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Sunday, July 23, 2017


Continuing my posting of world cruises, you might have missed the crossing last year of the Crystal Serenity through the Northwest Passage.  I've been on several Crystal cruises, including my most recent.   If you clicked on that posting, you will again see the three Patricks.  So what's the big deal about the Northwest Passage? 

As you all know, a ship can sail from Europe to the Orient by going south, then east, or heading west through the Panama Canal, or around South America.  A sea route above North America, however, is impossible during the winter, but is beginning to become possible during the later summer months, and would be 2,500 miles shorter.

Global warming is said to be why the Northwest Passage is more and more becoming an ocean transport pathway.  This decline in sea ice looks similar to the carbon dioxide rise in our atmosphere, except in the opposite direction.  Donald Trump, surely, there is a giant clue here.

The history of attempts to find a way through the Northwest Passage is laced with tragedy, ship wrecks, starvation and scurvy.  Soon after the discovery of America by Cristoforo Colombo, Giovanni Caboto (right), also from Italy, in 1497, made the first attempt, financed by Henry VII of England.  Thus, you never heard of Giovanni Caboto, for he was henceforth referred to as John Cabot.   His men mutinied, he was cast adrift on an open boat, and never seen again.  
There were other numerous attempts, but one that caught my attention was a 1776 (year we got Independence) expedition, partly inspired by a 20,000 pound prize, led by Captain James Cook (left), who searched from west to east before he returned to Hawaii and was killed.  

In his crew were George Vancouver (who is recognized for those island and city) and William Bligh (below), who, two decades later, became Captain of the HMS Bounty, and he (played by Trevor Howard) too had a mutiny problem in 1789, led by Christian Fletcher (Marlon Brando), who, Fletcher, went on to either an incredible life (inspiration for Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), or, more likely, premature death on Pitcairn Island.

You would have thought all this misadventure would end Bligh's (left) career, but he went on in service to his country for another 27 years, finally retiring in 1814 as a Vice admiral.  There is a tendency to confuse Bligh in the film Mutiny on the Bounty, with Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg, played by Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny.  

While Rotten Tomatoes reviewers gave the film Northwest Passage with Spencer Tracy, a 100 rating, this was a totally misleading title, for the movie ended just before that search was supposed to have begun.  The sequel could have been called by that name, but did not happen.

Finally in 1906 after a three-year ordeal, Norwegian Roald Amundsen, with only a crew of 6, succeeded.

He used a tiny vessel, the Gjoa, so that he could navigate the shallow depths.  Clever and persistent guy.  He was also first to reach the South Pole in 1911.

Surreptitiously, dozens of submarines, mostly American, but a few Russian and UK, have been making this trip since the USS Nautilus first accomplished this feat in 1958.  The Canadian government regularly expresses grave concern, for there are some tempting resources throughout this region.

In 1969 the SS Manhattan, an oil tanker, accompanied by two icebreakers, made the journey.  The effort only convinced the oil companies that there was no oil shipping future there, which led to the Alaska Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay.

Passenger ships began to ply these waters from 1984:
  • 1984, Lindblad Explorer broke the ice, but unfortunately struck an Antarctic iceberg and sank in 2007
  • 2010, Hapag-Lloyd Cruise ships MS Hanseatic (above) sailed from Greenland to Rome, while the MS Bremen (below) started in Nome and arrived in Reykjavik.  They met in the High Arctic near Cambridge Bay.

    Now, a summer sail is almost commonplace.  Here is a 44-minute documentary of La Belle Epoque's experience in 2014.  This was a German home-built yacht.

    So, returning to the Crystal Serenity for her 2016 feat, this was monumental, and dangerous, following Amundsen's path:

    Upon announcement, cabins sold out in three weeks.  900 passengers left Seward for New York City with 600 crew members.  Fares started at around $20,000/person.  There was interest because the ship was not designed for polar travel.  There are wealthy individuals who seek adventure if it comes with luxury and only minimal peril.  (Photo by Neil Roberts.)  The New York Times just released an article, Arctic sailing raises fears of disaster.

    You can still sign up for Crystal's upcoming August 15 - September 16 2017 Northwest Passage journey, with fares starting at $21,855/person, double occupancy, leaving Anchorage and arriving in New York City.  Alcohol, WiFi and specialty restaurants are free. But a camping trip to Greenland will cost you an extra $4,129.  I just checked (888 799 2437), a single would be charged $47,000 or so, plus a required trip insurance of $5000.

    One of the ultimate ironies of this trip is that our carbon footprint caused the ice to melt.  Sure, there are those who stay home, minimizing any carbon dioxide contribution.  But if you really want to travel from Anchorage to New York, one ridiculous option is to mush across with your pack of Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes.

    If, though, you have the resources, time and advanced sense of recklessness, but desire some luxury, the Crystal Serenity through the Northwest Passage is something worthy of your consideration.  I have no doubt that some day a few world cruises will include this itinerary.  

    Certainly, I would select any of those sailing packages over a $150 million Moon trip.  Space Adventures has already taken tourists to the International Space Station, where a stop here would be part of your full journey.

    Unfortunately, you won't actually land on the Moon, and I couldn't find a timetable.  People have placed deposits.  However, competition.  Moon Express announced a vacation on the moon for only $10,000.  Don't hold your breath, for this opportunity might still be ten years away.

    But why limit yourself to the Moon.  In 2013, Dennis Tito formed the Inspiration Mars Foundation to select a married couple as the crew for launch in 2018.  However, NASA did not cooperate, so, I guess this planetary honeymoon is dead.

    The Mars One project will take you to Mars in 2032.  It will not cost you anything, but, perhaps your life, for you will be sent to colonize.  It is reported that 202,586 actual humans showed initial interest.  Well, a later admission was that this number actually involved 2,761 applicants, still incredible.

    But no one...has the imagination of Elon Musk.  His latest Mars adventure is a Martian City of a million people.  He has, though, re-engineered his thinking and pushed this goal into a 50-100 year timeframe, essentially eliminating anyone living today from participating.  Forget your planned Mars vacation for now, but read about his plan.

    There are six ocean storms, with three heading in the general direction of Hawaii:

    At this time, nothing serious is being projected.  In the West Pacific, Typhoon Noru continues to meander in a circle.  Who knows what can still happen.  This is a very strange storm.


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