June 05' 2009 - #105
Fleur Australe Visits Saint Barth
French sailor Philippe Poupon, with his wife Geraldine Danon and their four children, 12 year-old Nina, nine year-old Loup, two year-old Laura, and one year-old Marion, stopped in Saint Barth recently before setting off on a grand adventure: Poupon is going to attempt the Northwest Passage, a sea route which goes through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America via waterways amidst the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
His sailboat is a 65’ aluminum ketch with a special retractable keel designed especially for use in such polar areas. The boat has good insulation, two heating systems, and a sheltered wheelhouse. The hull is reinforced with waterproof compartments in the front of the boat that can cut through ice effectively. The keel can be pulled up, giving the boat a shallow draught, which allows it to navigate rivers and pull up onto the beach. Rigged as a ketch, the rear mast is carbon fiber, and the rear deck can carry two dinghies. The boat can handle a crew of eight people, with a large reserve of fuel and food. It was designed for long missions in terms of comfort and security: life-saving wet suits for each crew member, distress flares, radar, satellite communications, and weather forecasting systems. The boat was put into the water for the first time in December 2008 in La Rochelle, France, and pulled up its anchors on February 11, 2009 to head to Lisbon, Portugal, where the crew got ready for the first leg of their journey. From The Banc d’Aguin in Mauritania toward a transatlantic crossing, Fleur Australe navigated in the West Indies during the month of May, before sailing to New York in early June and heading up the East Coast of the United States starting in early July, toward the Northwest Passage.
This northern maritime passage, which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by navigating between the Arctic islands of northern Canada, can only be traveled during the summer months, as it is frozen the rest of the year.
The various islands in the Arctic region of Canada are separated from each other, and from the Canadian continent, by a series of channels of various depths, collectively called the Northwest Passage.
In 1490, navigator John Cabot was the first to put forth the hypothesis that there was a possible trade route to the West, via a northwest passage. For almost 300 years, various explorers continued to search for this passage, losing many lives and sinking many ships as they tried to navigate the Arctic islands. Norwegian sailor Roald Amundsen was the first to make it through the passage, between 1903 and 1906. In 1977, the first pleasure boat managed to thread its way between the islands, and since that time, almost a dozen boats have made it through the passage, which is free of ice earlier each year due to climate changes and the melting of the glaciers. The adventure that Philou (nickname for Philippe Poupon) wants to share with his family is also an observation mission in which Geraldine will film the effects of global warming, and post her footage frequently on an Internet blog.
Poupon arrived in Saint Barth, where he maintains a residence, in late May. The 1986 winner of the Route de Rhum and his family spent a few days relaxing in their house in Vitet, getting ready for their nautical adventure. On May 25, Bruno Magras, president of the Collectivity of Saint Barthélemy a presented the sailor with the flag if the island, so that Fleur Australe (with Gustavia painted on the hull), would be the first sailboat to carry the colors of Saint Barth around the world. Poupon set sail for New York on June 4, and will continue its journey up the East Coast toward Canada.
To follow the journey of Fleur Australe online: www.fleuraustrale.fr
More to come