The Polar Ocean Challenge – History in the Making

The Polar Ocean Challenge made history by becoming the first British yacht to sail around the Arctic Ocean (anticlockwise) in one summer season.

On Thursday 20 October 2016, Northabout and her crew returned to Bristol. The historic Polar Ocean Challenge (POC) was a success, but it brings home an important message – this journey was only possible because climate change is causing the northern ice cap to melt.

Until recently there has been too much ice for even a small boat to get through in one summer. The Northeast and Northwest passages used to take 2-3 years each to complete but such is the extent of sea ice-melt – NASA estimate 13.3% each decade – that it took the POC just 4 months to complete the whole journey.

For David Hempleman-Adams this expedition was about much more than being a record-breaker. Having witnessed 1/3 of the Arctic ice disappearing over the last 30 years, David wants to draw attention to the impact:

‘The possibility to circumnavigate the Arctic was one I wanted to take despite the risks in order to focus the world’s attention on the Arctic. Whilst we are delighted to have succeeded, it is extremely worrying to see this lack of ice so starkly. It shows we’ve got real problems with climate change.

Permanent irreversible change in the sea ice landscape of the Arctic seems inevitable. The lives of people living in the normally year-round icebound communities will alter drastically, as will the habitats of walruses, whales, seals, polar bears and whole ecosystems in the sea. We can try to make sure that this change is handled carefully, sustainably, responsibly.’

Route map of The Polar Ocean Challenge

The Route

The expedition was broken down into four legs:

First Leg: left Bristol, UK 19th June; arrived Murmansk, Russia, 14th July

Northabout called at Lerwick, Scotland and Tromso, Norway.  They crossed the Arctic Circle and passed the most northerly point of mainland Europe.

Second Leg: left Murmansk, Russia 20th July; arrived Point Barrow, Alaska, 28th August

Northabout made it through the icy Northeast Passage, sailed over the 180 degree and International Date lines and over their half way point.

Polar Ocean Challenge route map leg 2

Third Leg:  Point Barrow, Alaska to Iqabuit, Baffin Island (Canada)

Fourth Leg:  Iqabuit, Baffin Island (Canada) to Bristol, UK, arriving back on 20th October 1016.


An Educational Adventure

This record-breaking voyage was only possible because the northern ice cap is melting due to global warming. Until recent years there has been too much ice for a boat to get through, and circumnavigating the North Pole in one go has been impossible. But due to sea ice retreating, the number of ice-free months in the Northeast Passage has increased, opening up both the Northeast and Northwest passages of the Arctic Ocean at the same time. The opening of these passages is the most important geographical landmark to date to signal the rapid progress of global warming.

David made this journey to highlight changes in the Arctic due to climate change. His passion to protect the Arctic comes from seeing the changes first-hand:

“We hear about global warming on the news, but it can be difficult for people in the UK and around the world to fully appreciate the threat until it directly impacts them. I’ve seen massive changes since 1982 when I first went to the Arctic. There’s a lot less pack ice. If we get around, it will show we’ve got massive problems because normally it would take three years. To do the whole journey in one season indicates what state our planet is in.”

“The Arctic is ours to look after. From a very early age children can start to think about this, which is why Wicked Weather Watch is so important.”


Northabout covered 13,500 nautical miles… that’s more than 590 marathons.  If you completed a marathon a day it would take you more than 1.5 years!

Go to the Polar Ocean Challenge website

Polar Ocean Challenge link

What’s the big deal?

In September 2010, Norwegian polar explorer Børge Ousland completed the first circumnavigation of the North Pole in a trimaran. In the same season a Russian team achieved the same feat. These were the first recorded instances of the circumnavigation of the North Pole without an icebreaker.

Northabout was the first British yacht to sailing anti-clockwise around the Arctic Ocean!

14 year old Wicked Weather Watch Youth Ambassador, Ben, became the youngest person to have sailed around the North Pole “by about 20 years”.

Did you know?

In 1878  Finnish-Swedish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld made the first complete passage of the Northeast Passage.

What are the Northeast and Northwest passages?

The Passages are Arctic Ocean sea routes, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Northeast passage follows Norway’s coast and the desolate cold coast of northern Siberia (Russia) and the Northwest Passage runs along the coast of North America via waterways through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and the icy waters of Alaska.

Cool Facts!

Cool facts

  • The Arctic ocean is the smallest and shallowest of the world’s oceans.  It covers 5.4 million square miles which is more than the area of Europe and almost the same size as Russia!
  • There are 3 types of ice that cover the Arctic ocean – polar ice, pack ice and fast ice.
  • Polar ice never melts completely and can be as thick as 50m in winter and as thin as 2m in summer.
  • The ice at the edge of the polar ice is known as pack ice which only freezes completely in winter.
  • The ice formed around the pack ice and the land around the Arctic ocean during the winter is known as fast ice.

Click on the polar bear family to take a closer look!

Sleeping polar bear family

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