanks to our friends Kent and Molly. Let’s now continue the discussion regarding bush planes with Mike and Bob to get the boxes all the way to Narwhal.
What I like in Alaska is that everything is possible!

Day 8

Stand by in the fog, Narwhal Island.

We spend the day mainly in the boat. The wind increases and the boat becomes suddenly noisy. The visibility is poor.

After this morning breakfast, my stomach hurts. Since the beginning of the expedition, I had some stomach issues. Progressively, I have reduced the amount of porridge, day after day. I was hoping to improve and get used to it. It looks like my body is not able to process it. It’s a shame because these rations are rich, well prepared, and correctly packed.

The three of us goes walking on the island. Some fresh air could help. It doesn’t. I have to vomit to feel better. I am weak and feel bad for my two other companions. Seb and Eric are of great support. “We must find a solution!”

Fortunately, we are on stand by here anyway waiting for the ice to cooperate better. So I get back in touch with our friends Kent and Molly from the mainland, order some more food to cover my breakfast needs. I notify Mike and Bob to wait for that second supply before bringing it over by plane. Talk tomorrow…

Day 9

Standby at Narwhal Island, still.

We are nearly hibernating spending long hours in our sleeping bags. Books, music, sleeping, cleaning the inside, adjusting the outside, walking on the island and looking round…This is our program of the day.

All the food has arrived in Prudhoe! We are now hoping for a plane delivery. Fingers crossed for tomorrow!

But life is good up here. Jack Johnson is playing tonight and chef Seb is preparing pasta carbonara. Yummy!! Talk tomorrow 😉

Day 10

Three eggs make our day.

Yesterday during dinner, we sat in the cockpit of the boat. I received a message from Mike, “We come tonight.” It was 8.38 p.m. Happy, I share the news with Seb and Eric. Mike or his friend Bob is going to deliver all the food supply we have ordered.

We went out and prepared the landing area. Some cleaning and some marking needed to be done. We did so. “All clear for landing,” but Mike went “no landing, air drop.” He continued “1 jour.” That’s fine with us. We sat in the sand scouting the horizon, waiting. At 11p.m., our hopes slowly disappeared. “We just got fog. Not coming tonight. Give me your weather at 10 a.m. tomorrow please.”

Today 10 a.m. “Hi Mike, report from Narwhal Island. Visibility is poor. Wind 15 knots from East. Will keep you updated.” The day goes by. The program of the day? Same as yesterday…

We decide to get out of our sleeping bags around noon and take a walk on the island. On the way, a female duck flies away from us. Late take off! Is she hiding some fresh eggs? Wow! 3 eggs are lying here, still warm, inside the ground nest. Later on, we decide to call her “Madame Canne.”

Even though we are still waiting for that food resupply, there is a great atmosphere between the three of us. I have the feeling that we could form a strong team!

Oh yes! I forget. Thank you “Madame Canne,” your eggs were delicious! 😉

Day 11

Air drop!

Instead of progressing on the ice, we are still in the bag. It’s 10 a.m. Would you like a cup of tea?

The weather outside is still grey, foggy, and our chances of resupply this morning can be forgotten. It is what it is. We still hope though! Our outdoor activity is to go walking on the beach and look for duck eggs. Two “Madame Canne” have been generous, we collect five eggs! One for each of us and the two others for tomorrow.

Again in the bag, we are now reading. “It’s clearing outside!” The sun breaks through! Wrong alert. Back to grey and back to reading. Hmmm…

Later in the evening, the weather starts to get better again. We don’t give much attention to it, pretending we don’t care. But hoping so bad the good weather will stabilize. That evening, the clouds disappear one after the other and it becomes blue bird. I am texting Mike and Bob the pilots sharing some weather updates. On their side in Deadhorse, it’s bad. No visibility. 9:48 p.m., the GPS beeps “We are on the way. Be ready”. At 10.15 p.m., the bush plane is above us and drops more than 10 bags, 2 by 2 to along the beach airstrip.

The adventure starts! We leave Narwhal Island tomorrow. Where? North! Yeewww!!!

Day 12

Straight towards broken ice.

Morning. It’s time to leave Narwhal Island and head North. At the beginning, we follow a crack in the ice. Eric falls in the water, I fall twice. “Good that we have the dry suits today” declares Seb.

It’s our first pretty physical day. The terrain is smooth until the afternoon. Short bumps and small ridges are surroundings us. “1,2,3!” One pulls, two push. And again, one pond of ice after the other. “1,2,3!” Pause, play, pause, play, and repeat.

We stop the day before the terrain gets worse, anchor the boat with an ice axe facing the wind, and leave her alone for a while. We go scouting the pressure ridges in front of us. It’s a vast chaos of ice, broken. What’s next is bound to be tough! Let’s keep it for tomorrow and get back to the boat for a warm chili con carne!

