Friday, May 3, 2013



UPDATE: 20130503

Quest for Arctic Passage World First

Published: Friday, May. 3, 2013 - 6:11 am
/PRNewswire/ --
Three Irish explorers highlight effects of climate change
Global wind and solar company, Mainstream Renewable Power today announced its sponsorship of a rowing expedition attempting a world first through the infamous Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic this summer. Three experienced Irish adventurers and one Canadian are attempting to become the first ever people to cross the 3,000 km passage by human power alone in a single season - a feat which is only possible due to the melting ice which normally renders it impassable.
WHAT IS A NORTHWEST PASSAGE? A sea route between Davis Strait Atlantic Arctic Circle and the Bering Strait Pacific Arctic Circle.

Irishmen Paul Gleeson, Denis Barnett and Kevin Vallely along with Canadian Frank Wolf will set off from Inuvik in the North West Territories on the first of July in their 25ft long customized rowing boat "The Arctic Joule". The four men will row in continuous shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the route will be in constant daylight for the majority of the journey, which is expected to take two to three months, ending at Pond Inlet in Nunavut.
Eddie O'Connor, Chief Executive of Mainstream Renewable Power said: "Mainstream is proud to sponsor this expedition because it draws attention to the disasters of global warming. The expedition can only happen because the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. The melting of the permafrost and the release of methane hydrate is perhaps the biggest single calamity that mankind faces and it's all down to human-induced global warming. This expedition allows us to demonstrate to the world that there is an answer to global warming. We don't have to do without electricity. We can have our electricity supplied by renewable sources."
He continued: "Just last month, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said that if we have any hope of keeping climate change below two degrees Celsius, the peak year of carbon emission has to be 2016. I hope this expedition will show world leaders that we need to act now."
This announcement comes as EU Environment Ministers met at Dublin Castle last week to discuss a range of important environmental and climate issues as part of the Irish Presidency agenda.
Speaking about the expedition Paul Gleeson said: "We are very pleased that such a successful, Irish renewable energy company with a global presence feels as passionately about this as we do. It wasn't long ago that the Northwest Passage was the sole domain of steel-hulled ice-breakers. We hope by making this traverse completely under human power in a row boat, without sail or motor, in a single season we will be able to demonstrate first-hand the profound effects climate change is having on our world."
The Northwest Passage is a route through the various islands of the Canadian archipelago which over the years has witnessed some incredible tales of courage, disaster and hardship. In 1845, fellow-Irishman, Francis Crozier from County Down joined Sir John Franklin on the same expedition in the HMS Terror, an expedition which ended in disaster and to this day remains unsolved.
For more information contact:
Niamh McGrath Mainstream Renewable Power Tel:
Paul Gleeson Tel: +1-778-316-5434
Kevin Vallely Tel: +1-604-842-9268
SOURCE Mainstream Renewable Power


This is the story of an extraordinary expedition, an expedition that began over a century ago. The Northwest Passage is a place that conjures images of ice-locked tall ships, stitched-skin kayaks and steel hulled icebreakers, of explorers, the Inuit and merchant sailors, of Franklin, Amundsen and Larsen.

On July 1st, 2013 four modern-day explorers hope to become the first team to ever row a 1500 mile portion of the 3600 mile Northwest Passage in a single season – one of the Earth’s last great firsts.

Historical expeditions:
As a result of their westward explorations and their settlement of Greenland, the Vikings sailed as far north and west as Ellesmere Island, Skraeling Island and Ruin Island for hunting expeditions and trading with Inuit groups. The subsequent arrival of the Little Ice Age is thought to have been one of the reasons that further European seafaring into the Northwest Passage ceased until the late 15th century.

The first recorded attempt to discover the Northwest Passage was the east-west voyage of John Cabot in 1497, sent by Henry VII in search of a direct route to the Orient. In 1524, Charles V sent Estêvão Gomes to find a northern Atlantic passage to the Spice Islands.

An English expedition was launched in 1576 by Martin Frobisher, who took three trips west to what is now the Canadian Arctic, in order to find the passage. Frobisher Bay, which he first charted, is named after him. As part of another hunt, in July 1583 Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who had written a treatise on the discovery of the passage and was a backer of Frobisher, claimed the territory of Newfoundland for the English crown. On August 8, 1585, the English explorer John Davis entered Cumberland Sound, Baffin Island.

The major rivers on the east coast were also explored in case they could lead to a transcontinental passage. Jacques Cartier's explorations of the Saint Lawrence River were initiated in hope of finding a way through the continent. Indeed, Cartier managed to convince himself that the St. Lawrence was the Passage; when he found the way blocked by rapids at what is now Montreal, he was so certain that these rapids were all that was keeping him from China (in French, la Chine), that he named the rapids for China. To this day, they are the Lachine Rapids.

In 1609 Henry Hudson sailed up what is now called the Hudson River in search of the Passage; encouraged by the saltiness of the water, he reached present-day Albany, New York, before giving up. He later explored the Arctic and Hudson Bay. In 1611, while in James Bay, Hudson's crew mutinied. He and his teenage son John, along with seven sick, infirm, or loyal crewmen, were set adrift in a small open boat. He was never seen again. Cree oral legend reports that the survivors lived and traveled with the Cree for more than a year.

