Many options are considered before Adrian Flanagan returns to Tiksi to meet Merchant Ship 12/9/07

The Alpha Global Expedition’s main planning suite covered the primary objective for Adrian to become the first person to complete a vertical circumnavigation by sea. From that plan, groups of options were prepared for each section of the expedition. As Adrian proceeded through a section of the expedition, the onshore support team prepared additional plans to match conditions.

As was reported this week, the passage of Proliv Vil’kitskogo saw Plans A thru E prepared and considered against a flow of new satellite images. No single-handed sailor has ever been allowed to navigate along the Northern Russian coast and no expedition or commercial vessel has ever made a non-stop unaided passage of the NSR. Adrian therefore recognized that the chances of being able to make a non-stop unaided passage alone were extremely narrow. Part of the condition of obtaining permission from the Russian Federation to make the attempt was that there would be a series of fall-back options.

Conditions this year have meant that the only window of opportunity to take Barrabas through Proliv Vil’kitskogo was the very dangerous inshore passage. Western Arctic Marine Operations HQ were concerned that this option would mean Barrabas would be beyond icebreaker assistance and strongly recommended that he join a caravan of three small merchant ships that were forming to await an icebreaker escort and take the deep water route. In the event, the inshore passage was potentially viable for only three days. The brief change of wind direction hoped for was shorter than forecast, and multi-year ice began moving South early. This meant that the caravan option had to be cancelled because the prospects of taking them through what became 9/10 ice was unacceptably low and they are now expected to winter over in Tiksi.

AARI, the Russian Antarctic and Arctic Research Institute, organized an emergency meeting yesterday to review all the satellite images and consider other available information. They noted that in addition to the Southward movement of multi-year ice, new ice was already forming at the Western end of the inshore passage. This indicated that Winter was coming early.

Given the best available advice, Adrian decided to opt for the next option to pass through Proliv Vil’kitskogo. This option is a return along his old course for the Port of Tiksi. There Barrabas will be lifted onto a large ice-hardened merchant ship which will enable Adrian to continue his expedition west about. Currently he is battling a storm and making approximately 2 knots towards Tiksi.

Once aboard the merchant ship, safe passage is not fully assured but this is the best option for continuing West.

The merchant ship is of a specification not much different from that for an icebreaker, and will be assisted by nuclear-powered icebreakers. It has been assisted through new ice east of Tiksi and is expected to dock and load around late September, which means that conditions will be worse than at present. The vessel will be bound for Murmansk and the final decision of whether Barrabas will be put back in the water will be made on the basis of conditions as they develop.

Conditions aboard Barrabas are likely to prevent Adrian sending emails before he reaches Tiksi although he remains in communication via satellite phone.