We were at 70’23” North this morning, we are now at 70’28”. 5 nautical miles. Good enough for the day.

Day 13

1 nautical mile, 9 hours.

The time of flat and smooth ice is over. We encounter small bumps in the morning. When we were in the flat, I looked at the small bumps thinking how challenging they were going to be, specially with a sailing boat. Now that we are in a pressure ridge area, the small bumps were actually nothing. After scouting the terrain we come to the conclusion that we have to commit towards the major ridge.

To get there, we now use ice axes and tallies. The one in the front, ice axe in one hand, walk away from the vessel and look for a place with good enough ice. He hammers the ice axe and secure it in the ground. It is connected with a rope to the front of the boat and goes through a tally. Two of us pull on the system while the other orientate the boat.

When the pack is too intense and the vessel ends up skies in the air, one is the front, one in the middle close to the side of the vessel and the last one is in the back belaying. We must stay focus and control her when she goes down from a block of ice. It’s like climbing but horizontal and with a sailing boat stuck in the pack ice. Hmmm 😉

Tomorrow promises to be another intense day. The major ridge lies in front of our camp.

10.51 p.m., it’s “dodo” time. Bonne nuit!

Day 14

1.2 nautical miles. And 100 meters on the water like a proper boat ;-).

It’s calm here on the Arctic Ocean. The sun is up and shining its magical morning light.

This is no place for a sailing vessel in the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean. But we still progress! We unload some heavy bags and carry them like donkeys to the next ridge in order to work with a lighter vessel. We spend 2.5 hours going over the ridge this morning. Our ridge where we commit is the lowest one we find in the suburbs.

At some places, huge blocks of ice are pushed up against each other forming 15- to 20-foot pressure ridges. The power of Mother Nature leaves me speechless.

We zigzag in the pack ice, pushing and pulling. Our hands are feeling the pressure. We stop, drink a tea, eat some nuts. Seb takes advantage of the good weather to fly the drone. This helps us a lot finding our way, but the ice is anyway pretty broken all around us. He might have found a short stretch of water though. Later today, we even crossed a “lake” where our speed goes to 2.5 knots!

It’s 6 p.m. when we finally call it a day. The boat needs some repairs.

“Apéritif!” Eric cuts some cheddar and some carrots. For dinner, we have some pastas and even the third of an apple each. Apple doesn’t grow well around here so we take the time to appreciate each bite.

10:10 p.m., click, click, click, click, click… the rain starts. Let’s hide in the bag.

Day 15

Click, click, click, click… The light rain continues to drop until we wake up. The mist surrounds us, but the sun isn’t far. It’s time to go.

Nothing is better than starting the day pulling a sailboat on a broken ice terrain, right? We wear our drysuits and already we feel the sweat. Yummy!

However, the boat is where it belongs—on the water! We spend the rest of the day navigating through the floating ice. From time to time, Seb flies the drone to find the way. It saves us a lot of time! Despite our efforts, we only cover 4,5 nautical miles towards the North by the end of the day. Fingers crossed for more open cracks tomorrow. It is still ice country here. The good news is that we are currently drifting northeast, 300 feet just the time to eat dinner.

Sweet dreams while we drift! North please.

Day 16

This morning the weather is grey, the visibility is poor, and the wind blows 15 to 20 knots. The boat is moored on an ice patch. We are on the fine line between: “Should we go or should we stay”? We have to progress but there are lots of floating blocks drifting all around us. The boat is heavy loaded. Eric and I aren’t yet comfortable in these conditions. We call it a day for now.

Around noon, the conditions improve, and we decide to give it a try. On the way out, a part of the steering set up breaks. We stay ashore, and Seb does a great job repairing.

Finally, we leave our camp and sail. It is about finding passages of water, jumping from one ice floe to the next, helping the boat to navigate, one floater riding the water the other grinding the ice… 2 hours later, we call it day. Better be wise.

It is a slow start, yes. There is a big belt of ice on the northern coast of Alaska. The boat and the three of us are now part of it. However, it’s still the beginning of the summer season, we are in a good position for when the ice opens up. There is a great energy with Seb and Eric, and the boat is dam good!

It’s 10 p.m., we just move the boat 100 feet because a big patch of ice just dislodged the one we were camping on.

Welcome to the Arctic Ocean! Talk tomorrow 😉

Day 17

A short day. Imagine going to sleep in one place and waking up on another. It’s pretty much what happened last night. Our patch of ice is still here but the surroundings have completely changed. Some blocks of ice crushed against each other and small ridges are growing.

Today, we experience few places with water, not enough to sail though. The vast majority is still raw ice. Our progress slows down in the afternoon so by 3:30 p.m., we decide to camp and wait. Pushing it on this type of terrain doesn’t make a big difference distance wise.

