Winter Comes Early

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Image for September 13 of Proliv Vil’kitskogo shows multi-year ice continues to advance South and indicates formation of new ice

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Image for September 12 of Proliv Vil’kitskogo shows multi-year ice continues to advance South and indicates formation of new ice

When the images are viewed at maximum zoom the extent to which Winter is advancing early becomes apparent. The inshore channel past PVK is now a series of patches of clear water between solid ice. The ice is expanding rapidly and growing thicker as multi-year ice is moved down by the wind.

Given all the claims for Global Warming this may seem confusing.

The wildest claims are that we are about to see the permanent removal of ice in the Arctic through a long summer. Climate has been in a continual state of change since the Earth and its surrounding atmosphere formed. The last few thousand years have been unusually stable. Today we do not know whether the change is progressing to higher temperatures, or to a rapid heating. We also do not know whether the change is still going to remain within the band of relatively stable temperatures or return to the older patterns of wild fluctuations.

In dealing with short term forecasting, small temperature changes can produce some dramatic effects. Looking back over the last seven years of Arctic weather and ice movement along the Russian Northern Sea Route, the last two years have demonstrated a shorter summer with ice receding slowly to a point closer to the coast. Indications are that the trend is to shorter summers, but that could reverse again in later years.

Just because Adrian is heading for Tiksi doesn’t mean that the Alpha Global team are not carefully watching the ice movement. Adrian is keeping close in to the coast to avoid the drift ice that is moving South. His latest position is just off the bottom right corner of the radar scan for September 12 (just into the darker area) with thicker drift ice moving closer to the coast.

Once he arrives in Tiksi ice watching continues to be important to the expedition because the ice-hardened merchant ship that is due to carry Barrabas through the Strait will have to cut through thickening ice and is not expected to be ready to sail until September 23. Not only does this mean that the merchant ship will have to deal with worsening conditions, but that the conditions further to the West will also deteriorate.

The high grade images supplied to the Alpha Global Expedition by MDA/KSAT are essential to planning the stages of the expedition from Tiksi to Murmansk and into the Norwegian Sea


Ice Forces Change of Plan


Pioneering in the High Arctic requires multiple plans to enable fast response to rapidly changing conditions.

The Alpha Global Expedition main planning suite covered the primary objective for Adrian to become the first person to attempt and complete a vertical circumnavigation by sea. From that plan, groups of options were prepared for each section of the expedition. As Adrian proceeded through a section of the expedition, the AGX onshore support team prepared additional plans to match conditions.

As was reported this week, the passage of Proliv Vil’kitskogo saw Plans A thru E prepared and considered against a flow of new satellite images and assessment of the images.

No single-handed sailor has ever been allowed to navigate along the Northern Russian coast and no expedition or commercial vessel has ever made a non-stop unaided passage of the NSR. Adrian therefore recognized that the chances of being able to make a non-stop unaided passage alone were extremely narrow. Part of the condition of obtaining permission from the Russian Federation to make the attempt was that there would be a series of fall-back options.

Conditions this year have meant that the only window of opportunity to take Barrabas through Proliv Vil’kitskogo was the very dangerous inshore passage. Western Arctic Marine Operations HQ were concerned that this option would mean Barrabas would be beyond icebreaker assistance and strongly recommended that he join a caravan of three small merchant ships that were forming to await an icebreaker escort and take the deep water route. In the event, the inshore passage was potentially viable for only three days. The hoped for brief change of wind direction was shorter than forecast and multi-year ice began moving South early. This meant that the caravan option had to be cancelled because the prospects of taking them through what became 9/10 ice was unacceptably low and they are now expected to winter over in Tiksi.

AARI, the Russian Antarctic and Arctic Research Institute, organized an emergency meeting yesterday to review all the satellite images and consider other available information. They noted that in addition to the Southward movement of multi-year ice, new ice was already forming at the Western end of the inshore passage. This indicated that Winter was coming early to the NSR.

Given the best available advice, Adrian decided to opt for the next option to pass through Proliv Vil’kitskogo. This option is a return along his old course for the Port of Tiksi. There Barrabas will be lifted onto a large ice-hardened merchant ship which will enable Adrian to continue his expedition west about. Currently he is battling a storm and making approximately 2 knots towards Tiksi.

Once aboard the merchant ship, safe passage is not fully assured but this is the best option for continuing West.

The merchant ship is of a specification not much different from that for an icebreaker and will be assisted by nuclear-powered icebreakers. It has been assisted through new ice East of Tiksi and is expected to dock and load, to sail again around September 23 which means that conditions will be worse than at present. The vessel will be bound for Murmansk and the final decision on where Barrabas will be put back in the water will be made on the basis of conditions as they develop.

