Northwest Passage: Insights into 2023 Season

The famed Northwest Passage waterways have been closed to sailors for several years, first due to the Pandemic and then when the Canadian Government extended their ban on pleasure craft and cruiser vessels. The Ocean Cruising Club’s Port Officer for the Northwest Passage looks ahead to the 2023 season.

Published 2 weeks ago

Source:  Ocean Cruising Club

There were no crossings by sail of the Northwest Passage during 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and the closing of the waterways to prevent any interactions with the local population of Canada.

The Government of Canada announced a one-year ban for pleasure craft and cruise vessels in 2020 and extended it to March 2022. The “right of innocent passage,” as defined by the United Nations, is a vessel’s right to enter and pass through another’s territory as long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the other state. This right was not observed by Canada during that time.

Hence a lonely New Zealand yachtsman, who entered ‘innocently’ and through the halfway point was tracked by a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker despite having an initial permit that was later revoked, eventually answered a judicial call. He had to hire a specialty maritime lawyer from Halifax with help of an OCC representative for the Americas. All in all, it drained his pockets immensely. That news spread widely holding back any other attempts for the next two years.

The 2022 NWP was not so certain when Canadian authorities were mute on the issue until nearly the last minute. An easing of the pandemic at that time encouraged yachtsmen to move forward, albeit with a welcome at the first Arctic settlements by local police.

Those two navigation seasons created a massive void and the expected makeup is now very visible. As of mid-April 2023 there are 16 sailboats reporting to attempt the crossing, with another 20 expected by July – which would be the formal record. Few of them are OCC members.

The most prominent will be the 24-metre steel ketch from Estonia, s/v Admiral Bellingshausen. The vessel is named after Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen, who is credited with the discovery of Antarctica in 1820. I was asked by its expedition leader to guide them through the Northwest Passage. Estonia as a country celebrates the life of Admiral Bellingshausen as the place where he was born (see more information on Admiral Bellingshausen.)

The s/v Admiral Bellingshausen (c) Ocean Cruising Club.

Apparently, Estonia’s Prime Minister was supposed to sail aboard Admiral Bellingshausen through the NWP in 2020 heading west to round the Americas; but due to the pandemic, it didn’t happen. Instead, the vessel sailed directly to Antarctica with its Estonian President.

Victor Wejer,
OCC Port Officer for the Northwest Passage

Note: The Northwest Passage area opens from July to September, when air temperatures hover between 5˚C and -5˚C.


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About the Ocean Cruising Club

The Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) is a world-wide club for blue water sailors. It has no premises and members regard the seas and harbours of the world as their clubhouse. Members proudly fly a distinctive blue and gold burgee with a flying fish on it. The OCC has a vibrant programme of shore and afloat events, including rallies and cruises in company, organised by the various Regional and Roving Rear Commodores.. The OCC also has more than 200 Port Officers worldwide who have a detailed knowledge of their area and are prepared to help visiting members in whatever way they can: locating spare parts or services, receiving mail, coping with local formalities or organising informal get-togethers.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising Club


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