Patience is key on that chest game…

Day 18

4 nautical miles today, minus 2.3 nautical miles drifting = 1,7 nautical miles in the North.

The fog is here in the morning, so we sleep a little longer. In these conditions, we have the impression to be lost in space as it’s tricky to know where the North is.

We progress through difficult terrain. Because we didn’t take the right angle, we get the boat stuck in a tricky passage. Pulling her out takes us one hour. However, later in the afternoon, we encounter some flat spots and enjoy walking in between the blue pools. It’s 6.30 p.m. when we stop. We rehydrate and warm the food. Two hours later, the “confit de canard pommes de terre” is ready! Ooo-lala

Day 19

The right dose of exercise. In the back of the boat this morning, we drink “un café en terrasse” while the sun warms the atmosphere. No rush today as we are still surrounded by ice. We have to progress but not worth being exhausted. In these kind of conditions, we still need to be patient. We will have some longer days when the ice opens up.

For now, the zig-zag party continues, sometimes North, sometimes East. “Let’s do a reco!” “Yeah, it looks to be doable here!” The workout is intense. The fun part comes when we have to jump from one unstable ice floe to another. It’s definitely a matter of knowing what weight it will support before sinking. Better be quick!

We do 1 nautical mile towards the North, again. Ouhhhh! Looking forward to cover some bigger distances ;-).

Day 20

It’s another short day for us here from the sea ice of the Beaufort Sea. We’ve made some progress but the ice is still tough! So we decided to stop the day earlier in the afternoon.

We take advantage to empty the boat in order to re inflate the flotter on portside and correct a ding in the front affecting the shape of the hull. Seb does a great job and manage to get the form back to its original position. During that time, Eric and I go for a walk looking for a decent passage for the next day. We scout. No water for now but we’ll get there!

9 p.m., the box of candies is open…

Day 21

Slowly, but North. 1 nautical mile.

What a Monday morning looks up here? Seb receives an ice chart showing the density of the ice. It takes our mood down as we clearly see see the belt of ice touching the Alaskan coast. It’s still no country for a sailing boat. We have to give our best though, and we do it!

The cockpit tent is rolled and placed inside the cabin. All our stuff is packed there too. We are ready to move. Our routine is improving.

It’s up and down, left and right. Seb moves some ice floes to improve the way while Eric and I pull at a distance. We have to find the best route possible for us and for the boat.

6.30 p.m., time to get inside “Babouch’ty”. She’s been a boat for the day and she is now our home sweet home.

8.05 p.m., “pattes bolognaises” is served.

Bon appétit!

Day 22

Giving our best.

Beautiful morning, blue bird. It feels like summer holidays here. How is your summer so far?

The work out through the bumps continues today on Day 22. It’s warm! We only wear our first layer. We spend nearly 1.5 hours doing a reco trying to find the way. “Is there a decent passage in all this mess”?

In this type of situation, we have to give our best and hope for better days, even if the terrain is difficult for the moment. If we look at the big picture, the three of us are in good shape and the boat is fine. That’s important!

Our position is still pretty South, latitude wise, but we believe it will open up and we’ll soon be on the water.

Day 23

Inventory, shower, and summer vacation.

Seb and Eric go in the front scouting the route. I leave the boat and quickly get back to her to take the bear spray… never know. If we are on seal territory, we might be on polar bear playground, right?

The ice is soft and we all get our boots wet. After some short distance reco, we get together again and Seb goes “Let’s have a coffee and chat.” We are on Day 23, and we have some concerns about the amount of food left. Around a coffee, we talk and decide to spend the day doing an inventory of all the provisions we have and to inflate the right ponton. A few hours later, we count 86 days of food, which we could extend if we split our rations. Moreover, if we hunt seals on the way that will be a big bonus of protein.

It’s 4 p.m., the sun is shining high. I walk away from the boat with clean underwear in my hand and locate a small pond. No time to waste with that shining sun. I get naked, and enjoy the water on my body. It’s fresh! But so good! I feel fortunate being here. In the same time, I wash my clothes and hang them on the boat. The warmth of the carbon helps drying.

Let’s see what the day brings tomorrow. Yewww!

Day 24

Walking on eggs gets you wet.

The map received this morning still indicates a high concentration of ice surroundings us. Lots of ice has been pushed with the wind and the currents from last winter.

“Let’s give it a go and see what the day brings.” From the day before, we knew that the onward ground was full of hidden traps.

The snow doesn’t have the consistency around here. It’s warm, melting the ice quick! And depending where we put our feet, it can take us straight down through that thin layer. The chest game starts!

