Connecting you with Alaska athletes.


Arctic Passage: Sailing the Edge of Alaska – Part IV

by | Nov 10, 2022 | Adventure, Cover Story, Sailing

Dave Thoreson on deck

After 2½ days sheltering behind Point Hope Mark and Dave spied a weather window. The goal was to sail northwest, clear Point Hope and gain sea room for a 200 mile run south across the Chuckchi Sea to the Bering Straight. A solid plan. But as we cleared the point it was apparent this would be no ordinary passage.

Immediately Polar Sun plunged into “confused” seas – which in our case is what happens when 15 swells from the south encounter a stout west wind and an east current. It’s a mass of breaking waves and white water, while the boat pitches forward, staggers back, rolls, bangs, and surges again.

Close-hauled on a starboard tack, the only safe place is in your bunk.

Confused seas and hard sailing in the Chuckchi Sea

Around midnight Mark and Ben-Wah discovered a leak in the starboard deck. Not as alarming as it sounds. But it was strange to wake up at 2 a.m. to see dozens of cans of Dinty Moore beef stew around the cabin and Mark head deep in a locker trying to come at the leak. After confirming we were not sinking, I went back to sleep.

Through the next day the weather eased and in the afternoon we crossed the Arctic Circle. In my evening watch a small bird came on board. The bird came into the cockpit and gently hopped into my hand. Ben-Wah – who has seen most things at sea – told me it would be dead in an hour. Sure enough it died soon after – exhausted by the storm.

This bird landed on deck exhausted by the storm

On the last day we passed south from the Bering Strait along the coast to Nome. Joni is from Nome and my boys are both deeply connected to this place. The open landscape of mountains and tundra, rocks and windy beaches is breathtaking, mysterious and unique.

Ben Wah commented that just being south of the Arctic Circle he already felt warmer. Mark sat below trying to type a last blog post about ending the trip. Ending was tough for them.

Mark said the Northwest Passage was the most demanding trip he’d ever done – mentally and physically. He seemed spent.

The Chuckchi Sea at dawn

Ben just wanted to get home – he’d been away from Newport, Rhode Island almost 4 months. Plus he could still make his daughter’s birthday if he caught the first plane out of Nome.

Dave and I had it easy. Neither of us was invested in this Northwest Passage trip the same way. For me it was an adventure. Fun. Dave seemed thrilled to be back on a sailboat in the Arctic. This was his 3rd Northwest passage.

The last miles into Nome were flat calm. We coasted in and tied up next to Taya – a Swiss boat that also just completed the NW Passage. We cleared customs, stripped the sails off the boat. Took showers and celebrated aboard.

Champagne in Nome with the Swiss crew from boat Taya

The next morning Ben-Wah and I headed to the airport and caught the first plane out. Ben flew straight to Boston, just in time for his daughter’s birthday. I landed in Anchorage, picked up my son Alexander on the way home from the airport and went straight into my urban routine with a grocery run to Costco. A hard re-entry softened by a Costco hotdog.

Back in Anchorage with Alexander. First stop – Costco

Mark and Dave spent the next 4 days in Nome getting the boat ready for winter.

Mark called me a week later from New Hampshire. Hauling the boat had turned to an epic, battling mud, tides and freezing weather. His mom had just endured Hurricane Ian in Florida. He was months behind with his daughter and 3 boys. His youngest Tommy (who I could hear in the background) was late to piano practice. Now, he was struggling to map out the book he was contracted to write about the voyage.

There are a lot of angles – climate change, Arctic development, the 1846 Franklin expedition, the local people – any of which could carry a book.

Finally he said: “I don’t know, man. I think I’m just going to have to write my own story. Tell ‘em about what happened.”

I think he’s got a book there.

After more than 100 days from Maine, Mark and Dave arrive in Nome

SAILING SPECIAL: This is the last of a 4-part series written and photographed by Ben Spiess of Anchorage.


Story made possible by:

Family of Sponsors

Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Alaska Airlines | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Joe Alston | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Aspen Endodontics | Glen Bailey | Kathie Bethard | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Continental Auto Group | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris | The Conway Family | Donley Family | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Foley & Pearson | JL Properties | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Amy and Jason Miller | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | Rick Mystrom | Kathleen Navarre | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Dave and DeAnne Rand | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Replacement Glass | Residential Mortgage | RSA Engineering- Sarah & A.J. Schirack | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Peter Pounds | Dan Rufner | Harlow Robinson | Pete Robinson | Moria Smith | Taylored Restoration | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Team Heat | Todd Whited | UAA Seawolves | Don Winchester

Family of Sponsors

Alaska Airlines | Nicole Johnston | Richard Mize | Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Aktive Soles | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Aspen Endodontics | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Coho Financial Group | Continental Auto Group | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Glen Bailey | Invisalign-Ben Ward | JL Properties | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris| Kathleen Navarre | Midas Alaska | Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing | Perkins Coie - Sarah & A.J. Schirack | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Residential Mortgage | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Taylored Restoration | Korndrop Family Foundation | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Replacement Glass | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Foley & Pearson | UAA Seawolves | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Amy and Jason Miller | Burgerfi | Charles Fedullo | Dan Rufner | Darren Lieb | Don Winchester | Donley Family | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Firetap | Harlow Robinson | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Joe Alston | Kathie Bethard | Krispy Kreme | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Mark Silverman | On the Border | Pete Robinson | Rick Mystrom | Team Heat | Team Moriarty | The Conway Family | Todd Whited | Moria Smith | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Peter Pounds | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | RSA Engineering

Sports Categories