Explorer launches bittersweet mission to sail to North Pole
BRITAIN: It is a polar record the British explorer Pen Hadow does not want to achieve. The 55-yearold, who was the first person to walk solo across the pack ice from Canada to the North Pole in 2003, will now try to highlight climate change by becoming the first to sail there in a yacht.
Hadow said it would be a bittersweet achievement to achieve the feat because it would mean that the polar ice cap had shrunk to record lows.
‘‘I’m very conflicted,’’ he said. ‘‘If we do reach the North Pole by sail, I think the image would be iconic for the rest of the century and a call to action,’’ he said. ‘‘If 50ft yachts can do this, imagine what commercial shipping can do.’’
For his record-breaking trek, he hauled a sledge for 850 hours over two months, but there were already so many gaps in the ice that he spent between 30 and 50 hours swimming between ice floes in an immersion suit.
It was melting so fast that, on his return, he predicted it would be gone before his five-year-old son Wilf grew old enough to retrace his father’s steps.
‘‘People thought I was being overdramatic,’’ he said. ‘‘Now it is clear that this is coming the way of our children.’’
For his new record attempt, Hadow and his nine-strong team will take two yachts on a 5630km round trip from Nome in Alaska to the pole, using satellites to find a route through the ice and avoid getting stuck. He was to fly to Alaska to join his team members yesterday.
If all goes to plan, he will arrive at th e pole between August 15 and early September, about 820km further north than anyone has sailed before.
Hadow expects ice cover to be at a record low in late summer, after Nasa declared in March that it had reached a new winter low, at 14.4m square kilometres. The Central Arctic Ocean is predicted to be icefree in summer for the first time in human history by 2050.
A Russian icebreaker, capable of smashing through ice two metres thick, found open water at the pole in the summer of 2000. Ten years’ later, a Russian crew sailed around the Arctic in a single season without icebreaker assistance.
Hadow warns that once the protective pack ice has gone, marine life will be exploited by fishing boats and harmed by shipping
"I'm very conflicted. If we do reach the North Pole by sail, I think the image would be iconic for the rest of the century and a call to action." Pen Hadow
using the new transit route.
He hopes his expedition, which will also conduct scientific research, will galvanise support for creating a marine reserve of more than 1m square miles, an area as large as the Mediterranean, within the international maritime boundary. He said: ‘‘I’ve moved from adventure to exploration to protection or advocacy. It is time for us to pay the same attention to the world’s oceans as to the rainforests.’’
The risk of ships becoming trapped in ice was once very real. In 1893, at the start of the golden age of polar exploration, the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen wedged his three-masted schooner, Fram, into the pack ice, trusting its natural drift to deliver him to the North Pole. After 18 months he tired of its slow and erratic progress and set off with dog sledges instead.
Yet Hadow is confident of success - and has personal reasons for wanting to avoid an icebound winter. He has promised his fiancee, Venetia Jenkins, that he will be back in Britain for their wedding on October 6. - Sunday Times