The one pulling in the front, from a distance, doesn’t have the help of the boat if the ground disappears under its weight. The three of us get wet, one after the other. We laugh at each other. Towards the end, I am in the front and share my feelings about the next steps I have ahead. I still give it a try, until graouchhh!! All the way to the hip, the water enters easily inside my pants and connects smoothly inside my boots. Seb quickly arrives to help me get out. Fortunately, the edge was strong enough and I climb back. We laugh again! We do because it’s a sunny and warm day with no wind. Like holidays, right?

In French, we say “marcher sur des œufs.” Literally translated in English it is, “walking on eggs.” Not sure if it means something though, ahahahah! But this is the feeling we had during the whole work out today.

The Arctic ice won the chest tournament. Looks like we aren’t even in the same category. Are we actually playing the same game? Conclusion: we call it a day early in the afternoon, our progress is slow anyway.

Arctic, we still love you.

Day 25

Summer vacation.

Is it worth spending energy and eating a whole food ration if we can barely progress? Today we are off.

The ice around us is still too soft to push forward. So we chill the whole day, and like kids, we enjoy today as summer vacation day.

P.S.: Mother Nature, if you see three “weird” souls pushing a boat in the Arctic Ocean, please be kind and let them pass through, just saying ;-). Thanks!

Day 26

Water? Not yet.

The ice conditions in the North are improving. There is a change on the last sat photo showing some opening cracks. The open is still far away from us, about 20 nautical miles. In 5 to 10 nautical miles , we will normally leave the ice belt.
Today, it isn’t ideal distance wise, but we encounter more water. At least the boat spends more time on the water than on the ice. That’s nice!

11 p.m., it’s so quiet. The sunset reflects its golden light on the water. Mother Nature is beautiful tonight!

Day 27

French Soccer!

Since the beginning of the expedition, I’ve enjoyed being in touch with my friends. Lately, I’ve talked with Sylvain “LK,” one of my best buddies back home, about the World Cup. We agreed that he would send me a report from the bar that I would then share with Seb and Eric on Sunday 15th of July.

When I woke up, I checked the phone and read twenty-six messages. Twenty-one are from Sylvain “LK!” From start to end, he has been commentating the match for us, even the stats are there! We keep on chatting as the final is still live until Sylvain goes, “Champion du Monde!!!!” and “I think I’m not going to work tomorrow :-).” Ahahahahah!!!

I share the whole report with Seb and Eric and it makes us talk and laugh through the morning. We don’t know much about football, but come on, World Champ!!! Yeeewwwww!!

I imagine my friends back home singing, dancing and partying so hard that it brings a big smile on my face, here inside my sleeping bag.

Thanks my dear Sylvain “LK” and also cheers to Manu and Theo for sending updates about it!!

As a team sport, I like better rugby. But France being in the final of the World Cup and winning is still something so special!! That will give some good energy for lots of French people.

On our side and together with the Northern drift, we are playing labyrinth with the ice and have done 1,5 nautical miles since yesterday evening. Not much, but still North! Keep positive.

Day 28

Terrain improves.

It’s another atmosphere this morning. The calm sunshine has left. It’s grey and a bit windy. The Ocean is still beautiful though, showing its power.

We leave our small patch of ice and move on. It’s half ice floes half water. Delicious!

Progressing in this type of terrain takes a lot of energy for such a low result. “Ok, let’s find a better zone!” We spend some precious time doing a reco for finally finding a better area where we will able to progress smoother. Good!

The patches are getting bigger and we even use the paddles to progress. The water is dark and the ice right under the surface shows a magnificent blue, like the lagoon of French Polynesia! It feels way better to be here rather than further West where the ice floes are messing against each other.

It has been a good day that ends with Chili con Carne.

Day 29

Who’s got my book?

There is about 4 square meters in the cabin where we sleep. At the highest, it is 80 cm, not even 3 feet. It means that when the three of us are inside, we have clearly a certain proximity. Eric is on one side, Seb in the middle and I am on the other side.

On this trip, I brought a Kindle with different books, Fridtjof Nansen, Hubert Reeves, Jørn Riel, Don Miguel Ruiz, Mike Horn and also some talking about politics. I thought some variety would make me happy.

I am here inside my sleeping bag, texting on my phone. I turn around to change position. Seb is reading on the Kindle he borrowed and Eric is right behind reading that same page. I smile and silently snap a shot.

Later, I realize that there aren’t so many books onboard and we spend every evening reading. The demand is greater than the offer, there is definitely a potential market here! Every evening, we each have a candi (still we do, but not for long anymore) after dinner. Maybe I should rent my Kindle for some candies?

Cheers from the frozen ocean 😉

Day 30

The show goes on, Day 30.

