The 10 metre sailing vessel Berrimilla recently completed a circumnavigation of the world via Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope , ( ) during which her crew, Alex Whitworth and Peter Crozier, linked up with the crew of the International Space Station. A number of interesting physical, psychological and planning similarities were apparent.


Berrimilla sailing into Sydney, Dec 20 2005. Sydney - Hobart 2004, Fastnet 2005 and Sydney Hobart 2005 battle flags.

As a result of this contact, Alex and Peter were invited by Leroy Chiao, who was the Commander of the ISS during their contacts to give a presentation about Berrimilla’s voyage to a Symposium on Risk at Louisiana State University, using the voyage as a simple analogue for a journey into deep space. The details are here

Awesome line up of some of the participants.



Ken Kamler, Pascal Lee, Jim Pawelczyk, back Dale Andersen, front Keith Cowing, Suni Williams, back John Finley, front Leroy Chiao, back Fred Rainey, front Eileen Collins, back Michael Lopez-Alegria, back Vince LiCata, front William Anders, back Sean O'Keefe, Matt Reyes, back Jjim Fowler, Pete Crozier, Alex Whitworth, John Grunsfeld and Bill Readdy.

After the Symposium, in a bar on the edge of LSU Campus, Pascal Lee drew a map in Alex’s notebook and, perhaps foolishly, signed it.



This became an invitation to undertake another, rather more symbolic voyage through the North West Passage to link up with NASA’s Haughton-Mars Project on Devon Island, which Pascal runs, in time to observe the total solar eclipse on August 1 2008.



It seemed like a neat idea and there were lots of suggestions about how it could be used for educational purposes - the whole concept is full of opportunities to demonstrate aspects of science, history, environmental change, planning and human relationships in difficult circumstances.

Planning is now at the stage when we know that the voyage is Go unless something breaks in the meantime. Peter Crozier is unable to sail this time, for family reasons. His place has been taken by Corrie McQueen, also a circumnavigator and who has sailed from the UK to the Arctic assisted with running charters around Spitzbergen.

The plan is for Berrimilla to depart Sydney, Australia, on Yuri’s Night, April 12, 2008. This is party night around the world for many people interested in space exploration. Berrimilla will sail by the most direct route allowed by the weather and prevailing winds to Dutch Harbour, Alaska, a distance of approximately 6000 miles. During her circumnavigation she averaged approximately 5.5 knots or about 130 miles per day, but most of this was downwind in the Southern Ocean below 40 degrees south and it is unlikely that she would be able to match this on a Pacific crossing from South to North. A more realistic and conservative estimate would be an average of 100 miles per day or 60 days from Sydney to Alaska. This would put her in Alaskan waters sometime late in June.

A third crew member, Kimbra Lindus, will fly into Dutch Harbour for the NW Passage attempt. Kimbra is another circumnavigator who has sailed in Berrimilla in two Sydney - Hobart races. Like Corrie, she is an engineer and has worked in some wild and out of the way places.

After refueling and restocking with beer in Dutch Harbour the intention is to sail through the Bering Strait to the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and along the north Alaskan coast into Canada. Rate of progress will depend on weather and the effect of global warming on the ice en route. Berrimilla is fibreglass and not ice strengthened and she draws nearly 7 feet, so great care will be needed to avoid dangerous ice and shallow water.

Berrimilla will probably enter the North West Passage from the Amundsen Gulf and sail south of Victoria Island, through Dease Strait, Victoria Strait and Peel or Bellot Straits to Resolute Bay with a possible stop at Cambridge Bay for supplies. Assuming she gets that far, she will then cross to Beechey Island on the SW corner of Devon Island, site of the three graves from the Franklin Expedition, where the crew would link up with the HMP Camp.



Pascal and the Franklin graves at Beechey.

The intention is to be absolutely self sufficient for the whole journey through the North West Passage, leaving a minimal environmental footprint and without recourse to the limited supplies and facilities of small local communities to sustain the voyage.

Communications throughout will be via HF radio and email, backed up by Iridium phone and SatC. However, the cost of Iridium and SatC will preclude using these for extensive contact. There will be a new web page linked from the site and daily updates will be posted. Interested followers will be able to email the crew and Iridium calls could be arranged. The voyage will be recorded on video and webcam as well as in still photographs but there will be very limited opportunity for real time internet links.
The website is being run from the UK by Speedy.

After the HMP linkup, Berrimilla will have to continue east into the Davis Strait as it is likely that the Passage will be closing to the West. From there, it is possible to sail across the Atlantic to the UK or to continue around Newfoundland and down the US East Coast, possibly calling into New York and Houston on the way to the Panama Canal and back to Australia. If the UK option is chosen, the boat will be laid up until the 2009 sailing season and then prepared for the 2009 Fastnet race before returning to Australia via Panama.

The weather during the voyage is not expected to be severe, given the time of year and other factors, but the limiting element in the plan is likely be the state of the ice and the depth of ice free water to the north of the American mainland and in the North West Passage itself.

© Picture: J. Herrington