Guest Post: Sailing the North West Passage | Part I

We invite you to follow the exciting story of Chris, a world traveler whose wanderlust brought him to the Arctic, where he spent 2 months sailing from the US states of Maryland to Alaska via the North West Passage. Sailing the North West Passage has proven to be one of the most difficult journeys for sailors of small vessels, yet one of the most rewarding to complete. From stunning glaciers, unforgettable sunsets and amazing encounters with arctic wildlife, sailing the North West Passage makes for a trip of a lifetime. You can check out more of Chris’ adventures on his blog, Footsteps of a Wildkiwi and discover our own more leisurely sailing routes for your next sailing holiday on our blog.

Adventure into the Arctic, Sailing the North West Passage- Part I

In July 2015 my girlfriend and I got the amazing chance to be apart of the crew on a small sailing vessel sailing from Baltimore to Alaska, via the North West Passage and Greenland.  There have been only about 135 small vessels (under 20m) to ever complete this passage and when you set off the chances of the sea ice in the high Canadian Arctic actually melting is 50/50.  That’s if you even make it up past Greenland.

The captain of the yacht found us on a crew finding website Latitude 38 where we had put up a small advertisement a few months before. There are people all over the world doing this, you crew for free and sometimes share expenses in exchange for incredible experiences.  Our captain needed 4 crew to help him sail his yacht to Alaska as it wouldn’t be safe for him to do it alone.

Sailing the North West Passage

Captain Joes

Sailing the North West Passage

Crew member Chris

Sailing the North West Passage

Crew member Jerremie

Sailing the North West Passage

Crew member Shanan

sailing the north west passage

Crew member Graceie Bodo

SV Hawk



Length:  12.8m, 47 Feet,

Beam:  4.5m,  15 Feet,

Draft:  2.1m,  7 Feet,

Mast: 23m,

Ballast:  6.3 Tonne, 14000lb,

Weight: 15 tonnes,  30 000lb

75 feet, Motor:  75 Hp,

Sail Area:  120 Sqm,  1300 SqFeet,

Hull:  8mm Aluminium, 1/3 inch,

Insulation:  8cm, 3 inch foam

Sails:  Main, Jib, Stay, Storm Jib, Blast Reacher

Fuel Capacity:  750L, 200 Gallons,   Water Capacity: 750L, 200 gallons

Heating:  Diesel drip, Engine fan

Cruising speed under engine: 6 kt, Max sailing speed: 9 kt

SV Hawk is a very proven sailing vessel.  It has circumnavigated the globe sailed by its previous owners Beth and Evan.  You can read more about their adventures on their blog they kept for many years.  It was designed to be strong with a hull of 8mm Aluminium, 3 inch of insulation on the inside, diesel heater and large water and fuel storage.

Sailing the North West Passage

SV Hawk

Shopping list

Here is a few of the things that were on our shopping list.  Along with many more items.  The hardest thing was fitting 4 months food into all the small spaces and cubby holes throughout the boat.

1100 eggs, 20 cabbages,  25kg potatoes,  20kg Onions,  15 pumpkins,  20kg carrots, 80 cans tuna,  60 cans Salmon,  60 cans chicken,  80 cans Olives, 100 cans Tomatoes,  15L almond butter,  10kg bacon,  25kg of Cheese,  5kg butter,  60 cans of milk,  10 loaves of bread,  8kg crackers,  100 apples,  60  oranges,  15kg salami,  25kg oats,  25kg rice,  30kg pasta,  30hg flour,  40kg fruit and nuts

Sailing the North West Passage Sailing the North West Passage

Departure:  22nd July Baltimore to Halifax

Our first 3 days were absolutely horrible.  We came out into the end of a tropical storm and we had up to 45Knot wind gusts and Huge seas.  I was terribly sea sick and wondered how I could possibly do this for 3 months.  Joe had plenty of sailing experience and he was teaching us how to sail.  But at the same time this was his first time sailing this particular yacht.  Shanan Wolfe and Jérémie St-Pierre were 22 and 25, and had some sailing experience.  But never on the high seas.   Graceie and I had never sailed before.  And only Graceie and I knew each other.  We were all thrown in at the deep end but luckily we were all very capable and learned fast.

Sailing the North West Passage

We had 2 main issues with the engine on the way to Halifax, the diesel filter was blocking up and the propeller was vibrating.  We had to go dry and change the propeller in Halifax and Joe spent 2 days in the engine room cleaning and fine tuning.  When we left everything worked well!

Sailing the North West Passage

Halifax to Greenland

2 days north of Halifax just off the coast of Newfoundland disaster struck! A bearing in the steering wheel broke and the steering wheel stopped working.  It sounds serious and it is, but our auto pilot still worked.  We changed course and headed straight for the nearest town, Stephenville, Newfoundland.

It took 5 days for a new part to be sent to this small isolated town and during this time we got to get to know some of the locals in this remote place.  The most generous was the mayor of the town who lent us a car and took us out to dinner Newfoundland style!

Sailing the North West Passage


The passage from Newfoundland was fast with following winds all the way.  Lots of fog and the first iceberg just off Nuuk, Greenland’s capital.

The day before we set off from Nuuk we got the surprising news that the first 3 yachts had made it through Bellot straight, this is the crux if you like of the whole North West Passage, and this was very early in the season for it to open.  Some years it doesn’t open at all  This was good news, however we were also worried, some years it only opens for a day…had we missed our chance?

Up until this point it had been our warm up and familiarization with The Hawk and Joe, Shanan and Jeremie and we always saw Greenland as the last place we could pull out if we had major safety concerns.  At this point we were confident in the crew and yacht and were all happy to go on.

Sailing the North West Passage
Sailing the North West Passage

From Greenland it would be over a month before we would get another shower and go to a grocery shop. Also from here we were on our own, if something serious happened to the yacht or one of us then rescue would be days away.  To me it was important to know the yacht well enough that if the worst was to happen to Joe the captain we could get back to the nearest port.
Sailing the North West Passage

Sailing the North West Passage

Sailing the North West Passage

Join Chris and the rest of SV Hawk’s crew as they sail onwards from Greenland towards Alaska in the next chapter. 

Sailing the North West Passage

Thanks to Chris and his crew mates for sharing some of these amazing photos!