On May 9, 1619, under the auspices of King Christian IV, Jens Munk set out with 65 men and the King's two ships, the Einhörningen (Unicorn), a small frigate, and Lamprenen (Lamprey), a sloop, which were outfitted under his own supervision. His mission was to discover the Northwest Passage to the Indies and China. Munk penetrated Davis Strait as far north as 69°, found Frobisher Bay, and then spent almost a month fighting his way through Hudson Strait. In September 1619 he found the entrance to Hudson Bay and spent the winter near the mouth of the Churchill River. Cold, famine, and scurvy killed so many of his men that only two sailors and himself survived. With these men, he sailed for home with the Lamprey on July 16, 1620, reaching Bergen, Norway, on September 20, 1620.

René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle built the sailing ship, Le Griffon, in his quest to find the Northwest Passage in the upper Great Lakes. Le Griffon disappeared in 1679 on the return trip of her maiden voyage. In the spring of 1682, LaSalle made his famous voyage down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. LaSalle led an expedition from France in 1684 to establish a French colony on the Gulf of Mexico. He was murdered by his followers in 1687.

In 1772 Samuel Hearne travelled overland northwest from Hudson Bay to the Arctic Ocean, thereby proving that there was no strait connecting Hudson Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

Northern Pacific:

Although most Northwest Passage expeditions originated in Europe or on the East coast of North America and sought to traverse the Passage in the westbound direction, some progress was made in exploration of its western end as well.

In 1728 Vitus Bering, a Danish Navy officer in Russian service, used the strait first discovered by Semyon Dezhnyov in 1648 but later accredited to and named after Bering (the Bering Strait), concluding North America and Russia were separate land masses.

In 1741 Bering, with Lieutenant Aleksei Chirikov, went in search of further lands beyond Siberia. While separated, Chirikov discovered several of the Aleutian Islands while Bering charted the Alaskan region before the scurvy-ravaged ship was wrecked off the Kamchatka Peninsula.

In 1762, the English trading ship Octavius reportedly hazarded the passage from the west but became trapped in sea ice. In 1775, the whaler Herald found the Octavius adrift near Greenland with the bodies of her crew frozen below decks. Thus the Octavius may have earned the distinction of being the first Western sailing ship to make the passage, although the fact that it took 13 years and occurred after the crew was dead somewhat tarnishes this achievement. The veracity of the Octavius story is still in question.

The Spanish made numerous voyages to the northwest coast of North America during the late 18th century. Determining whether a North West Passage existed was one of the motivations for this effort. Among the voyages that involved careful searches for a Passage include the 1775 and 1779 voyages of Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra. The journal of Francisco Antonio Mourelle, who served as Quadra's second in command in 1775, fell into English hands and was translated and published in London. Captain James Cook made use of the journal during his explorations of the region.

In 1791 Alessandro Malaspina sailed to Yakutat Bay, Alaska, which was rumoured to be a Passage. In 1790 and 1791 Francisco de Eliza led several exploring voyages into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, searching for a possible Northwest Passage and finding the Strait of Georgia. To fully explore this new inland sea an expedition under Dionisio Alcalá Galiano was sent in 1792. He was explicitly ordered to explore all channels that might turn out to be a Northwest Passage.

Cook and Vancouver:

In 1776 Captain James Cook was dispatched by the Admiralty in Great Britain under orders driven by a 1745 act which, when extended in 1775, promised a £20,000 prize for whoever discovered the passage. Initially the Admiralty had wanted Charles Clerke to lead the expedition, with Cook (in retirement following his exploits in the Pacific) acting as a consultant. However Cook had researched Bering's expeditions, and the Admiralty ultimately placed their faith in the veteran explorer to lead with Clerke accompanying him.

After journeying through the Pacific, in another west–east attempt, Cook began at Nootka Sound in April 1778, and headed north along the coastline, charting the lands and searching for the regions sailed by the Russians 40 years previously. The Admiralty's orders had commanded the expedition to ignore all inlets and rivers until they reached a latitude of 65°N. Cook, however, failed to make any progress in sighting a Northwestern Passage.

Various officers on the expedition, including William Bligh, George Vancouver, and John Gore, thought the existence of a route was 'improbable'. Before reaching 65°N they found the coastline pushing them further south, but Gore convinced Cook to sail on into the Cook Inlet in the hope of finding the route. They continued to the limits of the Alaskan peninsula and the start of the 1,200 mi (1,900 km) chain of Aleutian Islands. Despite reaching 70°N they encountered nothing but icebergs.

From 1792 to 1794, the Vancouver Expedition (led by George Vancouver who had accompanied Cook previously) surveyed in detail all the passages from the Northwest Coast and confirmed that there was no such passage south of the Bering Strait. This conclusion was supported by the evidence of Alexander MacKenzie who explored the Arctic and Pacific oceans in 1793.

19th century:

In the first half of the 19th century, some parts of the actual Northwest Passage (north of the Bering Strait) were explored separately by many expeditions, including those by John Ross, William Edward Parry, and James Clark Ross; overland expeditions were also led by John Franklin, George Back, Peter Warren Dease, Thomas Simpson, and John Rae. In 1826 Frederick William Beechey explored the north coast of Alaska, discovering Point Barrow.

Sir Robert McClure was credited with the discovery of the real Northwest Passage in 1851 when he looked across McClure Strait from Banks Island and viewed Melville Island. However, this strait was not navigable to ships at that time, and the only usable route linking the entrances of Lancaster Sound and Dolphin and Union Strait was discovered by John Rae in 1854.

