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Piggyback ride through Arctic

British sailor gets a lift through the ice to finish his circumnavigation

British sailor gets a lift through the ice to finish his circumnavigation

Not wind, nor rain, nor ice-encrusted waters has stopped Adrian Flanagan from achieving his dream.

After a tumultuous two years, the 48-year-old British sailor reached Norway, and was expected to return home to England in mid-November. Flanagan has been attempting the first single-handed “vertical circumnavigation,” with a westward passage through the Arctic. Upon reaching northern Russia this summer, however, he hit ice that halted his progress.

But Flanagan got a little help from his friends. His 36-foot steel sloop, Barrabas, was lifted onto Kapitan Danilkin, an ice-hardened Russian merchant ship, at the port of Tiksi Sept. 29.After carrying him through the ice, Barrabas was relaunched in Murmansk, Russia, Oct. 7, and Flanagan reached Norway Oct. 16. Because of his lift through the ice, his status of setting a record is unclear at this point.

“The experience has been like climbing Everest and then having to wait for the weather to clear before you can reach the summit,” says Flanagan, in an interview with Soundings. “The ice cover has been too thick to go through on my own.”

Few have attempted the route because of the ice in the High Arctic region. In early September, Russian coast guard officials told Flanagan they were expecting the ice cover to shrink from 70 percent to 30 percent, which would have enabled him to sail through. However, after a few weeks of cooling his heels — literally — the ice had made no progress.

“Whenever tension and anxiety creep in, I remind myself that psychologically I am quite strong,” says Flanagan. “I have found myself rethinking my original decision, but I have decided to stay with the plan.”

Originally from Buckinghamshire, Flanagan’s voyage has been an arduous one. Inspired by the exploits of Sir Francis Chichester, who sailed around the world alone between 1966 and 1967, he set out Oct. 28, 2005, from HamblePointMarina in the south of England on what he expected to be a 10-month voyage. He started by sailing the Atlantic toward the Falkland Islands, and he rounded Cape Horn in February 2006. His plan to complete the circumnavigation non-stop and unassisted was scuttled when he was forced to make port in Hawaii to repair his mast, which was damaged in two knockdowns rounding the Horn. Flanagan put in at Nome, Alaska, in early August 2006 after discovering damage to his prop shaft that made using the engine impossible.

Although the Russian Arctic has never been sailed single-handed, Russian authorities granted Flanagan permission to sail without an ice pilot. But with temperatures dropping and new ice forming he decided he would have Barrabas hauled and pick up the voyage the following summer. He had covered 26,045 nautical miles in 280 days at sea.

“A lot of people thought that having eight or nine months to rest up would have made the rest of the trip easier, but in fact it made it more difficult,” says Flanagan. “I was unable to relax, really, because I just wanted to get back out there.”

On June 25, a refurbished Barrabas was back in the water to complete the last leg through the polar ice. Again, Russian authorities gave Flanagan the green light to sail the route without an ice pilot. By August, however, he found himself hanging with polar bears, waiting for 70 feet of ice to thin. Flanagan expresses his gratefulness to Capt. Alfred Zagorsky of the Kapitan Danilkin on his blog, calling him “an extraordinary man.”

“Adrian has been at this for two years, and he will not give up until the last door is slammed in his face,” says Louise Flanagan, his ex-wife and expedition manager. “Our site gets 20,000 visits a week, so other people want to see this happen as well.”

Louise Flanagan says that while their children — Benjamin, 8, and Gabriel, 5 — miss their dad, they understand what this trip means for him. At this point, Flanagan just wants to get home. “Being away from my children on a daily basis has been difficult, and I have no pictures of them up inside my cabin, although I have their pictures on the computer,” he says. “It just causes me to dwell too much on it.”

Barrabas is a hand-built Trireme 38 designed by French naval architect Francoise Charpentier. Flanagan says what attracted him to the boat was its deep draft and low center of gravity. “I needed something tough,” he says. “It is made of titanium-enriched stainless steel, which I thought would be good for getting through the ice.

“Before Alpha Global, I had never sailed Barrabas single-handed,” he continues. “The original plan was that I would refit the boat and then take myself and a friend to New York across the Atlantic, and then I would come back single-handed. But the time to refit the boat took longer than I expected, and so I never got that opportunity.”

Flanagan says he is grateful for Louise’s support of the project and for the technology that allows him to stay in contact via satellite phone and the Internet.

“People will call me and ask to speak to our team, but we have no team — it’s just us,” says Louise. “This is him, going for it.”

For more information and updates on the voyage, visit