Arctic Mission

Envisioning Reality

By Pen Hadow

Pen taking the helm on Snow Dragon II during a test sail off the coast of Nome, Alaska. Photo: Conor McDonnell

When’s a dreamer not a dreamer? When’s a waster not a waste? What is the difference between wasting time in your head and doing good stuff outside your head? It’s my experience that my dreaming is the essential first step to the projects I create.

Sometimes ideas come to me through an unexpected and rapid sequence of linked thoughts that take place over a few seconds during a run, or going for a walk, or during a film or show.Sometimes these seeds begin to germinate and put down roots and sprout leaves. And sometimes one of these plants begins a growth surge and starts to block out the sunshine of those around it, and to suck in the nutrients from wherever it can. There is a sense of its growth being random, organic, and authentic. But such ideas are always exploiting the environment created by my previous projects.

Pen conducting vital scientific research for the Caitlin Arctic Survey. Photo: Martin Hartley

And so it was with our Arctic Mission project.

I don’t mind admitting there have been days, weeks and even months last year when I began to question whether I had become a full-time dreamer who had lost his way in converting imaginative ideas into practical projects. Delivering the series of Arctic Surveys (2008-2012) had been an immense challenge. The team of spirited and talented individuals who had worked with me to deliver the Surveys had made so much possible. But by the end of the series I was on my knees with exhaustion. I has emptied the tank physiologically and psychologically. My visage had changed so much, I looked like a different person. I remember saying to my life-enhancing doctor, Is this what I’m going to look like from now on? And he had laughed and said, Yes! And suddenly it was OK to look that drawn, almost sepulchral. If he had bought into my anxiety it would only have fed it further. It took another two years to restore my mojo, if my facial appearance is anything to go by. Some might argue another few years and some surgery could still help things along, but at least I now feel fully restored!

Pen Hadow: polar explorer Photo: Martin Hartley

Which brings us to the summer of 2016, and an idea I was mulling over. A rather Big Idea. Had the deterioration of the Arctic sea ice got to a point where switching from Spring-time sledge-hauling to Summer-time sailing was appropriate? In my solo journey from northern Canada to the North Geographic Pole in 2003, I had spent over 30 hours swimming open water stretches, out of the total 850 hours spent hauling my sledge while walking on skis across the sea ice. It had dawned on me then that global warming was the likely cause of so much open water. Since then, it has become highly unlikely that the ski route from northern Russia to the Pole will be done again, due to the absence of sea ice for most of the year off the Severnaya Zemlya island group. And the other classic route from northern Canada no longer has an aircraft operation to provide the necessary support for sea ice expeditions, due to the worsening quality of the sea ice. Both routes have now been lost to the Arctic Ocean’s fast-changing environment. And with this change, the Arctic Ocean with its hitherto frozen summer surface is now rapidly becoming open-access to surface vessels for the first time in human history.

Would it be possible to sail a small yacht to the Pole? Could that create a useful platform to share the unfolding situation with a global audience? Might this be the best way I could focus world attention on the merit of creating a new marine reserve in the international waters surrounding the North Pole? Why? Because the already super-vulnerable marine wildlife in these water, of which so few people are aware, are about to face a large number of new threats that they are ill-equipped to cope with. Time is of the essence. Could I pull such a venture off? Just one more time? Would it break me or set in train a sequence of events that might one day lead to an international treaty to protect the North Pole region?

Well, let’s find out …!

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Arctic Ocean and portrait images by kind permission of Martin Hartley:

Yacht and wildlife images by kind permission of Erik de Jong:

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