Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When is small beautiful? When a solo kayaker attempts a route through the Arctic Northwest Passage - Ocean to Ocean? Stand by!

Pay close attention to Anne Quemere - she has all of the "right stuff". She is going to make a historic Passage...



From the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Northwest Passage
A brief explanation…
The Northwest Passage is a naval route through Arctic Islands in Northern Canada. It unites the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by a labyrinth of sounds, detroits, and bays, all congested with heavy ice.
In Modern times, the Northwest passage was initially conquered  by the Norwegian  explorer, Roald Amundsen in 1906.
Known Polar expeditions depicting the Northern scenery, date back to Greek Antiquity according to Pythias’ writings (4thCentury B.C.) Unfortunately, the Northwest Passage remained a myth for centuries.  Generations of Mariners attempted to find a navigable route which was discovered only in 1906 when Amundsen succeeded, over a three year period, to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
The Amundsen Route (1903 – 1906)
The routes vary, depending on the ice movements
Now a possibility, this naval expedition remains an incredible challenge, difficult because the routes are rare and forever choked with ice. The routes modify their flow through the vast arctic Archipelago along a labyrinth of gulfs, channels and detroits between Baffin Island and Banks land. No map has a true route. From one year to the next, depending on the ice jams and currents, new routes continuously redesign themselves. The completion of such an expedition, following months of determination, depends on the places, the time and circumstances.
A new scenery brought about by Global warming
No doubt, the Arctic is changing. It’s nothing new, having become an important topic of research and conversation. Climate change and the spectacular melting of the polar ice, changed everything. The receding ice during the summer is now a phenomenon explained by more than a yearly variable. Amongst the consequences of this melt is the accessibility of the Northern ports which were closed most of the year because of the vast ice quantities now allow the opening of the Northwest passage to international maritime traffic.
Important economic stakes
Since 2007, the Northwest Passage is generally open during the summer months, attracting just about anyone who can float a vessel. The stakes are high as this channel reduces access between the naval route between Europe and the Far East by more than 4000 kilometres as the present route goes through the Suez Canal. The Beaufort Sea would also be the reserve of a quarter of the world’s oil supply. It is an incredible resource which continuously raises discussions between the USA and Canada regarding both country’s maritime boundaries. What will be left of this mythic passage in 20 years after the ever present cargo ships and Super tankers?
The Route



Most of the year, this mosaic of islands, separated by ice choked channels characterizes the extreme northern part of the North American continent.  One channel joins the Labrador Sea to the Bering Strait although It is navigable only under extreme difficulties.  Between the two, Gjoa Haven, on King William Island is a compulsory stopover and the hub of the Northwest Passage. The route travels through Baffin Bay and the Lancaster Strait before reaching the Barrow Strait.  It then heads south to reach the King William Island.  The ideal route then follows the continent to join up with the Beaufort Sea ending a 3000 km journey. Whether they be explorers, sportsmen, scientists philanthropists or military, the Arctic Explorers use up most of their energy to fight the ice, the blizzards, the ocean and the ice deserts.

Originally designed for hunting

Inuit kayaks were made of seal skins stretched over a wood frame with a closed deck which secured them from waves and spray. With their low tapered profile, the fast and silent kayaks were perfectly designed for their main function: hunting. They were customized for personal use by each hunter.

It makes it possible today to navigate along the coast

The modern kayak, although very different from its ancestor remains particularly adapted to paddle through a path in the coastal ice pack just as to thwart problems of tide. Thanks to its very weak draught it threads everywhere.

30 kilometers a day, and 300 kilos maximum charge

A kayak like the Grand Narak can cover about 30 to 40 km a day depending on the enthusiasm and the will of the kayaker. Its waterproof volume makes it possible to carry up to 300 kg of material and food and allows a trip in complete autonomy. So much for the theory! The practice falls a long way short of that and depending on weather conditions, the key term is: adaptation. However, it is worth keeping in mind an idea of an average speed, as this is a matter of motivation!

Stability or performance: which of both to choose?

« One cannot have your cake and eat it ». If one tells you of a model that it is most stable and fastest, one probably takes you for a ride because one cannot have it all. Stability or performance, it will be necessary to privilege one to the detriment of the other and to deal with compromises. As for me, I have privileged stability as it seemed simple common sense with this particular route.

