The 86° North


7 March 2007

Monday 5th March we passed the point furthest north achieved by the Fram (85˚56’N) and broke the imaginary line in the ice marking 86 degrees north. In doing so, we have gained the record for the most northerly position reached by a sailboat in history.

Although large ice breakers can now motor all the way to the pole, the only boat to have previously drifted further north and survived is the Sedov, a Russian ship that was involuntarily trapped in the ice from 1937 to 1940, reaching a position of 86˚39’N. While the story of the Sedov is well know in Russian polar history, it is relatively unheard of in the rest of the world. The Sedov was a Russian ship that crossed the Laptev Sea to undertake scientific work during the period of supposedly least ice, during the summer of 1937 from July to September. However, particularly bad ice conditions this year forced a number of ships to return to the west. Damaging her propeller while assisting other vessels also retreating, the Sedov became stuck. Another vessel, the Sadko, was sent to help, eventually freeing the Sedov. However, further progress to the west was then blocked for both ships as the winter freeze set in. Another vessel, the Malygin, who had just joined them with more coal supplies also became trapped. Although the convoy continued to make slight progress through the thickening ice, on 23 October they were obliged to stop the engines, the 217 people between the three vessels forced to reside themselves to wintering over.

They subsequently drifted for the first winter before they succeeded in building an airstrip allowing planes to land on the ice and evacuate most people during a series of flights in April. 33 remained for the summer until a powerful ice breaker arrived to free the three vessels. However, the Sedov had a damaged rudder and had to be towed. This proved to be too difficult and eventually the Sedov was left to drift for a second winter with 15 crew on board. The scientific crew took full advantage of their unplanned adventure as they drifted close to the course that the Fram had drifted 50 years earlier, providing an opportunity to make comparative studies in many fields of research including meteorology, biology and oceanography. At the end of the third summer, after drifting 3 800 miles in 812 days the Sedov was released with the help of the ice breaker Stalin, returning to Murmansk triumphant.

The southerly wind forecast for us this week could well push us past the furthest north position attained by the Sedov.