Journey Through the Northwest Passage: Introduction

This summer, Dogbark!, an Open 60 turned family cruiser, will travel from Seattle to Greenland via the Northwest Passage. Follow along as the crew documents the adventure.

dogbark
The crew aboard Dogbark!, about to head off on a summer adventure through the Northwest Passage.John Guillote

I'm crouched awkwardly under the table, stacking cans of beans 3-high in the bilge, counting as I go. 46, 47, 48…I'm hoping all 60 will fit in this cramped little corner. For the last week, my days have been absorbed with moving boxes of warm clothes, ordering boat parts, making lists and buying 25-pound bags of rice. We are in the final days of preparation before untying the lines of DogBark!, a 1990 Open 60 sailboat, and embarking on a voyage from Seattle to Greenland via the Northwest Passage. Things are a bit hectic.

This journey will carry us over 6,000 miles up the coast of British Columbia, around Alaska, through the Northwest Passage and across the Baffin Sea to Greenland. It is a unique journey for a number of reasons.

First, the Northwest passage is a fairly “new” cruising option. Only in the last 15 years or so has enough sea ice given way in the summer to allow pleasure boats to cross over the top of Canada in a single season, unaided by an ice breaker. At the moment, more people have stood on the summit of Mount Everest than have sailed through this stretch of water.

Second, DogBark! is an offshore racing sailboat, designed and built for a single person to race around the world through the southern latitudes in the BOC Challenge. This particular boat, under its previous name, Jarkan Yachtbuilders, completed two circumnavigations in this manner. The benefits of DogBark! are that she is stout, fast and easy to handle. But some might argue that her deep draft and fiberglass hull are not ideally suited for the arctic.

And lastly, this arctic journey is distinct because the crew includes two tenacious young sisters. Savai (9 years old) is curious and fearless. Her zest for life and adventurous energy ensure she is in constant motion. She is always upside-down dangling from something and sees DogBark! mostly as one big jungle gym. On the trail, she leads the crew under a full weighted pack with a walking stick and a bounce in her step. Her laugh is as infectious as her spirit, and she can quickly have the whole team teary-eyed with giggles. She has never been seasick.

Talia (12 years old) is composed and thoughtful. She asks hard questions and expects thorough answers. She remembers the name, length and altitude of the trail she hiked three years ago. She reads every book in sight, skis fast and conducts science experiments for fun. She is endlessly compassionate, especially towards other creatures, and is particularly concerned about the impacts of melting sea ice on animals in the arctic. She has been docking sailboats since she was 5.

Joining the two sisters are their parents, Graeme and Janna. Graeme is resourceful and intrepid. He can fix a malfunctioning alternator with a screw driver and some duct tape and is happiest when sailing in virtually any condition. He is an excellent captain, attentive father and a confident manager. And at the end of the day, he makes a mean salmon dinner. Janna is compassionate and unflappable. She is a talented writer and exemplary mother. She docks the boat like a pro no matter how tight the maneuvering room and always knows just when to sing a silly song.

My husband and I are lucky enough to call ourselves crew on this exceptional adventure. While we can usually be found barefoot in the tropics cruising our own boat, Halcyon, this was an invitation we never could have turned down. Our history with this remarkable family starts on the sailing racecourse of the Puget Sound and predates Savai's ability to walk or talk. Under Graeme's skilled race captaining skills, I grew from a flailing rookie to a proficient bowwoman. With Graeme and Janna's expert opinions and advice, we bought and outfitted Halcyon. Over dozens of wine-induced evenings, the four of us dreamed of cruising the world together. I can say with assurance that it is them we have to thank (and maybe blame every once in a while) for our present cruising lifestyle.

And so, I am content as I cram the last few cans of beans into the bilge. We still have a considerable task list to get through, but with such a cohesive team, I know we will get it all done. We are all looking forward to untying those lines so we can soak up every moment on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.