Franklin expedition:

In 1845 a lavishly equipped two-ship expedition led by Sir John Franklin sailed to the Canadian Arctic to chart the last unknown swaths of the Northwest Passage. Confidence was high, given there was less than 500 km (310 mi) of unexplored Arctic mainland coast by then. When the ships failed to return, relief expeditions and search parties explored the Canadian Arctic, which resulted in a thorough charting of the region along with a possible passage. Many artifacts from the expedition were found over the next century and a half, including notes that the ships were ice-locked in 1846 near King William Island, about half way through the passage, unable to break free. Franklin died in 1847 and Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier took over command.

In 1848 the expedition abandoned ships and tried to escape south across the tundra by sledge. Although some of the crew may not have died until the early 1850s, no evidence has ever been found of any survivors.

In 1853 John Rae received information from local Inuit about the fate of Franklin's expedition, but his reports were not welcomed.

Starvation, exposure and scurvy all contributed to the deaths. In 1981 Owen Beattie, an anthropologist from the University of Alberta, examined remains from sites associated with the expedition. This led to further investigations and the examination of tissue and bone from the frozen bodies of three seamen, John Torrington, William Braine and John Hartnell, exhumed from the permafrost of Beechey Island. Laboratory tests revealed high concentrations of lead in all three (the expedition carried 8,000 tins of food sealed with a lead-based solder).

Another researcher has suggested botulism caused deaths among crew members. New evidence, confirming reports first made by John Rae in 1854 based on Inuit accounts, has shown cannibalism was a last resort for some of the crew.

McClure expedition:

During the search for Franklin, Commander Robert McClure and his crew in HMS Investigator traversed the Northwest Passage from west to east in the years 1850 to 1854, partly by ship and partly by sledge. McClure started out from England in December 1849, sailed the Atlantic Ocean south to Cape Horn and entered the Pacific Ocean. He sailed the Pacific north and passed through the Bering Strait, turning east at that point and reaching Banks Island.

McClure's ship was trapped in the ice for three winters near Banks Island, at the western end of Viscount Melville Sound. Finally McClure and his crew—who were by that time dying of starvation—were found by searchers who had travelled by sledge over the ice from a ship of Sir Edward Belcher's expedition, and returned with them to Belcher's ships, which had entered the sound from the east. On one of Belcher's ships, McClure and his crew returned to England in 1854, becoming the first people to circumnavigate the Americas and to discover and transit the Northwest Passage, albeit by ship and by sledge over the ice. (Both McClure and his ship were found by a party from HMS Resolute, one of Belcher's ships, so his sledge journey was relatively short.)

This was an astonishing feat for that day and age, and McClure was knighted and promoted in rank. (He was made rear-admiral in 1867.) Both he and his crew also shared £10,000 awarded them by the British Parliament. In July 2010 Canadian archaeologists found HMS "Investigator" fairly intact but sunk about 8m below the surface.

John Rae:

The expeditions by Franklin and McClure were in the tradition of British exploration: well-funded ship-borne expeditions using modern technology, and usually including British Naval personnel. By contrast, John Rae was an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company, which was the major driving force behind exploration of the Canadian North. They adopted a pragmatic approach and tended to be land-based. While Franklin and McClure attempted to explore the passage by sea, Rae explored by land, using dog sleds and employing techniques he learned from the native Inuit. The Franklin and McClure expeditions each employed hundreds of personnel and multiple ships. John Rae's expeditions included fewer than ten people and succeeded. Rae was also the explorer with the best safety record, having lost only one man in years of traversing Arctic lands. In 1854, Rae returned with information about the outcome of the ill-fated Franklin expedition.

Amundsen expedition:

The first explorer to conquer the Northwest Passage was the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. In a three-year journey between 1903 and 1906, Amundsen explored the passage with a crew of no more than six. Amundsen, who had sailed just in time to escape creditors seeking to stop the expedition, completed the voyage in the converted 47-ton herring boat Gjøa. Gjøa was much smaller than vessels used by other Arctic expeditions, but Amundsen intended to live off the limited resources of the land and sea through which he was to travel, and reasoned that the land could sustain only a tiny crew (this had been the cause of the catastrophic failure of John Franklin's expedition fifty years previously). The ship's shallow draught would help her traverse the shoals of the Arctic straits.

Amundsen set out from Oslo in June 1903 and was west of the Boothia Peninsula by late September. The Gjøa was put into a natural harbour on the south shore of King William Island; by October 3 she was iced in. There the expedition remained for nearly two years, with the expedition members learning from the local Inuit people and undertaking measurements to determine the location of the North Magnetic Pole. The harbour, known as Gjoa Haven, has become the only settlement on the island.

After completing (a portion of) the Northwest Passage of this trip and having anchored near Herschel Island, Amundsen skied 800 kilometres to the city of Eagle, Alaska, and sent a telegram announcing his success. Amundsen then skied 800 kilometres back to rejoin his companions. (This was done to collect the prize money - remember he departed with creditors after him.) Although his chosen east–west route, via the Rae Strait, contained young ice and thus was navigable, some of the waterways were extremely shallow (3 feet, or 1 meter, deep) making the route commercially impractical.