Once upon a time, three donkeys were pulling and pushing, sometimes forward sometimes reverse, a sail-ski boat on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean and offshore the Northern Alaskan coast.Donkeys aren’t very common in this part of the world, though. Some do, the Arctic donkeys. Legends say they are very rare ;-).

Today, we did 3 nautical miles. Our highlight of the day happens in the middle of the afternoon. The wind picks up to 20 knots 3/4 from the back. The boat rides by itself. We are nearly surfing along. Good fun! Until we hear a big crack. Seb goes,“Slack!!” Eric, in the back, gives slack on the main sail. We have been a little crazy,” I whisper. One of the carbon tubes in the front partially broke. We finally continue the route with a better control and decide to stop earlier to repair. Again, Seb does a great job.

Later in the evening, the clic clic clic of the rain starts and the dehydrated beef stew with veggies is ready.

22:22 p.m., time to rest our lower back.
Cheers from the three donkeys!

Day 33

71 degrees North, guys!!

23,6 nautical miles today. It starts pulling and pushing. It ends sailing and drinking tea.

We cover 8 nautical miles on the ice in the morning and the afternoon. In the sky, we can see some darks clouds. We hope it’s the open water.

Mid afternoon, the fog surrounds, and it’s hard to know where to go, we stop for a coffee. Then, it clears. The whole sky is still overcasted. Couple of places, the clouds are way darker! The ice reflects white in a cloudy sky, whereas the open water reflects dark grey. We are aiming straight to the dark grey.

“Water!!” It happens in two steps. First, we encounter water for a short while before getting back on the ice. Second, we meet the water again when the fog reappears. At that time, we can’t imagine that we’ll be sailing until late evening. And we do. We nearly don’t see ice anymore and are actually looking for fresh water to drink. Who would have thought so?

After a cup of Tea, Seb goes “71 degrees!.” That’s it, we just passed latitude 71 degrees North, guys! Ok, let’s not “sell the skin before having the bear shot.” There is still 29 degrees to go until Svalbard ;-).

We sail until 10:30 p.m.. Would love to continue through “night time” until tomorrow ,but Seb needs to do some repairs on the rudder. Better be wise on this one and have a safe long day tomorrow. Because at the moment, you have to have your foot from time to time on the rudder when you steer so it doesn’t go up.
We find a good pact of ice floating in open water. “This will be our camp for the night,” “…and there is fresh water!”
It’s 11:30 p.m. What a day!

Yeeewwww! ?

Day 34

We are sailing!

It’s 3:15 a.m., we’ve been sailing the whole day for 17 hours. We are at 72 degrees North!

Time for a sleep. Yeewww!

Day 35

Sailing, sailing.

The alarm rings later this morning, at 9 a.m., since we went to bed 6 hours before. We take a little more time because a light “clic, clic, clic, clic, clic” from the rain is here. It is supposed to stop soon. It does, around noon. We’d rather start the day dry. Last night was wet!

Where are we on the polar ocean? There is lots of ice to the WNW and open water to the NE. We are in between the two.

The day goes by quickly as we sail from midday to 11 p.m., and cover 21 nautical miles.

The temperature are dropping through the evening. The sea is nearly freezing again. The wind is dropping, too, and Seb decides to stop. “Better wait to get some rest and wait for the wind, tomorrow!”We find a nice floating dock. Harbors aren’t expensive up here ;-).

The camp is quite magical. The light fog filters the golden sunset, the water is like a frozen mirror, and here and there some ice. The Arctic is showing her beauty.

Bonne nuit!

Day 36

45 nautical miles.

In the morning, some areas of the surface are frozen. The boat breaks the crystal and the small waves produced by the vessel travel under this thin layer of ice.

We spend the whole day sailing until midnight. Visibility is good and we are able to find a good route towards the North. Later in the afternoon, the fog appears. The navigation becomes harder, as it difficult to see the ice. The time to take decisions is tight. We are doing 1.5 hour watches. However, when the situation becomes tricky, one of the guys goes out to give a hand. Seb helps both Eric and myself when we are on watch. The good news is that we passed 73 degrees North!

1:42 a.m., the weather is now wet.

Time for some warmth.

Day 37

The wind rises. The day is fun.

We are quite busy on the deck: taking reefs, releasing, hosting the jib, taking it down, tacking, finding good passages. A few times, we end on the ice. No time to get cold, except our feet, which discover the freshness of the Arctic Ocean.

In the afternoon, the wind rises and the clouds are threatening. Seb decides to stop the day early. We find a good and safe location to climb up on the ice. We just did 16 nautical miles.

No need to set an alarm for tomorrow as the wind is supposed to rise.

Stand by, from 73*23’ North.

Day 38

Let the wind blow.

The forecast was right, it’s blowing 20-25 knots. We stay where we are.
“Babouch-ty” is anchored with two ice axes, one on each side, connected to a rope.