Conditions aboard Barrabas are likely to prevent Adrian sending emails before he reaches Tiksi although he remains in communication via satellite phone. Once in Tiksi he will resume regular progress reports and continue during the merchant ship’s attempt to force a passage through the ice.



Over the last three weeks, Barrabas has followed a figure eight course from the first holding position at Ostrov Peschanyy (blue dot), heading then to the second holding position at Ostrov Preobrazheniya (blue dot). From that second holding position Adrian took Barrabas North East to the RV point with the three small merchant vessels as they cruised in a circle awaiting instructions. From the RV point, Adrian headed WSW to the ice tongue as AARI and the AGX team reviewed the options and probabilities for a dash through the inshore channel. After the decision to make for Tiksi, Adrian has begun heading ESE to reach the last green dot this morning. The red dots show the intended course on to Tiksi (yellow dot).


To: Western Arctic Marine Operations HQ

Subject: Barrabas

Position Report:

74.25 N 118.11 E
Pressure 1007
Wind ENE 12



The $64,000 Question


We know that many readers are as much on tenterhooks as Adrian and the Alpha Global team, but the coming hours will continue to be frustrating. Supporting the voyage is a truly international team and a mass of frustratingly conflicting information. Adrian is coping with the frustration but the tension aboard Barrabas must be crushing – all those sea miles successfully behind him, so few still left ahead and so very few affected by ice, but time rapidly running out until winter returns. Although the Church of Global Warming would have us believe that a bikini clad girl on a surfboard could breeze through the Arctic, the reality is very different. The Arctic remains a bitterly cold and forbiding place that does not forgive mistakes.

This is the Devil’s Question

The AGX team is faced with the Devil’s Question. Western Arctic Marine Operations HQ in Murmansk is currently handling 47 vessels in the iced section of the Northern Sea Route. Some of these vessels are held in ice and icebreakers will provide assistance to them. So while its a hectic day for the Alpha Global team its also a very hectic day for WAMOHQ. The crew of a Dutch yacht that had been hoping to make a transit this year, as third time lucky, have given up and left their boat in port while they fly home and hope for next year.

The three small merchant ships that Adrian was due to join up with are steaming in a slow circle around the RV point while they wait for further information and the icebreaker.

Due in to the Port of Tiksi is a large timber carrier that is able to take Barrabas as deck cargo through Proliv Vil’kitskogo to a port on the other side of the frustratingly narrow section of thick ice.

Just to twist the knife a few more turns, the latest satellite images from the MDA/KSAT Radarsat show a virtually clear inshore channel West. Adrian’s current position is approximately at the red dot. The blue course is currently completely ice free other than the occasional drift ice. Heading North and West on the blue course, the image shows more significant drift ice on the red course, but still navigable for Adrian and Barrabas. The Western end of the route is reported to be ice free. On the face of it Adrian has a route home. As the image shows, there is even a potential short cut through the tongue of ice but the longer blue course follows clear water and Adrian’s short visual and radar horizon makes that a safer bet.

What firmly twists the knife is the expectation of the wind backing to North over the next few hours. This is leading to pessimistic assessments for the deep water NSR and could mean that ice sweeps back into the shallow inshore channel.


AGX Position and Status


To: Western Arctic marine Operations HQ

Subject: Barrabas

Hello Nikolay

Position 74.05 N 114.49 E 1133 9 Sept UCT

I have just come to thick drift ice 40 miles south west of the rendezvous. The drift ice extends across the horizon. My thinking is that there will be more drift ice further north. Also, the light is going dim. I have taken the decision that it would be too dangerous to proceed into ice in semi-darkness. Also, I see form your latest weather forecast that winds in the north sector are expected for the next 3 days. The problem is that I do not have any idea how dense or how extensive drift ice may be between my position and the rendezvous location. With the change in the winds from the north, I suspect the master of the icebreaker is more likely not to proceed with the caravan. Therefore, with regret, taking these factors into account, my decision is to stay where I am and tomorrow to head for Tiksi to meet the cargo vessel which can transport the yacht. So, I will not to going to the rendezvous with the icebreaker. Please advise.



Today could see rapidly changing situations – changing almost with each new communication. There is a constant flow of communications. Adrian made visual contact with the three ships. He has been unable to talk with the three small merchant ships in his area because they do not speak English. Latest satellite images suggest new options but these have to be fully assessed and new forecasts made. During the day it is expected that direct contact will be possible with the Captain of the icebreaker heading towards the RV. First consideration is safety of all concerned.


