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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

A Sailing Vessel Bound For The Artic
April 27, 2017

hen Berny Peissel left Oriental’s Town Dock a few days in to spring, he turned left and pointed the S/v Exiles north. Many other sailors and boats do the same this time of year, looking to avoid the extreme heat and humidity of a southern summer.

But the boat Berny was delivering, Exiles, would be going farther north than the typical snowbird in a search of more temperate weather. Climate – and the changes to it — are what brought the boat to Oriental this spring.

S/v Exiles left Oriental a few days in to spring. If things go according to plan, the aluminum boat will spend more than a year above the Arctic Circle.

Exiles, a 43-ft Meta aluminum sailboat built in France was on its way to Boston where Berny Peissel would end his part of the trip. He was delivering the boat for his son, Nicolas who bought it to sail through the Northwest Passage. Again.

Nicolas Peissel made news – and records – 5 years ago when he and two others sailed another sailboat across the NW Passage. “Warming global temperatures and melting polar ice caps,” the Los Angeles Times reported in September, 2012, “have helped a trio of explorers go where few men have gone before.”

Nicolas Peissel, center, with his cousin, Morgan Peissel, left, and Edvin Buregren, in 2012 on their passage through ice. The boat was a Hallberg-Rassy Monsun. Contributed photo.

While big freighters and icebreakers have pushed through the ice pack, the three sailors were the first to take a humble fiberglass sailboat – a Hallberg-Rassy, just under 31 feet long – through the McClure Strait, at the far northern part of the Northwest Passage.

That strait in far northern Canada had historically been packed with ice which would make it a tough go for a sailboat. But that’s been changing and that is what the three – Nicolas Peissel of Canada, his American cousin, Morgan Peissel and a fellow adventurer, Edvin Buregren of Sweden wanted to show. As the LA Times reported, they “set out on the quest to bring awareness of the changing climate that has radically reshaped the planet’s North Pole.”

Northwest Passage options above the Arctic circle. Contributed photo.

Now, Nicolas Peissel wants to make another trip across the most northern of the possible Northwest Passages. Berny Peissel says his son spent about a year looking for the right boat for this trip, before finding Exiles in Italy.

“He bought this one the 1st of November and sailed it to the Canary Islands. His cousin, Morgan sailed it across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and on to Florida. I picked it up in Florida. I’ll deliver it to Boston where it will be outfitted for his second passage through the ice.”

Barney Peissel in the cabin of Exiles which will be his son Nicolas’s home above the Arctic Circle this summer,

Berny Peissel was making the final leg of the delivery because NIcolas was busy working in Africa for Doctors Without Borders. “He leads different crews for that organization.” Berny said in late March, when Nicolas was in South Sudan. “A few weeks back, the UN declared South Sudan was in famine and he was the one who got the news to the UN.”

“Last year he was in Yemen. Before that, he was in the Central Africa Republic. He does a lot of work in nations that are at war. He also coordinated aid teams in the aftermath of a tsunami.”

Exiles at Oriental’s Town Dock in March.

Transitioning from hot spots to cold ones that are warming up, Nicolas will meet the boat in Boston to prepare it for this trip. There’s an aluminum dodger ready to be installed, along with solar panels and a wind generator. (The other boat had solar panels but no wind generator.)

It should make for a more comfortable – and better — vessel for this next passage. As Berny peisselnotes, “The aluminum hull on Exiles is 16 mm thick; that’s quite a thick boat, completely insulated, which will be a big advantage. The fiber glass boat had no insulation.”

Berny Peissel aboard Exiles.

In June, Berny says, his son will set out of Exiles for Newfoundland, the departure point for the final destination, Ulukhatuok, a village on the Beaufort Sea some 100 miles from Canada’s border with Alaska. This is well above the Arctic Circle and the plan is to take the northernmost of the possible Northwest Passages across Canada.


Timing, very precise timing, will be crucial. That was underscored during the 2012 expedition through the Northwest Passage. “It is virtually impossible,” Berny said, “to have a continuous passage.” That’s because parts of the Arctic melt at different times.

Most glaciers in the Atlantic come from Greenland, Berny notes, “Some very impressive glaciers were coming down on them at one point” in the 2015 voyage.” They went into this bay with towering mountains all around them; the tide went out, they found themselves aground in mud and had to wait it out. Contributed photo.

From his home in Montreal, Berny used satellite phones and texting to communicate with the crew While they used a ham radio receiver, Berny says, “Ham radio is not usable directly, too much electronic effect in the Arctic; the Aurora Borealis is all electricity. On top of that, they can’t even use auto pilot because you are too close to the North Pole. A magnetic compass is not much help up above the Arctic Circle.”

So how to get your bearings? “On the last trip,” Bernysays, “they flew a big kite armed with a Go-Pro so they could see the boat in relation to the ice around them.”

As for the ice floes, he says, “you see them and you can get around them. But a cubic meter of ice is one metric ton of water. Sometimes you have these one ton pieces of ice floating around that are completely transparent; you can’t see them, and if you hit one the wrong way, you can damage the boat.”