Henry Asbjørn Larsen 

September 30, 1899 - October 29, 1964
Born in Fredikstad, Norway, Larsen took out Canadian citizenship in 1927 and in 1928 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Shortly thereafter he was assigned as master of the St. Roch. Rising to the rank of Sergeant, in 1940 Larsen was ordered to attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage. TheSt. Roch became the second ship to sail the passage, and the first ship to sail it both ways in a single season. The St. Roch left Vancouver on June 23, 1940 reaching Halifax harbour on October 11, 1942. In 1944, the St. Roch left Halifax, arriving in Vancouver on October 16, 1944.
He was the author of five books, one in Norwegian. His autobiography, The Big Ship, was published posthumously.
The Conquest of the North West Passage: The Arctic Voyages of the St Roch, 1940-44. The Geographical Journal Vol CX No 1-3 (1947).
Reports and Other Papers Relating to the Two Voyages of the R.C.M.P. Schooner "St Roch" Through the North West Passage 1940-42 and 1944. King’s Printer (1945).
The North-West Passage, 1940-42-and 1944. City Archives, Vancouver (1948) reprinted (1954).
Henry med det Store Skipet. Mortensen Forlag, Oslo (1964) reprinted by Flyt Forlag (2003).
The Big Ship, an Autobiography by Henry Larsen in co-operation with Frank R. Sheer and Edvard Omholt Jensen. McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1967.
Larsen stayed with the RCMP until 1961, making his way upward to the rank of Superintendent in 1953. He retired in 1961.

1940-2 west-east: This journey was the second ship crossing of the Northwest Passage and the first from west to east. The route was nearly the same as Roald Amundsen's 1903 coast-hugging east-west crossing except that Larsen used the Bellot Strait. Documents found in the RCMP archives in the 1990s show that the voyage was somehow connected to a Canadian plan to occupy Greenland after the German invasion of Denmark. The Germans could have occupied the island, seized the cryolite mine and used the island as a U-boat base. The Canadian plan was blocked by the United States but Larsen's voyage went ahead anyway. The St. Roche left Vancouver in June 1940. After trouble with ice east of Point Barrow he decided to winter at Walker Bay (Northwest Territories) on the west coast of Victoria Island at the entrance to Prince of Wales Strait. In July 1941 the ship was released from the ice and Larsen followed the coast east and reached Amundsen's Gjoa Haven by the end of August. Turning north up the channel of he was struck by the full force of the ice just north of King William Island. In early September he found refuge at a place called Paisley Bay on the west coast of the Boothia Peninsula near the original North Magnetic Pole. In August 1942 he forced his way out of the ice, went north and with difficulty passed the Bellot Strait. At the other end he found civilization of a sort at the Hudson's Bay Company post at Fort Ross, Nunavut. He then continued through Prince Regent Inlet, Lancaster Sound and Davis Strait, reaching Halifax on 11 October 1942.[2]
1944 east-west: This was the third ship crossing of the Northwest Passage, the second east-west crossing and the first to be made in one season (7295 miles in 86 days). Instead of the standard route along the coast he used the Parry Channel and Prince of Wales Strait. Fitted with a more powerful engine, the St. Roch left Halifax on 25 July 1944 and by 20 August was atBeechey Island. Continuing west he reached William Edward Parry's Winter Harbour on Melville Island. As usual for explorers at this place, he tried to enter McClure Strait to the northwest and, as usual, was blocked by ice. Next he turned southwest and passed through the Prince of Wales Strait, apparently the first ship to do so[citation needed]. Passing Walker Bay where he had wintered four years previously on 4 September he reached the Hudson's Bay Company post at Holman Island. Just one day before this post had been supplied by the Fort Ross which had sailed from Halifax and through the Panama Canal and Bering Strait. With about a month left before the ice would probably close in, he hurried west, passed through the Bering Strait and reached Vancouver on 16 October.
In 2000, as a millennium project, the RCMP renamed one of its vessels the St. Roch II, and sent it to recreate Larsen's first voyage.

Henry of the "Big Ship" (ST. ROCH)