Grand Narak : A strong one that can be fully dismantled

I chose the Grand Narak, a jewel. This kayak very stable and marine is equipped with a stern shaped for a good cruising speed and equipped with a prow raised enough so it avoids charging in the waves. Another asset, it is dismountable. Not very cumbersome, its rigid reinforcement is covered with a very robust fabric, a must to paddle across the ice floes.
In addition, this kayak is equipped with a rudder – in order to correct the drift due to the wind or the current – which can be fold on the rear deck during transport or when paddling in not very deep water. It is controlled with both feet thanks to a system of pedals and cables. Finally, its carrying capacity convinced me in my final choice.
As for the paddle, it must be effective, solid, light and restore the force of the kayaker well. Its length is adapted to the width of the kayak as well as the height of the user.

Archimedes, Euler, Bernoulli and other theorems…

The “Grand Narak” was delivered right on time.  I didn’t lose time to head to the beach and set it afloat to tryout the improvements and changes carried out by the shop.

Nothing to complain about, it’s running smoothly on all aspects:  the raised ergonomic seat is as comfortable as my living room furniture.  The improvements to the rudder blade is simple and effective and to my expectations.  The “Select” paddle is more comfortable, improves performance and truly a pleasure to be on the water in spite of true Breton weather conditions.
The fact that I’m training in rather similar weather as I’ll be subjected to, next summer is a great advantage for me as these winter tryouts are adapted to the projected conditions.  I too increased the weight of the kayak by some 100 kilograms by stuffing stones in Cotten sealed bags.  (I guess they will hate me for this). Another extra 50 kilos and I will be close to the starting conditions
As for the sails, more tryouts are planned and they’ll go on till I find the proper combination. I’m relying on the numerous tests carried out by Andy Pink, a well seasoned pro at gliding. If my memory serves me well, he was the instigator of a “shapemania” for the Quéméré family few years ago.  His knowledge is well appreciated.  If you want to know a little more of that field of endeavour, just visit his website  (I am afraid it is only in french, but some of the videos speak for themselves).
In the meantime, we continue the preparations as the route is long…just to get to the departure point!

Observing plankton under extreme conditions
“For the ocean to remain plentiful, plankton needs help from everyone. We, scientists need explorers and discoverers. Anne Quéméré has long accompanied us in her adventures and expeditions on the world’s oceans. Through her numerous oceanic adventures, Anne transmits her observations of the plankton through a “plankton kit” developed by the Oceanopolis Group of the “Plancton du Monde”, maintained by the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation. Once the results are received, we relay them through the www.plancton-du-monde.orgwebsite to schools and the public, fascinated by this yet generally unknown world.
Marveling at the oceans smallest creatures is recognition of these fragile ecosystems, essential to the ecological balance of all oceans.
Science rhymes with conscience. When we measure the consequences of the plankton balances and what they represent in the study of life’s origins on Earth, on the Oceans capacities to feed the world population or to reduce the speed of climatic change, we better understand why we need adventurers-explorers like Anne who are useful partner to science.”
Pierre Mollo, aquaculture scientist specialized in the study of plankton

Plankton: the world’s lung

The word ‘Plankton” describes all living organisms that either float or are carried by currents in the oceans. The name’s origin is Greek meaning “errant, wandering”. Often misunderstood, plankton is at the base of the food chain in the oceans as well as playing an important part in the reproductive cycle of marine mammals, fish, birds and polar bears. It is divided in two fields: the vegetable plankton known as “phytoplankton” and the animal plankton or “zooplankton”. Simply put, phytoplankton produces by photosynthesis half the oxygen consumed by living beings, absorbs part of the C02 and plays an important role in the climatic mechanism of our planet. The phytoplankton is consumed by the zooplankton and by numerous marine organisms, which in turn are victim to larger predators and so on.

Plankton life in the Arctic Ocean

During the polar night, the growth of plankton algae ceases. As the ice melts, various frozen organisms, relying on a variety of currents, enrich the waterborne nutrients close to the icebergs. When the sun returns, marine life awakens, turning on the food chain. During the summer, micro algae grow in the iceberg as well as under!

Arctic plankton during the summer

A NASA mission has discovered under the Arctic Ice an impressive quantity of phytoplankton growth. Scientists have studied many hypotheses to explain this plankton growth. With the arrival of spring, the melting ice produces a stable, desalinated layer of water in a nutrient enriched base. This generates excellent conditions for the growth of micro-algae: the development and recycling of the remains of certain species, stored in the ice, generate part of the necessary ingredients. The water flowing from the Arctic Ocean into the Greenland Sea contains few zooplankton. In that region, only a mixture of Atlantic Ocean water can introduce herbivorous scavengers, therefore, phytoplankton abounds: at least 4 times more than in open waters. However, since 1950 the quantity has diminished by 40%, mainly due to the climatic changes.

