On August 14, the 48-foot sailing vessel Northabout was in a sheltered location north of Siberia, battling hurricane-force winds.
Held in place by 100 feet of chain tied to an anchor, the crew hunkered down as the storm built through the late summer Arctic night.
At times, the anchor dragged across the bottom of the shallow sea, making a terrible grinding noise.
In trying to sail through both the Northeast and Northwest Passages in the same year — a feat that would have been impossible as recently as 2007 — Hempleman-Adams, Edwards and the rest of the Northabout's crew ran smack into the capricious face of the new Arctic reality.
Sea ice is rapidly thinning and melting as the world warms, hitting the second-lowest level on record this year. At the same time, weather patterns in the Far North seem to be growing weirder and more menacing.
For example, the storm that hit the ship this summer was more typical of the intense tempests that sweep across the region during the winter.
Hempleman-Adams put the expedition together as a way to raise awareness about global warming. But even he didn't anticipate how little ice he and his crew members would encounter during much of their voyage.
During the Northabout's two-week transit of the famed Northwest Passage, for example, he said there was a near complete absence of sea ice.
The passage was blocked with ice throughout all of human history until sea ice loss from global warming opened it briefly during the summer of 2007. It has been seasonally open during several summers since, including 2016. This year, in addition to the Northabout, a cruise ship carrying more than 1,000 people also sailed through the passage.
"We went through the Northwest Passage in 14 days and didn’t see one drop of ice, not even enough ice for a gin and tonic," Hempleman-Adams said.
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