On October 11, 1942 a 104 foot schooner, belonging to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was escorted without fanfare, through the antisubmarine net of mines into Halifax harbor in Nova Scotia. Under its captain Sgt. Henry Larsen, the St Roch had left Vancouver BC in June 1940. This is the voyage that Henry Asbjorn Larsen is best known for. That trip alone would have placed the ship and her crew in the annals not only of Canadian history but also of global maritime history.
The St Roch eventually became the first ship to circumnavigate North America, and did so in both directions. She was built as an Arctic supply ship for the RCMP at Burrard Dry Dock of North Vancouver in 1927-28. Built of Douglas fir, she was a wooden ship -104 feet three inches long, with a beam of 24 feet 9 inches and a draft of 13 feet when fully loaded so she could sail in shallow water. The outer hull was sheathed in Australian Ironbark. In 1940 she had a 6 cylinder 135 HP diesel engine comparable to a modern car. She was designed with a rounded hull to resist the crushing pressure of the ice, but it caused her to "buck and heave like a bronco". She could hold a crew of 13 but rarely were there more than 9 often 7 or 8
Henry Larsen described St Roch as the most uncomfortable ship he had ever been on. When she first sailed there were numerous problems in design. Some of these were not corrected until the 1944 trip westward. The anchor windlass and deck winch were antiquated and hand operated. They way they were hooked up he described as being like a Rube Goldberg contraption and they gave a lot of trouble. It took all hands to get the anchor up and it was an "outright dangerous" activity. They could raise the mainsail but not lower it because of the location of the boom over the roof of the pilot house. There was a motor launch and a regulation life boat, but no small skiff suitable for hunting, carting on a sled or getting quickly out if someone fell overboard. So Larsen built one out of sail canvas and spare mast hoops, which were of no use since they couldnt use the main sail anyway.
The men hunted for fish and seal to feed their dogs and supply fresh meat for themselves. They had to collect all the water they required from nearby lakes in the form of large ice blocks or from pools of fresh water on the sea ice. Gillen, the advisor to the RCMP and captain on the first part of the maiden voyage, had ordered the thirty or so tons of coal loaded loose and they had to sack it and unload it and re-sack it and re-load it several times when they ran aground. There were no batteries so there was no electrical power when she was not running.The only compass was in the wheelhouse but it couldnt be used for taking bearings for pilotage along the coast.One could hardly see over the bow of the ship so Larsen spent many hours in the crows nest - where one could only stand.
Larsen sailed in Arctic waters from 1928 until the St Roch was retired from Arctic service in 1948. He made 10 voyages and on just three voyages the ship did not winter in the North. The longest stretch was more than four years. He spent 11 winters in the Arctic.
These voyages were undertaken largely through uncharted waters, without the benefits of sonar, aerial ice reconnaissance, regular radio contact and relying on navigation methods dating back hundreds of years.
According to Larsen, one of the purposes of the St Roch was to demonstrate Canadas sovereignty over the Canadian Arctic. But for various economic and other restraints, her activities were limited to the western Arctic until the historic wartime trip though to Halifax. The eastward route essentially reversed the shallow route taken by Amundsen in 1903-7, but passed through Bellot Strait rather than continuing northward around Somerset Island
Little is known of Larsens origin and background except that he was Norwegian, born in 1899 on the island of Herfol to Severina Olava Olsen.Herfol is at the end of a chain of the Hvaler islands extending from Fredrikstad towards the Swedish coast. Unlike Nansen, Sverdrup or Amundsen families who were wealthy and well educated, Larsens family had occupied a small peninsula called Anholmen as far back an the mid 1600's and made a marginal living by fishing and farming. Henry Larsen was orphaned as an infant and brought up by relatives in Sweden until the age of 6 or 7 when he returned to Herfol to attend school. At that time, news of Amundsens successful transit through the NW Passage was a major topic of conversation among the Hvaler people. Amundsens family had originally come from the Hvaler Islands. The exciting story made quite an impression on him even as a little boy and as a mature man Amundsens exploits meant a lot to him. Henry Larsen read a lot about polar exploration, geography, and even about the North-west Mounted Police as a boy.
At about 14 he went to sea with two uncles on the Anna a ship almost identical to Amundsens Gjoa, carrying fish, lumber and cobblestones between Norway, Denmark and Sweden. By 15 he was restless and signed on as an ordinary seaman on a barque the Baunen headed for the US, Caribbean, South America and back to Europe. He sailed on other barques like the Indian Girl , to South America and the US carrying linseed and coal.At 18 he was shipwrecked off the coast of South Carolina when the barque, the General Gordon was driven ashore in a gale and was split apart by the swelling of their cargo of maize. Ending up in New York he signed on to his first steamer the Vinstra sailing to South Africa, the East Indies and home. By then he had four years experience before the mast and was able to enter the Oslo Nautical School in September 1919. Adolph Lindstrom who had served as cook on the Fram and Gjoa expeditions under was an instructor at the school and Sverdrup visited while he was there. Following graduation in 1920 as a navigator, qualified to take any ship anywhere in the world, Larsen completed his military service in the Norwegian Navy. Times were very tough and he and a friend, like many young men, were desperate for a job so they joined the Bruno, a ship of the Fred Olsen line, as strike breakers. Later as 4th mate, the Theodore Roosevelt took him to Seattle, Vancouver and the Orient.
In 1922 in Seattle he met Amundsen who was arranging passage for his pilot, Oscar Omdahl, back to Norway. Omdahl had been a guest of the Hudson Bay Company on the trip out of the North, but on Norwegian ships there were no free rides and Omdahl had to work as an oiler on the Roosevelt and bunk with the crew. Larsen offered some storage space in his cabin to Omdahl and their long discussions stirred up his interest in the Arctic again. The following year, Larsen read in the newspaper that a Danish trader, Christian Klengenberg, who had been going into the western Arctic since 1905, was in Seattle with his ship, the Maid of Orleans. Larsen saw his chance, resigned his post of now 3rd mate and headed for Seattle. Klengenberg needed a navigator because in spite of all his sea experience he lacked his navigation papersand could no longer sail in Canadian waters. Henry Larsen made two voyages as a navigator with Klengenberg, into the western Arctic (1924-5 and 1927). From Klengenbergs half Inuit sons and son-in-law, Ikey Bolt, he learned how to hunt, handle sled dogs and survive in the Arctic like a native.
