Northwest Passages: A thousand miles

The voyages of the Bluster and Guesswork continue apace. After setting out from Greenland in sail boat sim Sailaway [official site] two weeks ago I am now sailing the Northwest Passage in earnest, following in the cold, wet footsteps of Franklin himself. I had originally thought it’d take months and months to get anywhere but the respectable auto-pilot has been roaring through the sea foam tirelessly day and night. Together, we’ve travelled almost a thousand miles already. Here’s how things are going, according to my captain’s log.

May 5

Absolutely no wind. The water is completely flat, like a very large blue carpet. We are just drifting here aimlessly in the… Greenland sea? Let me just check that with Google Maps. Okay, so it’s called Baffin Bay. I’m stuck in the middle of Baffin Bay, going at less than a single knot with still 3600 miles to go. I try jiggling with the sails but it’s no use. The gods simply do not favour us. We bob along on the current, like a discarded nappy floating in a British town lake.

May 7

Wind has been coming and going, and we are now making steady progress across the bay. I had thought this would take several months but it will probably only take two – if that. I hadn’t considered how useful it is that the ship goes on with my companion Mr Tooltips at the helm 24/7. If only Franklin had had such marvellous technology. But I suppose not requiring food on board helps us more than anything. I also do not have a ship full of dudes suffering from lead poisoning, which gives me a slight advantage.

May 8

I have to adjust course to head further out into the bay, away from the coast, where the wind is pushing in a more amenable direction, and with greater force. Water splashes all over my screen, which feels strangely refreshing. One of the other sailors, somewhere across the world on his own sail boat, pipes up on the in-game chat. (Think of this as some kind of satellite radio that connects all boats worldwide). The sailor says they see me. They are aware of the Bluster and Guesswork and her heroic mission, and thanks to the world map, which shows all the other boats online at  certain time, you can follow what others are doing.

One of the other sailors tells me about, and I spend the next 15 minutes staring with amazement at tiny arrows and swirling vortexes around the world. I can only hope that one of these storms never strikes me. But at the same time, think of the waves dude.

May 10

Oh no. I log on to check on the Bluster only to find that Mr Tooltips has almost steered her straight into the coast of *consults Google* Devon Island! This is because the wind is coming straight at us now through this small channel and the only way to sail into the wind is to snake your way from one side to the other, like a slaloming skier except, you know, uphill. This has brought us far off the yellow-plotted course and almost into the land. I have arrived just in time. Stand aside, Tooltips, you auto-piloting fool! I briskly turn the ship around and trim the sails to get her going in the other direction.

Crisis averted, but we still have 3143 miles to go. The waves are a little higher than usual. There is a wet fog everywhere.

May 14

I have neglected my captaining duties for some time. I log on expecting to find Mr Tooltips dead at the wheel having run aground. But he has somehow navigated around the island of… *shouts to Mr Google* Cornwallis Island, with magnificent precision. Good work, Tippers. I knew we could rely on you. And he has made excellent speed too. We are now just 2769 miles from the end of our historic voyage. The only worry is that we will soon reach the point at which Franklin and his sickly men succumbed to the ice.

But, as luck would have it, ice is another thing that doesn’t exist in Sailaway. Hurrah! Eat my wake, Franklin. I’ll soon be overtaking the old geezer and hitting the halfway mark of our journey. Keep your eyes on the horizon for future dispatches from the Northwest Territories. Mr Google, plot us a course! Mr Tippers, full sail ahead!


  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Well, removing the ice from this particular route does sorta neuter the danger levels a bit, doesn’t it?

  2. Adunakhor says:

    I highly recommend Dan Simmons “The Terror” as your travel guide. The true story of the Franklin expedition.

    • pentraksil says:

      A lovely tale of adventure and friendship. Simply warms the heart. Highly recommend it.

  3. Ben King says:

    This was really great fun to read, and having skipped over your earlier adventures because I thought sailing sounded BORING I am totally going to have to backtrack and check those out too. Once I finish up my current novel I may have to pick up “the terror” as well…

    • iucounu says:

      While we’re doing book recommendations, I thought I would not be interested in books about sailing, but I now reread 20 Patrick O’Brian novels every couple of years. They’re brilliant stories – or really, one extremely long story – set during the Napoleonic wars, and the absolute best. (You might have seen the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which is fine but approximately 1/1000th as good as the books.)

      • Mark k says:

        As an avid sailor and reader I agree wholeheartedly with iucounu about the Patrick O’Brian novels, not only brilliant stories but absolutely brilliant writing. And this feature is darned good too! Great fun to read…

      • MadPen says:

        Always trust book recommendations from people named Iocounu. Also, while I normally can’t stand audiobooks, Patrick Tull is an absolutely amazing narrator for those. They are the best books. Full stop.

        I am going to read The Terror immediately. Further reading: The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst and My Old Man and the Sea. Both great.

        • GernauMorat says:

          Just want to second the recommendation on the Patric Tull narrated Aubrey-Maturin series. He gives each character a distinct ‘voice’, without overacting. A real pleasure to listen to.

    • Premium User Badge

      john_silence says:

      May I add to the pile Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands, one of the earliest spy novels that doubles as an intricate ode to the laidback heroics of sailing.

  4. mgardner says:

    Excellent article, thanks. At the beginning, I was wondering to myself – if auto-pilot is engaged, what is there to do? Then you answer my question in your May 10 entry. It’s like you’re in my head.

  5. Biscuitry says:

    And I would sail five hundred miles, and I would sail five hundred more…

  6. UKPartisan says:

    Wow this sim looks great. I grew up in the Southampton area and always wanted to have a go at sailing, I didn’t get the opportunity until my late 30’s sailing around the Baltic in my Polish father-in-law’s small yacht. I will definitely be picking this up and plot a course from Gdansk to Southampton water (if possible). Thanks Brendan for bringing this game to my attention…How cool!

  7. moke says:

    Sail your way with Sailaway. Set sail! Now on sale.