An expedition to the North Pole by sailboat

Pen Hadow and a small crew are sailing to the North Pole with two yachts. Past explorers reached the top of the world on dogsleds or skis, but now the ice may be thin enough for small boats to get there. The team hopes to show the world the strange creatures that live in the region as a way to encourage people to protect it.

Published 6 years ago, updated 4 years ago

Picture the North Pole. What does it look like in your mind? Ice as far as the eye can see?

In the past, that is what the area looked like, even in summer. The first explorers that tried to reach the Pole traveled by dogsled in the early 20th century. But the next explorers to reach that iconic point on the globe may arrive in a sailboat.

The sea ice that covers the top of the world is always shifting — it gets carried by currents, cracks apart, and freezes again. There’s no land below the ice to anchor it like there is in Antarctica. But satellite ice measurements suggest that since July 1979 — the first year such records were kept — the Arctic has lost an average of 28,000 square miles of ice each year, or 7.4% of the region per decade. And that loss is accelerating.

Until recently, overland treks to the North Pole were possible, though attempts by early adventurers were sometimes foiled when massive islands of ice split apart and they had to wait for passages to refreeze. In 2014, a group of polar explorers skied, floated, and swam their way to the Pole, towing 317-pound floating sleds.

However, the route over the ice is no longer considered traversable.

There are still huge ice floes many kilometers in length, but there’s also a lot of open water and large areas where the ice has cracked into small islands. Even parts that appear solid may be nothing but slush.

To demonstrate just how dramatic the change has been, polar explorer Pen Hadow is preparing lead a team to the North Pole on two 50-foot sailing yachts.

Hadow became the first person to trek to the Pole solo without being resupplied in 2003. He plans to set off with his fellow expeditioners on the boats, called Bagheera and the Snow Dragon II, within the next few days.

Trying to be the first to reach that same destination in a sailboat is “bittersweet,” Hadow told Business Insider.

“I am torn between the challenge of going further north than anyone has in a sailboat before and genuinely hoping that it is not yet possible,” he said. “It’s a very strange situation — I’m conflicted.”

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