At Herschel Island he met members of the RCMP and learned that the force was to build a supply vessel (the St Roch) to service their Arctic detachments since commercial vessels did not provide a satisfactory service.
On returning to Vancouver Larsen applied for Canadian naturalization and for admission to the RCMP. Although he was the most junior member of the St Roch crew, Larsen was appointed captain during the 1928 maiden voyage into the Arctic because of his experience and Arctic navigation skills. Even by that stage his skills were known in west coast marine circles. His basic training consisted of learning how to ride a horse in Stanley Park and having a Sergeant Paton show him a bit about drill, to salute, march and most importantly, about his uniform.
The St Roch served as a floating detachment. While frozen in, the St Roch was under the command of a Sergeant. So initially Larsen was the most junior member and yet while at sea, the most senior. The crew was generally made up of RCMP men assigned as they would be to a land detachment, so few had any maritime experience. Even on the NWP voyage half the crew had never been on a boat before. However, Larsen said that was the way he liked it. He could train these men without established ideas about how shipboard things should be done, and he paid tribute to them as the best crew one could wish for with their discipline and comradeship, typical of the members of the force. Henry Larsen has been described as the most outstanding of Arctic navigators who could read the ice like no other .
Larsen made several requests to proceed through the North West passage during years when ice conditions appeared conducive to success. For example in 1936-37 when Sir James MacBrien toured the North he asked if he could proceed through, only to be reminded they were RCMP officers and not explorers. It wasnt until World War II that the "Great Assignment" was ordered. In 1940 they had a secret war-time mission - to head through the NW Passage into the eastern Arctic as part of a 250 man Canadian force to secure the cryolite mines of Greenland. Denmark was under Nazi occupation. Cryolite was necessary for the production of aluminum needed for the allied war effort. However the Americans intervened and secured the mines for their own use. It wasnt until after Henry Larsen died that the 25 year restriction on public disclosure of confidential documents expired so he took the story of the Greenland mission to his grave. Subsequently historian Sheila Grant, of Trent University, and others traced this story which is told in the film Mission NWPassage .
A second objective of that voyage was to cement Canadas sovereignty claims to the Arctic Archipelago. The 7,500 mile trip through the Northwest Passage was intended to last 90 days. Nineteen forty to 1942 were the worst years for ice conditions Larsen ever experienced. The first winter 1940 they were frozen in at Walker Bay on Victoria island. He had intended on the west to east transit to take the route through the uncharted Prince of Wales Strait but they were diverted back from Holman Island to the mainland (Tuktoyaktuk). On their return the Prince of Wales strait was ice packed and Larsen, hoping to still get out that year, decided to follow Amundsens shallow route. In some places those waters are as shallow as two fathoms and that close to the Magnetic Pole, their compass spun uselessly. They met solid ice pushing down towards them from McClintock Channel and Franklin Strait . Luckily in early September 1941 they ended up in Pasley Bay. By August 1942 they had to chance an escape. Their supplies were low and there was no game in the area. On Aug 4 they moved out of Paisley Bay but were locked in, drifting back and forth for 20 days. Then on Aug 24 they got a small lead. By August 29 they were adjacent to Bellot Strait, a passage 18 mi long and Ґ -1 mi wide between Peel Strait and Prince Regent Inlet. They got to the middle but were locked in with solid ice ahead, and behind the ice came in like a maelstrom. Three times they prepared to abandon ship, though one of the crew (Hadley) later said he didnt know where they would go, the cliffs are high. Another ( Farrar) described seeing a huge whale crushed to death by the ice right near them. Larsen said that if they hadnt got through they would have been their yet.
During 1944 east to west passage Larsen used the previously uncharted, deepwater route through Lancaster Sound and Prince of Wales Strait, a route that he had intended to use eastward in 1940. This route was subsequently followed by large naval (HMC Labrador - 1954) and commercial ships as well as American submarines (1946 - Sea Dragon).
. In 1949 Larsen was appointed Commanding Officer of "G" Division which then included NWT, Yukon, what is now Nunivut, the northern regions of Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. That is over half of Canada. But exactly what was the function of the RCMP in the Arctic in the days up until the late 1950's ? They carried out the jobs of nearly all the other government departments and the list is several pages long.
Henry Larsen was devoted to the Arctic and its people. One of his goals was the better selection and training of men serving at Arctic RCMP detachments. He initiated a training program conducted at the Charles Campsell Hospital to prepare them for understanding the native people,for managing emergency medical care and so on. He also implemented measures to improve police housing and equipment (previously at remote locations they had to build their own furniture even) and update and simplify their accounting practices. He also did everything in his power to improve the lot of the Inuit people. It was said that he knew every Eskimo between Alaska and Cambridge Bay and he was referred to by them as "Henry with the Big Ship". I well remember him spending his wifes housekeeping money to buy sewing equipment and fabric for the Eskimo women so they would not be embarrassed at the exposure of their raggedness to the view of the southerners flocking to the Arctic starting in the 50's. He just said their need was greater.
He and the crew were awarded the coveted Polar Medal and later he received the bar , Pacific and Atlantic Stars, the 1939-44 War medal; He was appointed a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society (1944); awarded the First Massey Medal of the Canadian Geographic Society ;he was elected a member of the Explorers Club, and received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Waterloo Lutheran University. After his death Larsen Sound at the juncture of Franklin Strait and McClintock Channel was named in his honor, as was a public school in Orleans ON, and a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker.
What is less known is his scientific contributions to the knowledge of the salinity and of the invertebrate fauna of the western Arctic Ocean, and his skill as a small ship designer and modeler.
On retiring in 1961 he expressed his gratitude to Canada, and the honor he felt in having come as an unknown Norwegian seaman and leaving the RCMP as a Superintendent, and having had the duty assigned to him of carrying the Canadian Blue Ensign both ways through the Northwest passage for the first time in history.

