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Sailors braving Northwest Passage race against the coming ice

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

Three sailors attempting an unusual route through the Northwest Passage are closer to their goal. 

The Canadian, American and Swede entered Canadian waters earlier this month beginning at Grise Fiord, Nunavut, Canada'a northernmost community, and down through the Parry Channel. A week ago, their 31-foot sailboat, Belzebub II, had mechanical problems, forcing the sailors back to the community of Resolute.

But crew member Nicolas Peissel said the sailors are on the water again, approaching the final stage of their passage on a route that only icebreakers have previously attempted.

"We're all very excited, but we're also approaching this with a serious mindset because if we make a rash decision, if the winds change, that could mean that we're trapped for the winter," he said. "So none of us want to rush into this -- into a situation we're not sure of."

The sailors are hoping to travel M'Clure Strait, north of Banks Island. That's the northernmost route through the Northwest Passage, and it's never been done in a sailboat.

Peissel says the team could make it through M'Clure Strait in as few as three days if ice conditions are good.

But the delay in Resolute cost the group time; they estimate they only have about a week to finish the journey before ice conditions worsen. If M'Clure Strait proves impassable, the trio plans to take an alternate route down the east side of Banks Island, a trek traveled by sailboats before.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.