A Royal Marines duo have successfully navigated the central section of the Arctic’s notorious North-West passage, in a 17 foot open boat.
Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Oliver (42) and Major Tony Lancashire (36) have taken 42 days to sail and row their 17-foot boat Arctic Mariner 1,400 miles through Canada’s Northern provinces. They started from Inuvik, on the Beaufort Sea on July 24, travelled east and arrived safely in Gjoa Haven on King William Island at the weekend.
A year in the planning, the duo’s expedition was conceived to raise awareness of the charity ‘Toe in the Water’ for which they have raised in excess of £10K. The charity is dedicated to inspiring injured servicemen and women to move beyond their disability through competitive sailing - an extension of Headley Court’s rehabilitation programme. Both of them are veterans of Iraq and Northern Ireland and Tony has also served in Afghanistan. Kevin will be deploying to Afghanistan on his return from the Arctic.
The adventurers used the latest Canadian ice charts to weave their way through the hostile
Arctic seas and landscape, braving freezing storms, pack ice, charging bears and curious whales. With typical Royal Marine sang froid, Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Oliver said, “This has not been all plain sailing, we have had 90% more ice than the seasonal norm and as a consequence have had to drag the boat across ice as well as row and sail it. The weather and local wild life has provided us with a number of heart stopping moments which rank among the most memorable of the trip, all of which was topped off by the hospitality of the people we met. A great adventure!”
At the successful conclusion of the voyage, Tony Lancashire said, “Every one of the 42 days has offered a unique experience, from the Arctic landscape and wildlife to the incredibly hospitable people that we have met in the northern communities.
Patron of the expedition, Major General Garry Robison (Commandant General Royal Marines), praised their achievement today:
“I have enormous admiration for what Kev Oliver and Tony Lancashire have accomplished. Not only have they demonstrated outstanding qualities of determination, fortitude and cheerfulness in the face of adversity, the money they have raised for the charity Toe In The Water will directly benefit and support servicemen and women seriously injured in the cause of their duty. The Royal Navy and Royal Marines should be justifiably proud of what they have achieved.”
The epitome of Royal Marine resourcefulness, Kevin and Oliver have succeeded where others have failed using a sailing and rowing ‘cruiser’ designed and built in Nova Scotia; called a Norseboat, the versatile craft was specially reinforced to cope with ice laden with a range of survival equipment and stores of freeze-dried food. It remained just light enough for Kevin and Tony to haul her onto the ice when floes threatened to crush her and to travel significant distances across the ice to reach open water.
For centuries mariners and explorers have dreamt of a Northwest Passage which would link the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean – and many have perished in the attempt to get through. Among the most notable was the voyage in 1847 by Captain Sir John Franklin during which he and the crews of HM Ships Erebus and Terror were lost without trace.
The expedition titled ‘Arctic Mariner’ has its own web site and Kevin and Tony managed to keep a blog running and post images through-out the voyage (www.arcticmariner.org).