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Northwest Passages: Reaching for the Beaufort Sea

Tracing one warm line

My noble mission to travel the infamous Northwest Passage using only my wits and salty sailing sim Sailaway [official site] continues with all the recklessness of a manic toddler. Last time the crew and I got stuck in water a metre deep after we made the definitely joint decision to detour into a place called Terror Bay. But nothing can stop this valiant vessel. The Bluster & Guesswork will not know failure. It will not know disruption. It will not know defeat! I mean, it’s a boat, it won’t know anything.

June 4

We are free of Terror Bay. I just logged on and this was magically the case. Either the game warped our boat a little to help with our running aground problem, or the bay simply forgot to kill us during my long absence from the game. If only Franklin had experienced such fortune. Go to sleep one evening and wake up four days later with the wind at your back.

So that’s that. We’ve scurried free and have since travelled 400 miles, past Cambridge Bay, past the Queen Maud Bird Sanctuary, past… Umingm… Unigtum.. Umi… past many different places! We are now further along the journey than Franklin’s own expedition. Everyone aboard must be praised for their diligence. Except Mr Tooltips, who is prone to hubris.

June 5

We are coming up on the halfway mark of the journey – about 1800 nautical miles – and it is RAINING. Just look at this glorious drenching we are getting.

The sun is still faintly visible on the horizon, giving the water a golden and friendly sheen. It’s a mild squall, the ship bumping along on the low waves and – importantly – the wind is behind us. Gennaker up, lads! We’ll be free of this wetness soon. If we can pass the halfway mark less than six weeks after setting off, it’ll be a grand accomplishment.

June 7

Strong wind, big waves and clear skies welcome us to the Beaufort Sea. We are making excellent time now that we have cleared the narrow passage of islands, inlets and enclaves. From this point it’s more or less a long straight line until we hit the northern tip of Alaska, or so says navigator Mr Google. 1697 miles to go, and if the weather stays this kind we’ll be through the Bering Strait before you can say “AH FOR JUST ONE TIME”.

I briefly wonder: where are all the other sailors? Sailaway is an online game with many players in the world at once. But it seems only we are brave enough to sail the most treacherous routes of the world. Everyone else is bobbing about in the Caribbean, or sailing off the coast of sunny Hawaii. Their little boat-shaped icons basking in the warmth. Cowards!

It’s only when I consult Quartermaster Mr that I learn most other players are actually in the middle of huge storms, purposefully testing their mettle in winds many times stronger than I have ever experienced. Fare thee well, gentle sailors! I will never again call thee craven.

June 11

We are at the most northern tip of Alaska now. The ship’s cat (my cat) has just leapt onto my face (the screen) and almost knocked over the entire vessel. I have expelled her to the brig (an open cupboard full of cardboard boxes). The wind is blowing firmly and strongly and we are bobbing along at 5.5 knots. Mr Tooltips has cut a long and beautiful arch over the Beaufort Sea.

We are only 1149 miles from cutting out of the Bering Sea and entering the pacific ocean proper, thus completing our journey. Amazing progress everyone.

I have to go. The cat has climbed to the top of the brig and can’t get down.

june sixteenth (???)

884 miles to go. abs wretched waves. bobbing all over the place. might be the five beers i’ve had on board but i feel very unsteady and am upset with both mr tooltips and mr google. we’re not even in the bering sea yet! still sailing in the chiko… chuto… chuk… still sailing in some other damned sea. get to work you lazy dogs! don’t look at me like that. il not have it. back to work

June 17

Blugh. We are currently edging up to the Bering Strait, which will see us passing between superpowers. Very exciting. To think 20,000 years ago this whole area was a land bridge that connected North America to Russia, and that some folks absent-mindedly wandered over and spread humanity to an entire continent, before being cut off by millennia-long geographical forces beyond their ken. Cast away in a land without easily domesticated animals, shaping the history of the world just by going for a bit of a walk...

But this is no time for day dreaming! The winds are blowing with worrying strength. Mr Tooltips has added two reefs to the mainsail, to stop us from being blown over like a paper cup. He mumbles something in the toolbar about taking down one of the reefs, so like a good captain I humour his request, even though I definitely don’t need to do anything he says. He changes his mind 30 seconds later, and instructs me to put the reef back up. I do so without complaint. Now he wants me to take it down again. This is ridiculous. I won’t play your games any more Tippers. Remember who the captain is here.

I consult our Boatswain, Mr Windy-dot-com, who says the seas here will be fierce for a while with the highest waves I’ve seen on my travels so far. He also asks why he is now the Boatswain when last week he was the Quartermaster. I’ve no time to address such inconsequential concerns. A group of other players’ boats appear to be travelling northwards in the Bering Sea. That means only one thing – storms. Because, as I’ve learned: where the bad weather goes, players follow.

They are all making their way towards us (but still a fair way off). I peer at the ships names on the map - the Winter, Sasha-Ann, the Atom Heart Mother. All terrible names for ships. They are not strong, stable monikers like the Bluster & Guesswork.

I disregard the other sailors. 100 miles and we’ll be through the Strait, inclement weather or no. Then, the final stretch. Hoist the mainsail, Tippers! Oh, yes, it’s already up. No, I knew that.

I knew that.

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