Extreme cruises: Sailing the Northwest Passage on board 56m Rosehearty
by Sam Fortescue
Some people buy a boat for the glamour or the racing. Others buy a yacht to embark on the voyage of a lifetime. The owner of 56-metre sailing yacht Rosehearty talks to Sam Fortescue about their epic adventure to the Arctic.
For centuries, the Northwest Passage has been a byword for mystery and epic endeavour. Only in recent decades has the Arctic ice cover retreated sufficiently for a few weeks during high summer to allow yachts to pass through. It is no mean undertaking, as the skipper of Rosehearty describes. “There was a fair amount of excitement,” says David “Hutch” Hutchison, “but I’d known the owner for many years. It was clearly one of the cornerstones of his ownership programme.”
The owner’s motivation is stark: “My beautiful Perini is capable of extraordinary sailing and so is my captain, and it was time to do something more than float around in the Caribbean paddleboarding and drinking Martinis.”
Despite huge experience on a range of yachts over nearly 40 years, Hutchison admits that the highest latitude he’d sailed was “the north of Scotland”. “It’s very rare that one can push outside the boundaries of 40 degrees north and south.
“The boat’s pretty bulletproof,” he says of Rosehearty, a luxurious cruiser capable of sailing speeds up to 17 knots. “The main change was to cover the flybridge so it was fully enclosed, and to [capture] waste air-conditioning heat. We also enclosed the aft cockpit in glass and added heat to turn it into an aft lounge.”
They also plumbed the exhaust to heat incoming seawater to raise the watermaker's efficiency in very cold seas. With dry suits for all, a new Zodiac tender with a 270hp outboard and extra radar, the boat set out from Newport, Rhode Island, on 1 July for the less common westward transit, aiming first for Halifax, where they met the legendary Canadian ice pilot Captain Patrick Toomey, then to Nuuk on Greenland’s west coast, where they arrived three weeks later.
“Greenland is such a special place,” says Hutchison. “The sky is huge; you’re looking at cliffs that are 3,000 metres tall falling straight into the sea.” The crew and guests saw whales, wildflower-covered meadows and towering icebergs. Ice soon became more of an issue. “When the weather was bad, you’d have a grey out where you couldn’t [determine] the horizon.”
Rosehearty enjoyed 10 days of high-pressure weather and made good progress through Lancaster Sound in the Canadian Arctic under the watchful eye of Captain Toomey. As he was fond of reminding the skipper, just one-seventh of an iceberg is visible above the water, meaning that the bigger ones they saw comfortably amounted to more than a million tonnes of ice. Then there was the sea ice, regularly up to 30 per cent coverage, which is close to Rosehearty's limit, and patches up to 50 per cent. Reaching as far into the Northwest Passage as Fort Ross on Somerset Island, they saw polar bears and Inuit hunting narwhals, climbed glaciers and even fished for shy Arctic char.
The owner’s trip was tragically curtailed by a death in the family, but it left a lasting impression of astonishing grandeur. “I found it rather different than I had expected,” he says. “Dramatically warmer and greener due to the rapidity of climate change. Very cordial people, breathtaking sights and staggering glaciers.”
Rosehearty didn’t quite reach the halfway point before returning to Greenland. Such is the draw of high latitudes, however, that the owner sent the boat south to Antarctica and plans to head north again to Alaska this season, to go eastward through the Northwest Passage back to Greenland.