In the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada foothills, miles from the sea, Ben and Danielle Zartman built an ocean-going sailboat with which to cruise with their growing family. Having no definite plan, they simply sailed away to see how far they could get. After five years and 12,000 sea miles, they finally moved ashore in Rhode Island, having cruised from San Francisco to Newfoundland by way of the Panama Canal. But Ganymede’s not done yet! Upgrades, refits, improvements, and more voyages to come.
It goes without saying that high-latitude cruising in general requires special considerations. Between cold water, cold air, and ice, not to mention a sluggish compass and scanty cartography, it can get pretty hairy up there. To sail the Northwest Passage adds another whole layer of requirements on top of that. These pages summarize everything I can think of that the sailor needs to consider when planning a NWP transit. After transiting from east to west in the summer of ’22 in a 47-foot fiberglass sailboat, I can confidently discuss what worked, what didn’t, what would have been nice, and hopefully clear up common misconceptions. While one transit may not an expert make, few have done it more than once; and while many have far more experience with ice than we got in our 112-day voyage, nonetheless I’ll share what I learned, hoping that someone will find it useful.
The Modern Gaff Rig
Let’s discuss the beautiful union of cruising hull with cruising rig. Any decently beamy, heavy hull, with a keel at least mostly full, slack bilges, and an attached rudder—in short, a hull designed with comfortable, dry passagemaking in mind will be the perfect platform for a gaff rig. The advantages of a such a rig are immediate and obvious, but let’s begin with the engineering side.