20 to 25 knots on an open ocean means good wind speed to cover some distance. Up here, the game changes, and it is already a bit dangerous with all the ice around us. And the boat is 23 feet long.

Good news! A high pressure is supposed to take over from tomorrow, and on for the next 10 days. Let’s hope we get to 80 degrees North!

So it’s a day off for the 3 of us, and for her. We spend most of the day in our bags. It’s a good opportunity to do some repairs. Needles and threads are on duty.

By the end of the afternoon, the weather improves. The wind is still strong, though. It becomes beautiful when the sun appears and lightens the turquoise of the melted ponds and the dark blue of the ocean.

At the moment, Seb and Eric are currently playing chest. The game was homemade by Eric, using a plate of carbon. He fabricated the players using the plastic lid of a finished chocolate box. “Me**e!” goes Eric. Seb just takes away his tower, and his queen! “Ahahah” Seb is losing it, laughing. Eric replies “game isn’t over!” It feels good to share what’s happening here with you guys. Seb takes the win. It’s now 1-1.

10 minutes until spicy chicken with rice.

Day 39

Light headwind all day. We are tacking 70+ times during the day with the wind blowing from the North. Except having to pull the boat on the ice in the morning, we spend the whole day on the water sailing!

11:10 p.m., tea, chocolate and time for a quick nap until the wind gets back. The sails aren’t secured, so we can hear their noise to wake us up. We hope to hit the water as soon as the wind gets back. Forecasted from the South ;-).

Day 40

Middle summer snow.

7 a.m., the wind makes one of the ropes louder and louder. Time to go on the water. The wind is blowing from the South!

Looks like it’s Christmas this morning, as the snow progressively covers the deck. Beautiful! Very slippery, though. We strive to stay in the cockpit.

We are doing a 1.5 hour watch each. At least we are trying because as soon as the situation gets more “icy” complicated, we end up having two on the deck. Seb is doing such a great job helping both Eric and myself. Basically, he isn’t the one getting the most sleep.

10 p.m., fog’s here. “Let’s call it a day,” goes Seb. Navigating in foggy conditions surrounded by ice is tricky. Better be safe..

Day 41

Let the rain fall.

6 a.m., the alarm rings. Feels colder this morning. We can see some ice that has accumulated on the ropes during the “night.” I write “night” since it’s 24 hour daylight up here.

We quickly boil some water, and hit the ocean. Breakfast later, while sailing! We have to take advantage of the wind as much as we can. It’s our only support.

The tailwind blows, we are sailing. Many times throughout the day, we go over the ice, ski-sailing. The water doesn’t connect all the way, so it goes: water, ice, water and on. Not much time to get some rest today between watches, as we are nearly on deck all the time. The rain starts, it’s grey and just a few degrees above zero. Summer holidays ;-)? We are wet.

Later in the afternoon, Seb is steering. Eric and I are just going inside when Seb decides to shorten the day. The wind blows harder, and the situation is tricky to handle. “Let’s go to the next patch of ice and stop!” We take the mainsail down as we arrive near the edge. We are on the ice, fortunately near a pressure ridge, where a melted pond is at its bottom. Fresh water! Nice. Clic, clic, clic, clic, the rain goes on.

We go inside our bag to dry. And the rest of the day goes by.

Cheers from the steel grey Arctic!

Tomorrow, 5 a.m.

Day 42

Poncho, mittens and 75 degrees! (Not the temp, the latitude.)

10 p.m., we are currently sailing. Eric is on watch, steering at 6 knots. Seb and I are sharing not even 2 square meters resting in our sleeping bags. Our feet are cold. But we are good!

The first morning run is fun. Tailwind at 15 knots, perfect. Visibility: good. The fog comes mid-morning, and we enter in a wet zone. The rain starts. It’s poncho time! Back in 2013, I skied in Patagonia with my good friend and expedition partner, Børge Ousland. Since Patagonia, and the rain that can occur even on icecaps, I am not leaving for a wet expedition without my poncho. Lesson learned.

However, when sailing, it can be tricky to deal with it when we urgently need to move in the cockpit. We keep it for smooth conditions.

From 7 a.m. until now, we have been on the water towards the North West. We’ll push it until the wind turns to the North, around midnight, and camp. If it doesn’t, we do a quick stop to collect some fresh water and on our way to 76 North!

Day 43

Finding the fine line.

Wind is blowing too much this morning, so we let ourselves sleep. And, we can! Especially since yesterday we did 70 nautical miles!

Today is about finding the right balance between making progress and staying safe. The wind is against us. When there isn’t much ice, the swell gets bigger. 3 foot waves and 25 knot headwinds are enough to lift one of the floaters. Ending in the water here wouldn’t be fun! It’s probably slightly under zero degrees.

