Explorers prepare to sail around the North Pole

In a few weeks time, Norwegian explorers Borge Ousland and Thorleif Thorleifsson will set out on a daring expedition in an attempt to become the first people to sail around the North Pole, a feat that has only become possible in recent years thanks to global climate change. The two men will have to successfully navigate both the Northeast and Northwest Passages if they want to accomplish their goal.

Ousland is a well known polar explorer, who has visited both the North and South Pole by skis in his numerous cold weather adventures. Thorleifsson is more at home on the water, being a very experienced sailor, and will be the captain of the small sailing ship they will use on their voyage.

The plan is to set off on June 21st, and sail for the Northeast Passage, which fully opens up for navigation in August. That route runs through the ice filled waters of the Arctic Ocean north of Russia. Once they have completed that part of the journey, they’ll then take on the Northwest Passage, which runs across the northern region of Canada. At one time, both of these routes we considered unnavigable, but thanks to global warming, the ice now breaks up more fully, allowing ships to pass through.

There are a number of obstacles that Ousland and Thorleifsson will have to face on their journey. For instance, the ice flows will be very unpredictable, and they’ll need to rely on satellite imaging to help find their way. On top of that, they’re using a small ship that is quick and light, but won’t allow them to carry too many supplies with them, and although it has been retrofitted with Kevlar to help protect it against the ice, its hull is none too thick. The two men have also had to deal with Russian bureaucracy, which is never an enjoyable prospect, but a similar expedition was halted last year when the ship didn’t have the proper paperwork to pass through Russian waters.

The journey is expected to take four months to complete, and they’ll be covering roughly 10,000 miles in the process. Once they get underway, you’ll be able to follow along with their progress and adventures on Ousland’s blog, which can be found by clicking here.

[Photo Credit: http://www.ousland.no/]

Circling the globe with zero emissions

Sustainable travel has been a focus for many over the past decade, with travelers searching for ways to reduce their carbon footprint while still feeding their wanderlust. 23-year old Brit Kevin Shannon seems to have discovered a way to see the world, while still protecting the planet’s environments. On Wednesday of this past week, the adventurous traveler set out to circumnavigate the globe, using only human and natural power.

Kevin has dubbed his zero emissions journey as the Because It Is There Expedition in honor of his his hero George Mallory, who was once asked why he would want to climb Mt. Everest. The mountain was unclimbed at that time, and Mallory famously responded by giving the most well known quote in mountaineering history, “because it is there”.

Over the course of the next three years, Kevin will be peddling his bike across six continents, covering 40,000 miles in the process, and sailing across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, adding another 10,000 aquatic miles to the trip. The journey began in the U.K., and will extend across Europe and Asia, before turning south to Australia. After hugging the Australian coastline, Shannon will board a ship and sail to South America, where he’ll return to the bike and turn north. The Route will take him through Central America, Mexico, and eventually into the United States, where he’ll ride coast-to-coast, before he boards a ship once again, to sail to North Africa, where he’ll get on his bike one last time, and make the return trip back to the U.K.

While the journey will be its own reward of course, Kevin isn’t making the trip for the adventure alone. He’s also hoping to raise £1 million for the Combat Stress organization, a U.K. based charity group that is working with veterans who have suffered severe traumatic experiences while in the service of their country. A noble effort, and one that is necessary now more than ever it seems.

To follow Kevin’s environmentally responsible journey, check out his Twitter feed at @Kev_Shannon. He’s just getting underway, and the adventure is just beginning.

New round-the-world sailing record set

Last Saturday, the 105-foot long, tri-hulled sailing vessel Groupama 3, captained by French skipper Franck Cammas, completed an around the world cruise that resulted in a new speed record for circumnavigating the globe. The journey took 48 days, 7 hours, 44 minutes and 52 seconds to complete, beating the old record, set in 2005, by more than two days.

Cammas and his nine man crew set out from Brest, France back on January 31st. Their route took them south around the capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn, covering more than 28,523 miles along the way. The high tech, specially designed ship averaged 24.6 knots per hour over the length of the voyage, or nearly 30 mphs.

Despite the impressive time for the circumnavigation, Captain Cammas believes the new record can be bested. He blamed foul weather at certain stages of the journey for slowing the Groupama 3 down, but calmer conditions would have allowed the crew to shave even more time off the existing record.

By completing the circumnavigation in record time, Cammas and his men have won the Jules Verne Trophy, a prize given to a yacht of any size and crew that earns a speed record for circling the globe. The award was initially given to the first ship to make that journey in less than 80 days. That was first accomplished in 1994 and now, 15 years later, we’re on the verge of cutting that time in half.

Congratulations to the crew of the Groupama 3 on a job well done.

Another teenager sets sail on a solo circumnavigation attempt

16-year old Abby Sunderland set sail last weekend on an attempt to sail solo around the world, and in the process, become the youngest person to accomplish that feat. She launched her 40-foot long boat, the Wild Eyes, from Marina del Rey, California, following a delay of several days due to the heavy storms that have plagued that area recently. If all goes according to plan, Abby will be at sea for roughly 5-6 months, making the journey non-stop without ever pulling into port.

Abby won’t just be battling the ocean waves and unpredictable weather while out on the high seas, she also faces a little competition for the crown of “youngest around”. Australian teenager Jessica Watson, who we told you about here, is in the middle of her own circumnavigation attempt, having just cleared Cape Horn, at the southern end of South America. Jessica is now making her way across the Atlantic towards Africa. And lest we forget, 14-year old Laura Dekker is hoping to make the same journey later this year, provided Dutch officials allow her to set sail.

For Abby, sailing runs in the family. Her brother Zac temporarily held the record for youngest solo circumnavigation last year when he completed the voyage at the age of 17. His record was bested by British teen Mike Perham a few months later. Perham is also 17, but is a few months younger than Zac.

It use to be that teenagers simply asked their parents for the keys to the car, but in the case of these adventurous young men and women, they’re hitting the high seas and spending months alone out on the water. The questions remain however; Should we be encouraging these activities and how young is too young?

Update on 14-year old sailor Laura Dekker

Yesterday we posted a story about 14-year old Laura Dekker, a Dutch girl who has dreams of sailing solo around the world in an attempt to claim the title of youngest person to achieve that goal. Several months back, the Dutch government ruled that she would have to stay in port while they reviewed her case and considered if she was too young to make such a journey. Frustrated with that decision, the teenager ran away from home this past weekend, only to turn up on the island of St. Maarten in the Caribbean, where it appears she was attempting to set sail on her own.

Laura was taken into custody by local officials, and sent back to Holland, and today judges there ruled on her case, once again, taking her current actions into account. Despite the fact that youth social services requested that she be put into foster care with family friends, the judges allowed Laura to return home to her father, who has strongly defended her right to circumnavigate the globe, and supports her wholeheartedly.

Furthermore, the judges ordered the girl to begin taking steps that would further prove she is ready to sail solo around the world. They are requiring her to complete a first aid course, and make several long distance sailing trips abroad, to gain valuable skills necessary for her journey. They told her to view these requirements as a set of challenges, and if she is successful, she could set out on her solo journey in as little as three months time.

So there you have the update. By March of 2010, a 14-year old girl could quite possibly be sailing solo around the world. Does that seem like a good idea?