In his quest to become the first solo sailor to circle the globe from north to south, British sailor Adrian Flanagan has crossed the Atlantic, rounded Cape Horn, weathered hurricane-force winds that knocked his boat flat twice in less than a minute, and sailed halfway across the Pacific to Hawai’i with a jury-rigged mast.
That was the easy part. Now, as he sits on his 40-foot stainless-steel sloop, Barrabas, in Nome, Alaska, he’s frantically preparing for the real challenge that lies ahead: weaving his way through nearly 2,000 miles of northern pack ice without he and his boat becoming frozen in for what could be one incredibly long, cold winter.
With a short time window before winter conditions set in, likely violent weather, tricky navigation, and often-recalcitrant communications, there are many obstacles between Nome and home.
“There are so many variables,” Flanagan said. “Once I leave, I’m in the lap of the Gods.”
Flanagan’s journey began in October 2005 when he left England and headed south across the Atlantic. He ran into his first real trouble on this mission, dubbed the Alpha Global Expedition, after rounding Cape Horn on February 23, 2006, where he got caught in hurricane-force winds and was knocked down twice in 30 seconds. The mast on Barrabas is also stainless steel and weighs several tons, adding to the instability in the storm. During one of the knockdowns, a lower shroud and the mast were damaged and Flanagan had to hoist jury-rigged sails as he continued on to Honolulu, which he reached on May 7, 2006. There, the mast was repaired and he eventually made it to Nome on August 8, 2006. The mast was unstepped, Barrabas was stored, and Flanagan flew home to England.
Now back in Nome, Flanagan says there’s a lot of work to do to get Barrabas ready, as all the rigging is currently off the boat and he needs to install new radar. He also has the daunting task of storing enough fuel on board because he’ll have to motor through the ice, and estimates that he’ll need to carry nearly 650 gallons of fuel. The boat’s main tank holds 104 gallons, the secondary tank holds another 26, and the remaining supply will be divided among 100 five-gallon jerry cans. Flanagan said he needs to keep most of the cans below for proper weight displacement, so fuel cans will be tied down everywhere from the saloon floor to the aft cabin. He’ll also tie cans to 20 various points on deck.
Flanagan has been meticulous in planning this voyage and he has an agreement from the Russian authorities-the first time such permission has ever been granted-that they’ll use their fleet of icebreakers to assist him. He’ll also be getting help from a Canadian company, MDA, which will use its satellite receivers to take pictures of pack ice in Flanagan’s path. He doesn’t have the technology to receive the images on his boat, but MDA will send the images to Flanagan’s weather guide in England, who in turn will convert the images and send them to Flanagan via e-mail.
Flanagan maintains that this trip “is all about safety. I’m not chasing any speed records.” That said, he also admits, “I know I only have a very small window. I have to leave in open waters.”
While pack ice does move, there’s still a very real possibility that Flanagan could get stuck in it. And despite the fact that Barrabas is made of stainless steel, should he collide with some ice, “it could crush the boat as if it were wet tissue paper,” he said.
Well, if the Gods-and everything else-cooperates, Flanagan should leave Nome around the second week of July for the Siberian port of Provideniya, where Russian authorities will inspect his vessel to determine if Barrabas is indeed strong enough to make the trip. If Flanagan gets the go-ahead, he hopes to leave Provideniya around July 20th and attempt to clear the ice for the 1,800-mile trek to the cape of Chelyuskina, about midway along the Russian coast, where, if all goes well, he’ll make landfall around August 15.
According to Flanagan, the pack ice tends to float northward after Chelyuskina. But the window for clearing the ice before that point is most definitely tight. Though there’s been slightly more melting than last year, experts predict that Flanagan has a maximum of six weeks to complete this leg before he has a distinct possibility of getting stuck in heavy pack ice. If he gets through, it could be smooth sailing for the next 2,500 miles back to the United Kingdom, where Flanagan should sail into the Royal Southern Yacht Club on the Hamble River in time to enjoy the fall.
What possesses a person to make such a journey? Flanagan said he read Sir Francis Chichester’s Gipsy Moth Circles the World when he was 15, and thought, “I want to do that.” Flanagan said he got hooked on “the idea of adventure and of testing myself physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
Flanagan’s a family man with two sons. He’s divorced, but remains close to with his former wife, Louise. In fact, she’s the Alpha Global Expedition manager. Others may wonder why a father would attempt such a dangerous feat, but Flanagan credits his sons Benjamin, 8, and Gabriel, 5, with helping him turn a dream he’s had since he was a teenager into reality.
“As a parent, I asked myself, ‘what is my job’? Flanagan mused. “I decided that I had to teach them to be true to themselves because that’s the ultimate truth. And if I’m not true to myself by not attempting this trip, then I’ve failed them.”
To keep track of Flanagan’s progress, check the CW website for periodic updates.