The Last First Boat:

The Builder:

Robin Thacker

Robin’s adventure started when he was 4 years old and he decided to jump off the 2nd floor balcony with an umbrella as a parachute. It almost all ended when he spent 4 minutes in an underwater hydraulic after going over a waterfall on a canoe trip down Riviere Ouareau. He could have used the umbrella. Since then, he has always had a need for adventure. So, he got married and now has three wonderful daughters.

He wrote the software that the Canadian Civil Air Search and Rescue Association uses in searching for missing persons. He holds multi-national patents on guitar bodies and fibre reinforced ceramics. He has countless copyrights on things from snowboard chord calculation software to 1/16th scale flight simulator models. Currently, he designs the world's finest kayaks for Atlantis Kayaks on Vancouver Island. When he’s not doing that, you will find him with his wife Karen filming and traveling this wonderful world of ours.


RCMPV St. Roch undeway.
Vancouver Maritime Museum Photo
Class: Auxiliary Police Schooner
Launched: May 7, 1928
At: Burrard Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, North Vancouver, B.C.

Type:Auxiliary Police Schooner
Displacement:323 long tons (328 t)
Length:104 ft 3 in (31.78 m)
Beam:24 ft 9 in (7.54 m)
Draft:12 ft 6 in (3.81 m)
Depth of hold:11 ft (3.4 m)
150 hp (112 kW) diesel engine[2]

File:StRoch - VMM.jpg

File:St roch vancouver 2.jpg
RCMP ST.ROCH used by Larsen

GJOA used by Amundsen


File:Granado bomb vessel model.jpg
Hecla Class Bomb Vessel example

File:Erebus image.jpg
HMS EREBUS used by Franklin
Class & type:Hecla class bomb vessel
Displacement:715.3 long tons (726.8 t)
Tons burthen:372 tons 
Length:105 ft (32 m)
Beam:29 ft (8.8 m)

Rowing boat example


St. Roch was designated a national historic site of Canada because:
- she became the first ship to cross from the Pacific to the Atlantic by the North West Passage;
- she was also the first ship to complete the hazardous journey in both directions.
The Canadian-built St. Roch is valued as an excellent example of Canada’s maritime history. She navigated the Northwest Passage, arriving in Halifax in 1942, after spending two winters frozen in the ice. She was the second ship to make the Passage, and the first to conquer the journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic. In 1944, the refitted St. Roch returned to Vancouver via the more northerly, deep route of the Prince of Wales Strait in eighty-six ice-free days – the first to navigate the Northwest Passage in a single season. Retired in 1948, St. Roch was sent to Halifax via the Panama Canal in 1950, making her the first ship to circumnavigate North America.
Under the command and leadership of Sergeant Henry Larsen (1899-1964) who was first mate and captain for twenty years, the voyages of the St. Roch demonstrated Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. She extended and maintained Canadian control over its vast northern territories as an all-purpose supply, patrol and transport vessel and governmental representative to service isolated and relatively inaccessible R.C.M.P. detachments by settling disputes and conducting a census of the Inuit. During this time the St. Roch was the only federal presence in the far north. During the Second World War the St. Roch was sent through the North West Passage to protect war industries in the north, specifically a mine in Greenland which was the sole source of cyrolite essential to the production of aluminum.

The heritage value lies in the original design and the multiple refits that were designed to deal harsh conditions and reflect the changing technologies in marine transportation over the course of her working life. The St. Roch has been restored to her appearance during her epic journeys between 1940-1944 that was a mix of original elements and subsequent refits. Additional value in her material fabric include the spare and well-considered details of her design in terms of the efficiency and economy of her living and working quarters.
Sources: Statement of Commemorative Intent and Description of Designated Place, February 11, 2004; Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Agenda Paper 68-33: Restauration of the St. Roch.


Key elements that define the heritage character of the St. Roch include its:
- schooner form, relatively large scale and compact massing;
- surviving original construction materials and craftsmanship;
- intact spatial configuration above and below deck, illustrating the daily living and working arrangements of the ship’s crew, intact mess and galley facilities;
- intact interior millwork throughout the domestic and common quarters;
- hardware including decorative and nautically themed brass and iron fixtures, plumbing, washbasins and radiators;
- navigational equipment including scientific instruments, compass, maps and charts, chart rack, set of international code flags, steering wheel and helm;
- nautical equipment including the masts and swivels, sails, ropes, decks and rigging, propeller and rudder, booms, crow’s nest, anchor, winches and windlass;
- safety equipment including lifeboats, lifebuoys and racks, fire extinguishers;
- communication equipment including wireless transmitters and receivers;
- mechanical equipment including diesel engines, pistons, compressors, fuel tanks, pumps, generators and auxiliary;
- recreational materials such as gramophone, records and reading material such as periodicals;
- lettering cut in main beam under hatch coaming: ‘O.N. 154, 809 R.T. 80.07’.