AGX Position and Status Report


To: Western Arctic marine Operations HQ

Subject: Barrabas

Position Report

Thursday 6th September 0425 UCT

Anchored off Ostrov Preobrazheniya

Wind NNE 25 knots
Pressure 1007
No ice


Adrian Flanagan

Hello Nikolay

The most recent satellite image from the Arctic and Antarctic Research
Institute (AARI) shows a clear inshore channel along the eastern and
north-eastern coast of the Tyrmyr Peninsular. However, I cannot get access
to this channel because there is a line of ice at the southern end
connecting the ice massif to the land in the area of 75.25 N 113.48 E, just
south of Bukhta Pronchishcheva. I estimate this line of ice to be about 8-10
miles wide. The inshore channel appears to be clear, open water. Would it be
possible for an ice breaker to make a rendezvous with me south of Bukhta
Pronchishcheva and break a path through this thin line of ice? The ice
breaker could then go along this inshore channel with me following. The
route would go to the east of Ostrov Kleshnya and Ostrov Severnyy as far as
Ostrov Koshka (76.46 N 111.06 E). This is a total distance of 100-110 miles
which we should be able to travel within 24 hours. If the ice breaker was
then to go north at Ostrov Koshka, it would bring me into open water in the
south-eastern part of the Vilkitskiy Strait and I could proceed from that
point on my own.


Current position on 113dE south of ice tongue

>From the satellite pictures this looks to be very possible. This also means
that while I am in the inshore channel with the ice breaker, if anything
went wrong then the ice breaker would be close by. It looks as if any drift
ice in the channel is not more than 10% which means I could follow the ice
breaker. Please let me have your consideration on this plan.


The area to meet the ice breaker is approximately 80 miles north of my
current position, so I would be able to meet the ice breaker with 24 hours

Regards, Adrian


AGX Position and Status Report


Adrian has been coping with the effects of a new cyclone and considering the options. His current holding position is the red dot. The green dots trace his course back to the original exposed holding position a Ostrov Peschanyy and the Port of Tiksi is off the satellite image to the right. The satellite image shows that the inshore route past Vil’kitskogo is almost open. It would not take much weather improvement to create a narrow window of opportunity.

Spot the Moron


After a badly written piece for a French news wire service, a false story has started circulating through the Internet.

Amazing how rapidly inaccurate information can spread.

The first corrections are starting to appear and we liked the postings by Dan Xavier. One is reproduced in full on BSD – The Detector

A typical false story can be found at

Casting the Bones

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Today is with the soothsayers – brought up to date. Instead of casting bones, or divining waters darkly, its down to careful study of the satellite images as they download

Plan A is to wait for a break in the ice.

Plan B is to meet a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker which will lift Barrabas aboard and carry her through the heavy ice and relaunch her on the other side.

Adrian will now be faced with a number of decisions.

Sponsorship of the Alpha Global Expedition by mda and KSAT is providing high quality satellite images taken from polar orbiting satellites. This process started two days ago and is starting to build trend information. The early indications are that a narrow band of thick sea ice is blocking both ends of a shallow intercostal waterway. If the weather forecasts turn out to be accurate, these blocks will be removed for up to eight days, allowing Adrian to enter the intercoastal channel. If the wind is steady from the South for several days, the ice in the NSR, following the line of the intercoastal in deep water, may thin sufficiently for Adrian to stay outside the line of islands and sandbars that separate the shallow channel from the Arctic Ocean – but there are some big ‘IF’s.

Taking the landward channel offers two risks. One risk is that the sea ice reforms at both ends, trapping Barrabas. This is a big risk because there is no way in which an icebreaker can come into the shallow channel to recover the yacht before it is crushed. There is one further major risk. The area attracts large numbers of polar bear and Adrian would rather not find himself on the breakfast menu. Polar bears do present a potential risk even when he is aboard Barrabas, but this risk increases dramatically if the sloop becomes trapped in ice and Adrian has to use his rescue dinghy as a sledge to cross to the land.

Today discussions are continuing with the Western Arctic Marine Operations HQ, the Russian Arctic Research Institute, the icebreakers, and a number of other organizations and individuals. Careful analysis of the mda/KSAT images as they come in everytime the satellite passes over the area may give confidence to wait it out and make a dash through the PKV Strait or use the shallow inland route. However this consideration has to be taken against the status and position of the icebreakers.

The Russian Authorities have confirmed that they can lift Barrabas onto an icebreaker. Lifting the yacht out onto the icebreaker deck, in a condition to allow it to be relaunched once through PVK Strait, is one consideration. There is a decision to be made on how long to postpone the lift and where to RV with the icebreaker which today is three days steaming from Barrabas’ current position. One option may be to sail Barrabas North towards the icebreaker to a holding position while ice conditions are assessed further and final decisions taken.

Adrian naturally would like to make the voyage in Barrabas but a major consideration is his safety and the safety of others. That makes the next few days a tense nail-biting period for Adrian and those supporting him from ashore.