What happens in winter

Very little information exists regarding the distribution, evolution and plankton action on organic matter (especially of CO2) during the Arctic winter. Winter conditions have a definite influence on the biological cycle of numerous plankton species. This results in the build-up of food stocks for the larvae of certain fish species. Some small crustaceans are subjected to hibernation cycles and are carried away by the currents. These animals can only regenerate their species if they reach rich phytoplankton areas, in the spring. Some of the adult species will reproduce while the smaller ones will continue their growth. Other species survive the intense cold and continue their development.

Life on the iceberg

Sometimes the iceberg will develop a brownish appearance and give off a strange odour, due to the diatomic growth under the face of the ice. But, inside the iceberg, life settles down between the ice crystals. Plankton algae and bacteria start their development. Some of these organisms spend their total lifetime in the iceberg, others spend part of their life but they are all adapted to considerable salt base and lighting swings. Some of the algae continue the photosynthesis process regardless of the reduced light the Arctic Winter can offer.
Most organisms originate in the oceans, but some come from nearby rivers. In autumn, they cling to the ice. At the outset, there is little plankton, but in spring, both their development and their consumers explode. The iceberg, which can be quite old, has been through numerous cycles. Bands of microscopic ‘communities” are identified and contribute to determine the dates of the various flowerings.

After crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, rowing and then kiteboating solo, Anne Quéméré is planning a new  challenge for 2013 : kayaking through the ARTIC PASSAGE also known as the Northwest passage… It all depends on the ice movements, the voyage should take place between next July and September .
A full-scale challenge for Anne Quéméré. The Breton sailor will launch for 3 months, kayaking through the vast land of ice of the Far North. Aboard her tiny kayak (5 meters long, 300 kilos full loaded) she intends to navigate through the mythical Northwest passage. This is a sporting, historic and scientific challenge, as well as a human achievement.
A human-scale competitive challengeThis meeting with untamed nature is quite consistent with Anne’s previous challenges across the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Once again, it requires both physical and mental preparation in order to launch for this 2700 nautical miles adventure (i.e 5000 kilometers). The road cannot be mapped out in advance and is mainly based on sea ice melting during summertime.
As for today, “Babouche” a small catamaran built with skates that allowed easy gliding on the ice is the only one which went across the Northwest passage in one season and without using its engine. Anne will use kites as wind will allow.
A mythical route, a science-based waterway
Joining the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Northwest passage, that was the “Artic Grail” for explorers.  In 1845, there were no survivors from the Franklin expedition… It took nearly 300 years of exploration before Amundsen, aboard Gjoa, get through the Northwest passage in 3 years. Anne wishes to go through in less than 3 months during summertime.
“It will depend greatly on ice conditions, let us hope it will let me go through”.
Anne Quéméré will not launch out just for the fun of it – even though she is quite honest about it : “I don’t mind some deprivation and the autonomy that requests such an adventure… I just like it! ” This occasion will give her the opportunity to work on the arctic plankton with the team of Océanopolis-Brest and Pierre Mollo, a researcher in aquaculture. “He is convinced that with a kayak which does not disturb the ecosystems and will pass through virgin environment without leaving any trace, I can send interesting informations about the plankton when “blooming”, i.e when this one is released by the ices. “Anne Quéméré will thus have a role of active observer and relay.
It will be worth it watching her blog, her pictures and the film she intends to realize while kayaking through the vast ice fields of Canada’s Far North.

The impossible is what takes a little longer

The difficult is what can be done immediately. The impossible is what takes a little longer. (George Santayana)

Winter has left, what could be considered in Brittany as Spring, and putting the clocks forward have a positive aspect: ocean outings are longer as the Sun sets later.

That being said, at three months before the launch of the Arctic voyage, financial requirements are far from complete. Over the past few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the alternatives allowed. I could modify my program or adapt it. I felt that a combination of both would allow me to limit the compromise especially to remain docked, awaiting the disappearance of the ice.

The Arctic Passage will have to accommodate itself to the economic conditions and rather than write the resumé in one fell swoop, it will be spread over two years.

Next summer, will therefore be the occasion for a first try-out from Pond Inlet, north of Baffin Island which will allow me another year to prepare for the great excursion.

The pace is steady, the kayak is available but there are kilometers of lists that yet have to be completed. The details take-up most of the time. I’ll fill you in in a short while

Stay tuned... this is going to be an epic Northwest Passage Expedition...

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