Chinese sailor Guo Chuan is planning to go through the North East Passage in the 97ft trimaran that Francis Joyon sailed round the world

What’s the ideal yacht for attempting to set a record transiting the North East Passage?

You might think a steel yacht, or aluminium perhaps, something that resists crushing by ice, a sturdy craft equipped sensibly, if not beautifully, with a pilothouse or other shelter on deck.

You mightn’t think: the best yacht would be a round the world racing trimaran.

But Chinese sailor Guo Chuan did. He has just bought has bought Francis Joyon’s 97ft trimaran IDEC. Surprisingly, he didn’t buy it to better Joyon’s lone round the world record – or at least not for now – but to set a record, the first officially recognised speed record, for going through the North East Passage.

Guo Chuan and Francis Joyon

Guo Chuan and Francis Joyon

Guo Chuan, former Volvo Ocean Race crew and the first from his country to sail solo round the world, took over the Nigel Irens-designed trimaran in La Trinité sur Mer last month and will train with Joyon throughout April before renaming the yacht Qingdao.

The project follows nearly two years’ research on the feasibility of attempting the North East Passage from Murmansk to Providenya. The World Speed Sailing Record Council has agreed to adjudicate on the first attempt of this world record challenge, skippered by Guo Chuan with an international crew from the UK, France, Norway and Russia.

After attempting to set a North East Passage record, Guo plans to sail along the maritime silk road from China back to Europe. His team says: “Guo has no plan to sail round the world with this boat yet, but we do have plans for the next three years.”

But going through the North East Passage is not guaranteed in one year. The route can often be impeded by ice, with every possibility of having to spent two seasons making the long journey through the Bering Strait. The map below shows the remoteness and length of this most difficult ‘sea voyage’.

Who is Guo Chuan?

Guo, 50, is an aeronautical engineer who got the bug for sailing back in 2000 when he joined friends from the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club for a day on the water. In 2008 he was picked to be the media crewmember on the Irish-Chinese Volvo Ocean Race entry Green Dragon and in 2012/3 he set a record as the first Chinese person to sail solo round the world, sailing a Class 40.

North East Passage

North East Passage

The North East Passage

The passage from Novaya Zemlya or Franz Josef Land to the Bering Strait was first completed in 1878 by Swedish scientist Nils Adolf Nordenskjöld in the ship Vega.

The first modern yacht to do so was Apostle Andrew, skippered by Nicolai Litau from the Moscow Adventure Club in 1999, who sailed from Murmansk back to St Petersburg.

It is now commonly used by the people of Russia as the shortest water route between Russian ports in Europe and the Far East, and this passage offers a saving of 5,000 miles. It is, however, carefully guarded, and taking a Russian crew is often a precondition of gaining the necessary permissions.