We sail and quickly take the boat out on a patch of ice, waiting for the wind to decrease. We set the tent in the cockpit to stay warm. Stand by. We hit the water again. Seb is on watch the rest of the evening. I am sitting in the small corridor ready to help. It’s Eric’s turn to be resting. Wind is supposed to increase tomorrow, so we have to find a place to camp.

It’s all open ocean at 75*30” North in the Beaufort sea. Fortunately, at around 9:30 p.m., we find a good place to pull the boat on the ice. The wind tomorrow might break the rotten patches, we are safe here.

10:39 p.m., GPS says 22.5 nautical miles.

Day 44

Next call tomorrow.

Hey guys, how is your 1st of August? On our side, it’s a day off. We stay at camp (not because we need to rest, though).

The wind, blowing from the North, is too strong. Believe it or not, it’s too much open ocean around us, and since there isn’t much ice, the swell is forming. It makes it too risky for us to navigate. Before, we were looking for water to sail, and now it’s too open. Always something ;-).

So we repair, relax, read and sleep extra hours. Later, Eric and I go with Seb as he collect some samples of water for future micro-plastic analyzations and some ice from the surface for cryoconite research (particles that fall on the ice). Seb is collaborating with labs back in France, so the idea is to deliver these samples at the end of the journey.

8:06 p.m., it’s cooked. What? Homemade “Curry d’Agneau citronnelle” by Lise, Seb’s girlfriend.

9:33 p.m., chest, tea and chocolate.

Day 45 + Day 46

34 hours.

Non-stop sailing for 34 hours and the great distance of 95 nautical miles. We are above 76*North, and nearly touching 77*North. Yeewww!

We are camping on the ice, since the wind died in the evening. Need some sleep.

Cheers guys!! And, thanks for following the adventure.

Day 47

Half a degree.

Good day sailing! We do half a degree of latitude today, precisely 31 nautical miles. And, the wind was against us!

Eric and I are learning lots of good things from Seb.

It’s 11:32 p.m., and I feel tired. I think about two things: food and sleep.

Bonne nuit.

Day 48

Despite the headwind, we still manage to sail 37 nautical miles. 2/3 are in the North! We are now at 77 degrees 38 minutes North. Feels good! We give our best. At the moment, we stop in the evening for a 5-6 hour sleep. Days out are about 15-17 hours long.

The NW is our bearing these days. We are trying to avoid bigger ice to the NE.

At 11:41 p.m., we are at camp. The golden light shines its best on “Babouch-ty”. Hmmmm, the warmth of the sun.

Ok, time to hit the bag and also time for a foot massage with some fat — need to warm our cold little toes.

Guys! Feel free to send us some more warmth and sunny days. Will be well appreciated ;-).

Day 49

78* North!

The day goes quick. That headwind makes us tack quite often. We are on the water most of the day and have just a few skiing runs.

It’s 6:15 p.m., and we just passed 78 degrees North, guys! We are on the way to complete the first 1/3 of the expedition. The route is still long, but day after day, “Babouche-ty” progresses.

About 30 degrees of latitude separates Alaska, starting point Prudhoe Bay, to Svalbard, destination Longyearbyen. We have done 8 of them. Fingers crossed for the 80 degrees mark in the next days.

At 6:43 p.m., Eric is on watch. It’s snowing. Going North, yeewww!

Day 50

15 nautical miles North, still.

We have been tacking the whole day. How many? Too many. Small and large channels of open water — we even have to push and pull back on the ice. The area is much more dense, so finding the right passage is more demanding that previous days.

We decide to stop earlier, as we feel tired. That headwind took a lot of our energy.

Can’t wait to reach the 80 mark!

Day 51

Some wind? Yes. Wrong direction? Yes.

At 6 a.m., the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Parallel Universe” goes off inside my sleeping bag. I am in charge of preparing breakfast. Porridge and dried food are now ready, and the coffee gets us warm. Outside, we are right at the border between the clear sky in the South and a sea of grey clouds in the North.

The morning is fun! We go towards the NE, 30 degrees. It’s few hundred yards of water then a stretch of ice. So sailing, trekking, sailing, trekking. Again and again. We don’t get too warm nor too cold. We are feeling good!

By 1 p.m., the terrain changes a bit and the visibility becomes poor. Tacking in small channels of water doesn’t get us very far. Trekking and pulling the boat on the snow is probably a better option. Calling it a day here could be another one. “Ok, let’s have a coffee!” The day won’t be long as stronger northern winds will blow at the end of the afternoon.

