Ice is everything - or how to learn that resoures are limited

I could barely see the bow 43 feet away. The ski goggles took the pain away from my sore eyes. I was still captured in the white stuff. The snow was everywhere and so could other boats be. I couldn’t see them, and they couldn’t see me. I just had to accept the fact and be happy in the all white world.

The one thing in my favour was that it was mid February and I was sailing well above the Arctic Circle. I hadn’t seen any other boat since I hoisted sails in the pitch-dark morning 12 hours ago.

As day broke, I sailed through a maze of low islands and skerries. The high water mark was where the snowline ended. I was on a falling tide with following winds. All was in my favor, except for the fact that I was sailing south in the Northern hemisphere.

To quote Rolf Jacobsen, one of Norway’s most respected poets:

North is best.

The fiery winter sky, summer night sunshine miracle

Walk in to the wind, Climb mountains.

Look to the North.

More often.

This country is long

Most of it is North.

I was running low on water. The fresh snow was very welcome in that respect. Due to the cold I couldn’t get any fresh water from taps on the docks. Everything was closed down and wouldn’t open before winter retreated to the mountaintops. I had to melt snow. It just made the wilderness experience more intense, bordering on an expedition experience. It was a truly different world.

This is the first chapter of the book High Latitude Sailing - How to sail the cold waters of the world by Jon Amtrup and Bob Shepton. Order the book (NOK 300 inc postage) by mail.

We live in a world where everything is just around the corner. Water on tap. Water in bottles with 1000 different tastes. It’s so ordinary that not even yet another tasty water bottle that gets introduced makes you wonder when it will stop. Everything is available. All the time. You don’t have to plan a single thing. Everything can be fixed by picking up the phone and either call, mail, chat, tweet, or Google it.

When you sail in remote places like Svalbard, Greenland or South Georgia you can’t do that. You are on your own in all respects of the word. You have to be totally self-sufficient and lay your plans accordingly. But when you have done that and acted on it, you are free. Free from everyday trivialities like bills, newspapers, crappy TV series, driving to the shop just to buy oregano, and all the other stuff that doesn’t necessarily make you happy. It’s just you and nature.

Day in. Day out. All that changes is the scenery as new landscapes appear, and the good feeling of remoteness.

The environmental side of a trip to the high latitudes is in it self worth the effort. As you plan the trip you will have to consider how to economize the water, electricity, fuel and food. Scarce recourses globally, and most certainly on a trip in a boat with limited capabilities. You are a little self-reliant community when you sail to the high latitudes.

And when you are sailing you have to manage the waste you produce. And it’s a lot. It makes you think and it makes you wonder where this is going. But most of all, it might change your habits when you get back to what is called real life.

Get out there

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Twain seemed to appreciate the shorts and t-shirt sailing in the warm trade winds, but as the true adventurer he was, I expect that he would have loved some more demanding sailing as well. Some prefer warm days, no rain and marinas with all the comforts within walking distance when they sail. Most people have a perfect life that way. For some of us though, and I expect more and more, think that the more clothes you have to wear, the greater the experience. The goal with a vacation is not to get a tan. We want an adventure. We want to challenge ourselves. We want more out of life. The high latitudes are where you still can do some proper exploration. The rest of the world is more or less just well established infrastructureWe can accept the occasional gale just to experience something completely different. The gale in itself becomes the icing on the cake, so to speak. And we are prepared for it. We have planned for it, and we can take it. Sailing in the high latitudes is all about how you adapt and learn. You have to calculate risk and improvise, because there is no definite answer to any question. That's when you get the exhilarating feeling of mastery.