First ever circumnavigation of the Americas ends tomorrow

The Ocean Watch, a 64-foot long rugged sailing ship, is scheduled to arrive back home in Seattle tomorrow after spending nearly 13 months at sea. The yacht, and her four person crew, are about to complete the first circumnavigation of North and South America, a journey of more than 25,000 miles, and in the process, perhaps help us to better understand the health of the oceans as well.

The project is known as the Around the Americas expedition, and until a few years ago, it wouldn’t have even been possible. But, thanks to global climate change, the Northwest Passage has become a navigable waterway, at least for a few weeks each year, and the crew of the Ocean Watch took advantage of that fact last year to complete the first stage of the voyage. After leaving Seattle, the ship sailed north to Alaska, and then proceeded even further north to cross the legendary passage that sits above Canada in the Arctic Ocean.

After making their way through the icy waters of the Northwest Passage the crew turned the ship south, running down the east coast of Canada and the U.S. From there, it was on to the Caribbean, then along the coast of Mexico and on towards South America. The voyage continued all the way to Cape Horn, where the Ocean Watch braved some of the most dangerous waters on the planet as they sailed across the Drake Passage, before turning north once again. The return trip saw the ship hugging the western coastlines of both North and South America. Now, they stand one day away from completing the first ever circumnavigation of those two continents, which will be complete upon their return to Seattle.

The journey wasn’t undertaken just for the pure adventure, although there was plenty of that too. Along the way, the crew, which consists of Captain Mark Schrader, First Mate David Logan, and watch captains David Thoreson and Herb McCormick, have taken a variety of scientific readings about the waters they’ve passed through. The team, which was joined in various stages by guest scientists and educators, hopes to use the data they’ve recorded to examine the impact of climate change on the polar ice caps and coral reefs, as well as the level of acidification in the oceans and the impact of pollution and debris.

This has been an amazing voyage to follow, and the crew is about to earn a well deserved break after months at sea.

[Photo credit: Around the Americas]