Looking up and out of Exiles companionway while the aluminum boat stayed at Oriental’s Town Dock in late March. Now, visualize standing at this helm, whileabove the Arctic Circle attempting to make the Northwest Passsage just as the winter storm season starts. That is what Exiles crew hopes to do – twice – in the next year and a half.

“On one occasion they noticed a passage they wanted to go through was opening up. They rushed in and then had mechanical problems.” Berny says. “It was a race to sail back 15 miles around this ice floe to get back to the town of Resolute in extreme northern Canada.”

In Montreal, where he lives, Berny ordered parts from Paris for the repair. “They got lost in Sweden, but they finally got to Montreal.” he recalls. “I drove them to a plane in Ottawa which took them on to Resolute where they picked them up.”

Old standby Instruments for sorting out weather conditions. On the 2012 Northwest Passage, the crew deployed eye-in-the-sky-technology — a camera on a kite helped them see where treacherous ice lay in relation to their boat.

The biggest challenge for a sailboat without an icebreaker is that there’s a very limited period in which the Northwest Passage might be possible. “The last week in August through the first week in September is the only window for them.” Berny says “If anyone has seen the PBS program, The Deadliest Catch, the weather you see in that show is the nice season. The ice has melted the most in that time frame.”

But also around then, Arctic storms begin, he says. “You won’t get through after they start.”

Back in 2012, the crew of three had a choice – and history – to make. They could have jogged south for an easier time of it, but instead, they took the northernmost route becoming the first sailboat to do so.

That shaved a thousand miles off their voyage, Berny says. But it was a very close shave.

“When they were approaching McClure Strait, they were told that there was going to be a southwest wind for a short time only. They would have only a 36 hour window to get through the Strait or they would be stranded in ice.”

For this year’s passage through the ice, Exiles appears to be a potentially more resiliant boat. Exiles “The aluminum hull on Exiles is 16 mm thick. That’s quite a thick boat – completely insulated, which will be a big advantage.,” says Barney. “The other boat was fiberglass with no insulation.”

More than 10 feet longer than the boat used in 2012, Exiles also looks like it would provide more elbow room down below. “This boat has a double cabin, a fold down bed, for a single or a couple.” Berny says. “The owner’s cabin is forward, two heads, lot of light, a very airy boat. ”

Sleeping quarters.
Head and storage space.


There will be some additions made before Berny’s son heads off from Boston.

“We have built an aluminum dodger for this boat. We also have solar panels and a wind generator. The other boat had solar panels but did not have a wind generator.”

Preparing for departure from Oriental on Saturday morning, March 25. Berny Peissel and a friend/crew member, Bob Lennox, work with the mainsail.
At left, recording the Town Dock surrounds is Berny’s nephew, Alexis Peissel, who was crewing on the delivery run to Boston. Alexis sailed across the Atlantic when he was two years old. “I learned to walk on a boat.” He lives in Hickory, NC now.

“By late June, the boat should be ready to go north. Nicolas will take it to Newfoundland to pick up the scientists at St. Johns who are going along.”

“A number of scientists will be on board for this next trip.” Berny says. “One of them thinks he has info about a wooly mammoth coming out of one of the glaciers. Another one wants to go to Wooly Island where fur hunters who lost a battle with the elements a century ago supposedly left a cache of furs. Last summer, an expedition to this area left buoys registering scientific material. One of the scientists making this trip will try to retrieve them and bring them back.”

Exiles sails under the Canadian flag. Berny Peissel was born in England. He spent 25 years as a television producer before retiring to begin a second career doing home renovations. He lives in Montreal and is a Commander in the Coast Guard Auxiliary for the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Then, it’s off toward the Beaufort Sea via the Northwest Passage.

“Once they arrive at Ulukhatuok, they will leave the boat there. Nicolas will assemble a new crew next year and return to Ulukhatuok in 2018 and take the Northwest Passage traveling east.”

And if it makes that Northwest Passage at the highest latitude ever for an unaided sailboat, Exiles will reinforce the point that Nicolas Peissel and crew made in 2012: that the arctic is melting at an alarming rate. Or as the crew put it then: “Our approach to sail across a historical stretch of water that has traditionally been frozen is meant to be a clear visual example of the extent of declining polar ice.”

Some might see an advantage in that. In its coverage of the 2012 expedition, the LA Times wrote, “Though environmentalists decry the shrinking polar ice caps — and coastal regions are already having to cope with the ominous (and expensive) rise of sea levels — the opening of the traditionally ice-blocked Northwest Passage would bring potentially lucrative new shipping routes.”

That gives Berny Peissel more pause. “The scientific community already knows that global warming is real. And, as more water melts, the oil companies are going to be searching for more oil; that’s not good. “

Berny Peissel on board_Exiles,_ while in Oriental in March. It is his son’s boat, but the sailing tradition in one he passed on, having built a 36-foot sailboat when his sons were young. After delivering Exiles to Boston, he is planning to build a multi-generational home in Montreal where Nicholas will also live.


Website about the upcoming expedition.

An account of the 2012 expedition

Posted Thursday April 27, 2017 by Melinda Penkava

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