Laurence Roberts and Mary Anne Unrau have done what less than 200 vessels have done in the last century — they’ve successfully sailed the Canadian Northwest Passage.
The passage connects the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America via waterways through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
First sailed by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen from 1903-1906, the passage was once explored as a potential trade route, however changes in the pack ice caused by climate change have made the waterway difficult and at times, dangerous to travel.
Enter Roberts and Unrau.
The 67-year-old duo, who have sailed more than 90,000 nautical miles in their boat-turned-home, decided to sail the passage from St. Katharines Marina in London, U.K. to the Causeway Marina in Victoria — a so-called home base for the world travellers.
In the past, they’ve sailed from North America to New Zealand, New Zealand to Australia, down to Tasmania and to the French Polynesian. They also spent a summer in Norway and most recently sailed to Hawaii and Mexico.
The couple have been sailing for the better half of their life and after retirement, decided to sell their home and see the world through a nautical lens.
“In the cities, it’s dealing with the cultural experience and dealing with another language. Travel without deadlines,” said Roberts, who has been sailing since he was 26 years old. “It’s like a portable home. It’s more like travelling and being at home at the same time.”
On March 2013, the sailors set off in their 45-foot, 15-year-old steel sailboat Traversay III for the eight-month-long journey.
The first part of the voyage through the east of the passage offered views of rising cliffs, flocks of birds and tall mountains.
However, the second half of the passage had its share of challenges.
In the Arctic Ocean, often the boat would get stuck in ice and they would have to wait hours before it would break up so they could carefully float through.
“The uncertainty and having to be up all the time (was a challenge),” said Unrau, a retired school teacher. She said they would get sleep in four-hour intervals.
“When it was time to go, even if it was one in the morning, if the ice was moving towards you, you got going. It was a big physical challenge for me to stand my watches.”
But moving past the ice opened the boat up to spectacular scenery — air so clear that shores and mountains 50 miles away on the other side of the channel looked crystal clear, along with a number of polar bears and seals.
“It was all like it was painted on a backdrop. It was so clear,” Roberts described.
The duo documented their journey and will present a photo journal of it at a fundraising event for the Victoria Baroque Music Society. On Nov. 16 at the Baumann Centre, players will perform to a slideshow presentation of the voyage.
Tickets should be purchased in advance and are $35 for individuals or $50 for couples. The price includes a charitable donation of $25. For more information visit victoria-baroque.com or call 250-592-1365.