From the Northwest Passage to Cape Horn
By Herb McCormick
The Around the America’s voyage was launched on a simple and straightforward premise: The continents of North America and South America are, in essence, large islands surrounded by a complex, fragile ocean environment that’s at risk on countless fronts. A major objective of the 13-month, 24,000 nautical-mile journey “Around the America’s” is to demonstrate the inter-connectedness of these seemingly independent continent-islands. But while that summation may sound clear-cut, the trip itself promises to be anything but.
In planning the journey, skipper Mark Schrader realized that the success of the venture would hinge on negotiating two specific bodies of water at the opposite ends of the route map. To the north awaits the Northwest Passage, an epic waterway across the Arctic that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. To the south stands Cape Horn, the legendary waypoint off the tip of South America positioned smack-dab in the teeth of the wild Southern Ocean.
From a routing and navigational standpoint, again, the idea is simple. A crew on an ocean-going yacht like Ocean Watch, the expedition’s 64-foot steel cutter, must traverse the Northwest Passage portion of the journey during the Northern Hemisphere summer, from June through September. Likewise, the optimum window of opportunity for rounding Cape Horn at the voyage’s southern extremity exists during summertime in the Southern Hemisphere, from December through February.
Setting forth from Seattle on May 31, Ocean Watch will sail north with a goal of reaching Barrow, Alaska, in early July. There, the crew may be forced to play a waiting game for the winter ice to recede. Once it does, they’ll embark on a critical 1,000-nautical mile eastward stretch from Barrow to Cambridge Bay. Time will be of the essence. Heading north from Cambridge Bay, Ocean Watch will next attempt to tackle Peel Sound, a narrow strait between Prince of Wales Island and Somerset Island.
Peel Sound and its surrounding waters is traditionally a formidable, make-or-break obstacle for Northwest Passage voyagers. For the past two summers, small-boat sailors have found this area ice-free, and have passed through unimpeded. But there are never any guarantees in the Canadian Arctic. For Ocean Watch’s team to be successful, they will need to take advantage of each and every weather window.
Once past Peel Sound, Ocean Watch will soon bear south for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia via Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, the open, daunting waters flanking the west coast of Greenland. South of Halifax, the crew will make several stops along the U.S. East Coast and in San Juan, Puerto Rico. From there, they’ll embark on the longest voyage of the trip, a 3,500 nautical-mile passage across the fickle doldrums that dot the equator en route to the welcome destination of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
South of Rio, the crew will again enjoy the friendly, bustling ports of Punta del Este, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. But once south of “B.A.” the landscape will again become rugged, as Ocean Watch calls at the remote Falkland Islands and enters the high, cold latitudes that define the coast of Patagonia before engaging Cape Horn. Sailing from east to west, against the strong, prevailing westerly winds of the Southern Ocean, the mighty Cape will offer a test every bit as challenging as the Northwest Passage.
Once north of Cape Horn, Ocean Watch will call at ports in Chile and Peru before stopping in the enchanting Galapagos Islands, then heading on to Costa Rica and Mexico before once again tying up in U.S. waters in the sunny enclave of San Diego. From there, it will be one last bash to windward, up the coast of California and back to Seattle, the city from which it all began.