Sailor will brave the cold for history

Author:
Updated:
Original:

British man plans to take on the bitter ice of the Northwest Passage with only the wind to guide him

British man plans to take on the bitter ice of the Northwest Passage with only the wind to guide him

Bob Beggs says he doesn’t mind the cold. Although you might not, either, if you spent 10 winters in Norway with the British Army.

This is why sailing through the Northwest Passage in an open catamaran without an engine doesn’t seem impossible to the 48-year-old British sailor.

“I like the cold, something about rugged conditions attract me,” says Beggs, head of Performance Yachting, a sailing school in Plymouth, England. “I’m not getting any younger, so I thought I’d better do this.”

Beggs hopes to be the first sailor in history to do a polar circumnavigation of the North American continent, transiting the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific under sail power alone. To increase the challenge, his course through the Northwest Passage is from east to west, against the prevailing current.

After five years of preparation, Beggs hopes to set sail during the second week of June in a 28-foot catamaran. He declines to set a specific time frame for completing the route in case they run into trouble with the ice.

“The biggest challenge for building this boat has been the timescale,” says Beggs. “This is the busy season in the U.K. for boatbuilders. I’d been anticipating some friends could help build it, but they have been away. Getting the boatbuilders has been the biggest delay of all.”

The boat is a 28-foot Dazcat designed by Darren Newton of MultiMarine, a multihull company based in California with a branch in Cornwall, U.K. The vessel was chosen based on the following criteria: it is lightweight in case the crew has to lift her out onto the ice, and her high power-to-weight ratio, which allows the cat to sail in the lightest of breezes. And of course speed is a factor as well.

“We’re attaching a nylon runner to the bottom of each hull to make it easier to push onto the ice if we get locked in,” says Beggs. “Reports we’ve been getting for this season indicate the ice will be thicker than usual.”

The Dazcat is an open deck boat with a trampoline running between the two hulls. Inside the hulls are two bunks and storage area — no head, no galley. The cat will have all the necessary safety features such as EPIRB, PFDs, GPS, VHF and even reinforced storm sails for the icy weather. While Beggs plans on bringing some food supplies with him (mostly dehydrated), he will pick up supplies along the way so he can maintain optimum speed for the boat without adding extra weight. He also plans to use a hand-operated watermaker.

“We are concerned about starting too late this year, but we don’t want to rush,” says Beggs. “We are challenging the cold and we want to navigate it with all the right safety equipment. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves having to be rescued.”

This is the second Dazcat that Beggs has built, the first being a 26-footer for the 1994 Plymouth Development Corporation Two-Handed Transatlantic Race, in which Beggs came in first in class. Beggs also skippered The Bristol Clipper, the Camper and Nicholson Bluewater 58-foot yacht, which won the Times Clipper 2000 Round the World Yacht Race.

Beggs’ cold weather experience came from his career in the British Army, which he joined in 1979. From 1981 to 1993, he spent each winter in Norway, sometimes living outside in the snow.

Though the crew for the trip is still being assembled, the tentative plan is to sail to Greenland from Plymouth with another crewmember and then meet up with crewmember Ian Rivers, who was a soldier in the British Army during the 1980s alongside Beggs. Together, they will sail to the Northwest Passage.

“We’re still gathering crewmembers now,” says Beggs. “If we can’t make it through the ice, we might store the boat in Alaska and start out again next year. We’ll see.”

Beggs says his family is concerned for his safety, but is very supportive of his voyage.

“It’s exciting to think you can go to far-reaching shores, and you don’t need fuel or an aircraft to get there,” says Beggs. “It’s a big adventure going to these far-flung places and that’s really the hook.”

At press time, Beggs was still seeking sponsorship for his trip. For information about Beggs and his upcoming voyage, visit www.againstthefloe.com .