Eric Forsyth Completes Daunting Northwest Passage

Polar Bear floats alongside, Resolute Bay (R. Roberts photo)

Doyle Sailmakers congratulates Eric Forsyth for having just completed the daunting Northwest Passage on his Westerly 42, Fiona. This is truly a remarkable feat and makes Fiona one of the first pleasure craft to have completed the 7,000 mile journey connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Ice floes press Fiona in Resolute Bay

Ice receding has allowed the remote Northwest Passage to become navigable without the aid of an icebreaker in 2007.

Fiona aground at low tide, pushed onshore by ice at Resolute Bay (R. Roberts photo)

Ice and weather data via satellite is needed to avoid the ice, but even with favorable ice reports, getting trapped in the ice is still possible.

View from the deck of Fiona aground at Resolute

” We pushed on for nearly twelve hours before we had to admit we were stuck and we tied ourselves to an iceberg just before midnight, although the light from a watery sun illuminated the fog and the gloomy scene around us. I was awakened by a crash and the sudden tilting of my bunk. We all rushed on deck; a berg had collided with our own icy haven, it had rotated and the underwater mass had lifted Fiona’s bow clear of the surface. With the stern still in deep water I started the engine, put the transmission in reverse and we slid back into the sea as though we were on ways. We found another floe to attach ourselves to on the lee side using the dinghy anchor; one piece of equipment I had omitted to bring was a four-pronged grapnel. The fog started to lift and soon the shore of the Boothia Peninsula was visible just less than half a mile to the east. It looked rocky and very bleak. A check of our position on the GPS showed that we were moving north with ice-field. We were still in a clear pool of water but it was shrinking, by lunchtime clear water had virtually disappeared and we were surrounded by ice, some of which was obviously ‘old’ ice with thick pieces tilted up on edge. After lunch I checked our progress north in the field, we were heading back towards the Tasmanias at about 7 nautical miles a day. The chart showed a promontory and bay on the coast just before the islands, I was concerned the ice may push us into them. I decided to call the Canadian coast Guard to advise them of our position and see if there was an ice breaker in the vicinity. I told them we were not in immediate danger and they advised getting the inflatable ready so that we could reach the shore of the Boothia Peninsula if Fiona was crushed and sank.”

Eric logged 8,873 nautical miles in 124 days since departing Long Island on June 15. Eric and his crew averaged 112 miles per sailing day, including those in which they were trapped in ice. Eric, at 77, is now on his way back and plans on completing his circumnavigation of North America in May of 2010.

Eric’s sailing adventures began with his wife Edith as crew on a 1964 trans-Atlantic passage. They later cruised the Caribbean in a 35-foot sloop, Iona, and they later did extensive cruising in Fiona. Following his wife’s death in 1991, Eric continued sailing, going around Cape Horn and cruising to Newfoundland and Labrador. Eric was awarded the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America in January, 2001. The citation reads: “The Blue Water Medal for 2000 is awarded to Eric B. Forsyth for a remarkable voyage in his 42 ft sloop to Antarctica from his home port at Patchogue, Long Island via the Panama Canal; Galapagos; Easter Island, Puerto Montt, Chile, and after Port Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsular to South Georgia Island; Tristan da Cunha; South Africa, and returning home by way of St. Helena, Barbados, St. Martin and Bermuda. This was a 21,784 mile voyage, completed in ten months with a crew that varied between one and two young men. Furthermore, Forsyth wrote copious descriptions of his entire cruise including a special guide to the Patagonian passages, including mileage of each segment, fuel consumption, and all the features of the land and nature encountered.”

In November 2007, Eric was awarded the Seven Seas Award by the Seven Seas Cruising Association. The citation reads, “Signifying the highest international recognition of a cruising sailor whose experience on the sea demonstrates a deep commitment to good seamanship, and an understanding of his ship and the environment.”