John and I have a longstanding interest in collecting books on historical and present-day exploration of the high latitudes, or “death and destruction on the ice” as we call it. But it looks like climate change could put an end to this genre more quickly than we thought: This summer, for the first time in recorded history, a sailor has completed a transit of the NW Passage in 12 days solo non-stop and two boats have completed the NW and NE Passages in one season.
I congratulate these sailors and in no way wish to denigrate their achievements, which took more courage and ability to face hardship than I possess; however, no amount of grit could have accomplished these feats without a massive reduction in the quantity of ice in the passages. As Norwegian Børge Ousland, leader of one of the expeditions that circled the Pole, says:
It is, unfortunately, the dramatic changes in Arctic sea ice conditions in recent years that have made this trip possible. On the time of Roald Amundsen it took five to six years to complete the same distance, due to the extremely difficult and demanding ice conditions. Now we have proven that it is possible to make the voyage in a 31-foot fibreglass sailing boat, equipped with a 10 horsepower outboard motor for emergencies. This shows how dramatic and how fast these changes are happening…
I guess our book collection will soon become either very valuable or completely worthless as “death and destruction on the ice” becomes an historical footnote.