The Arctic is getting warmer and sea ice is covering less and less area every year. This is good news for at least one group of men, adventurers looking to put their names in the record books. Two weeks ago we profiled the start of the Arctic Row expedition, a roughly 30-day, 1,300-mile attempt by four men to complete the first non-stop unsupported row across the Arctic Ocean by journeying from Inuvik, Canada, to Providenya, Russia. Next summer, Kevin Vallely and his team will put off from the same location and head east in the first attempt to row the Northwest Passage in a single season. It's an expedition called The Last First. We checked in with him by email to find out a bit more. 
We will start on July 1, 2013, Canada Day. The hope is that we complete the row in about 75 days but we’re grasping at straws when talking time on an expedition like this. There are just too many variables to nail anything down accurately. The biggest factors for us will be the ice and the wind and those are hard to predict. Regardless, we’ll need to get to the finish in Pond Inlet by the end of September or we’ll have serious issues with freeze-up. 
The Team:Kevin Vallely: Experienced Canadian adventurer who has a number of cold weather expeditions under his belt including a record setting trek to the South Pole in 2009.
Paul Gleeson: Irish ocean rower who rode a bike across Australia in 2003 and rowed across the Atlantic in 2005.
Frank Wolf: Award-winning Canadian documentary filmmaker who, with teammate Roman Rockcliffe, made the first and only single-season crossing of Canada by canoe.
Denis Barnett: Dublin born Barnett is the youngest member of the team on his first major expedition.
Ray Zahab: World-class ultrarunner, adventurer and founder of impossible2Possible who, with two other runners, ran the entire 7,500-kilometer width of the Sahara Desert in 111 days without a day off. 
This team from First Ascent has taken up a four-man Arctic Rowing mission this summer. Can you talk a bit about how your trip will be different?
We both start at the same spot in Tuktoyaktuk, but the Arctic Row expedition heads west while our expedition, The Last First, heads east. The Arctic Row team is attempting to row unsupported, non-stop to Russia from Tuk; we’re attempting to row east across the Northwest Passage over the historic route that Roald Amundsen traversed successfully for the first time between 1903 and 1906.
For us, the historic significance of the Northwest Passage is everything. Since Elizabethan times the Passage was considered the arctic grail, the gateway to the orient, an elusive puzzle that needed to be solved. It was this obsession to find the Northwest Passage that charted the Canadian arctic.
In 1846, Sir John Franklin and his crew, aboard the ships the Erebus and Terror, became encased in the ice off the northern tip of King William Island while looking for the Northwest Passage. The ships were crushed and destroyed; the entire crew would perish. This is about halfway across the passage and is a point we’ll row past. Countless expeditions—by land and by sea—would search for the lost expedition and in doing so opened up the Canadian arctic. The Northwest Passage is an important chapter in Canadian history—in world history—and revisiting it a century after its first successful crossing, in a manner never been done before, is very exciting.
How does the prep for this differ from some of the other trekking/skiing/running expeditions you've done?
This is a very different beast on some levels and very similar on others.
Where it differs is that it is truly a team effort in that we’re one boat with all members working together to get the job done. In all my previous expeditions I was joined by teammates who were incredible companions that shared in the duties of moving forward, but each one of us had to make every step to get the job done. On a boat it’s different; you’re inextricably linked with your teammates in a very unique way. Without them, you couldn’t go on. Working together is essential for success.
Where The Last First expedition is similar to previous adventures is that it’s a long, testing, arduous adventure into a truly wild part of this planet. It’ll be a different exertion, no doubt—rowing and not skiing or running or trekking or biking—but the actual mechanism of movement is not the critical component of the adventure, it’s the desire, determination and head-space to get the job done that will trump everything. You may climb a mountain, run a desert, ski to a pole, or row an ocean, but it will always boil down to that same mental game.
What will be the toughest part of your expedition?
There will be a host of challenges along the way, from stormy weather, to shifting ice, to hungry polar bears, but in all honesty I think the hardest thing, for me personally, will be to maintain focus knowing my wife and kids are spending a summer without daddy.
As a team, the toughest part will be to maintain a civility among a crew of overworked, underfed lads crammed into a space smaller than your average parking stall ... for almost three months ... you get the picture.
The most enjoyable part?
The most enjoyable part will be having the opportunity to try something that has never been done before in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth with teammates that all share the same passion.
We intend to row the Northwest Passage in a single season to speak to the changes that are transforming our arctic regions. It wasn’t long ago that the Northwest Passage was inaccessible even by steel-hulled ice-breakers, but now, in the early 21st century, we’re making plans to traverse it completely under human power in a row boat, without sail or motor, in a single season. Things are changing in the north. They’re changing dramatically. If we succeed—and after much research and discussion with the Canadian Ice Service we think we can—it will be a world first.
The beauty of this expedition is the fact there are so many layers to it. There’s such a rich history to the story of the Northwest Passage with iconic geographical names such as Baffin, Franklin, Ross, Hudson, Vancouver, Frobisher, etc. They are inextricably linked with the quest for the Northwest Passage. Mix into this backdrop the reality of climate change and the profound effects it’s having on the wildlife, culture and future of the arctic region and the pressing reality of arctic sovereignty that comes with this and we have a doozy of a story. And all this conveyed through a truly epic adventure, played out in one of the most incredible landscapes on earth. 
You can follow the expedition at

1 comment:

Barker Marine said...

That's seem very adventurous training program. I love this type of trip. Thanks for this blog post,It is joyful trip to me.

Barker Marine
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