We all agree that going straight North, trekking and pulling Babouch-Ty, is the best option. At least we can compensate the Southern drift we’ll have during our sleep. We sweat in our dry suit, but soon find some water again. The visibility is clearing a bit. Off we go — 2 reefs in the mainsail and the small jib. Seb is steering and Eric’s dealing with jib. The short swell breaks our speed and tacking becomes tougher. We aren’t covering much distance. We quickly stop. The ice axe, which serves as anchor, is now secured on the ground. The tent is up in the cockpit and sails are down.

Let’s hope the wind turns!

Day 52

The wind is still blowing from the North. It carries a lot of moisture. It’s grey and wet. Nice ;-).

We do 3 nautical miles towards the North and then stop.

That short day was kind of planned in the morning anyway, since we need to wait for calmer conditions and do a repair on the fin.

Later today, we find out that it has nearly been two months we are on expedition together. We are happy to realize that we form a good team! We all share our points of view, and when one of us isn’t feeling strong, the two others help him out. Something we can be proud of!!

Day 53

Yes! We keep it up. 24 nautical miles today.

The wind is still blowing from the North, geeeezzzz!!! So, we spend the whole day tacking and fighting the moisture. It’s grey, wet, and tough. Now it’s time to jump straight in the bag, dry our clothes and warm our feet.

Still guys! 24 nautical miles in the North! The 80 mark is getting closer.


Day 54

Again, it’s wet grey and foggy ;-). Great!

13.5 nautical miles in 14 hours tacking against that Northern wind. A mix of ice and water stretches.

It’s 10:49 p.m., and time to dry ourselves in the bags.

Can someone make the wind shift?
And, can you guys send some sun over?

Day 55

Yes, the latitude 79 is now behind us. And despite that wind “hitting our noses straight,” we cover 23 nautical miles in 14 hours.

Oh, I forget. The sun shines for few hours. Feels so good!

Day 56


Today was good. However, the wind is still blowing from the North. It’s important to remind everyone that Babouch-ty doesn’t have an engine. The wind, only. And, we are proud of it! But going against the wind makes the progression tougher, slower.

We still do 23 nautical miles in the North. At the moment, we are organized accordingly: one of us is inside warming his feet in the sleeping bag, another one is in the entrance of the cockpit, either resting but ready to help or to find the passages, and the last one is steering. Each watch lasts 1.5 hours.

We are 35 nautical miles from the 80 degrees mark…

Day 57

Tough decision. We are turning back.

For the past 10-12 days, the wind has been blowing from the North, significantly slowing our progression down. 14h/day was barely enough to cover 20+ nautical miles, without mentioning the drift taking us sometimes 10 nautical miles South during our sleep.

By the end of the day yesterday, inside the boat, Seb went “Aie!” I thought he hurt himself–I would have never guessed it was about the weather forecast. The day after tomorrow, another 7-day window of Northern winds will occur. Time to reconsider.

It’s day 57, we are at 1/3 of the complete route. Our food security margin is now gone and we have nearly not seen any seals to hunt. The jaws of the winter are approaching, and by the end of September the game will change. The math is clear. Consequences can be serious in this part of the world!

It is very tough making that decision. Seb, Eric and myself came to the same conclusion–we have to turn back South. We would feel much better getting back to civilization ourselves, rather than risking to be rescued.

Today, the mood is still good. We are still happy and feel lucky to be here, in this magical place that we cherish so much. And we will take advantage as much as we can on the way back. Arctic Ocean, we love you.

The adventure isn’t over, though! We still have 10 degrees, 600 nautical miles, of latitude to go all the way back to the Inuit village of Tuktoyaktuk, Canada. “Tuk” is right outside the McKenzie River and it will be our final destination. ETA, hopefully in 3-4 weeks.

Guys! We’ll share the adventure all the way back home.

Tonight “Magret de Canard fumé” and “Boudin au riz”. Cheers from the Babouch-Tyeam ?

Day 58

Chocolate, coffee and cigars.

We stay at camp today. Well let’s put it this way: we haven’t moved ourselves, but we have drifted North. We are currently at 79*35. 10 nautical miles further North. Indeed the wind is blowing from the South, just to tease us ;-). Important to remind you guys: it is only the 3rd time of the expedition that we drift North! However, the wind is turning North tomorrow, and for the next 4 days at least.

Today, we relax. Reading again, texting SMS to family, friends and partners, and  playing chest. Breaking news! Eric just won at the chest. It’s 4-4 between him and Seb. They play out of 5. Tension is rising, for real ?!

Back in Prudhoe, I bought few thin cigars. On expeditions, I like smoking (rarely, though). But, when there is something to celebrate, or to help recover from tough decision, the cigar makes me happy and peaceful.

Tomorrow, we head South. Another start, so time for a chocolate, a coffee and a cigar. Hell yeah! The three together makes a perfect team. Just like the Babouch-Tyeam ?.

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