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Heading to 67° North

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Récit de Axel Galpy-Massé


We often talk about Venus, our sailboat Baltic 51, which accompanied and welcomed us throughout this long journey from French Polynesia to Quebec.

She is an incredible sailboat, magnificent on her lines, solid, reliable and comfortable upwind with which we sailed more than 15,000 nautical miles.


But Venus existed long before us!


Venus, Axel and Chloé have just arrived in the Magdalen Islands, Quebec,


Built in 1980, this is not Venus' first expedition!

Barely out of the shipyard, she had already passed through two hurricanes on her way across the North Atlantic from Finland to the East Coast of the United States! Later she crossed the Panama Canal once to the Pacific side. And then, before sailing in the tropical waters of French Polynesia where we took over her command, Venus lived several seasons in Patagonia and Antarctica with Christophe and Emma on board. They were chartering in the South through the canals and icy waters of this part of the world before changing the playground and doing some Arctic chartering this time aboard their new sailboat: LifeSong, a Garcia 68 in aluminum.


And the North in all this?

Montreal and Lyon are at latitude 44°N. If we go a little further north we arrive in Gaspé, which is at 48°N, like Roscoff in Brittany.

And then?


Today we are getting ready for a brand new adventure, a brand new expedition that will be full of learning and challenges.

If until now we have accumulated experiences in the warm waters of the tropics (except for the trip to Canada and the navigation of the St. Lawrence River) we are total novices in the high latitudes!

And what better way to immerse yourself in this unique universe than by embarking on a voyage of more than 1,500 nautical miles from Roscoff in Brittany to Bodø, at the 67th parallel, in the north of Norway, in the kingdom of the northern lights! If we take the comparison with Canada, it is more than 500 km north of Iqaluit, in Nunavut. And to top it all off, we will do it aboard LifeSong, Christophe and Emma's new sailboat!


LifeSong at anchor


It's like the circle of life: the new owners of Venus board the new sailboat of the former owners of our beloved Venus! Isn't that nice!


For me, this is a big challenge.

I have been lucky enough to have the role of crew member during international races and convoying on board large yachts such as Volvo 60s or Volvo 65s, and if these boats seemed big to me, then imagine a 68-footer! This is the very first time that I will embark on a sailboat of this size, and let's remember that 68 feet is more than 20 meters long!

Add to this an Arctic night that will plunge us into darkness for an average of 17 hours a day, the risk of snow as well as the presence of winter lows that could occur along the crossing and you have a winning combo for a hard and trying experience but rich in experiences.

And, to top it all off, I'm not "just" going as a crew member, but as the Captain's Mate. A very nice role that comes with a lot of responsibilities.

Am I a little stressed? Yes, it's normal, isn't it?



But let's talk about preparation. How do you prepare for a crossing like this?

It will be cold, wet. It will surely rain, and maybe even snow. A quick look at the weather forecast and we can see that when it blows, well, it blows. We might have to balance between the different depressions that follow each other, alternating between navigation and the so-called Patagonian anchorage, where we tie the boat to the land with 4 mooring lines on each side of the bay, to protect us and let the worst pass.

Roscoff-Florø-Bodø


In short, we are far from the warm, stable and pleasant trade winds of the tropics. This leads to one of the most important aspects of preparing for such a crossing which is, again, as presented in this article: the Mindset.

As a crew member and even more so as a first mate or captain, it is important to be aware of the rules of this game in which, in a direct confrontation, the only winner is Mother Nature. Being humble in front of this element is of utmost importance. Nothing is worth going in with brute force. If you want to go far, you have to know how to make yourself small and accept your limits.

Also, in the same way that I explained the rules of the game to my long-distance crew members, for this particular crossing you have to be aware of several aspects:

- It's going to be rough

- It will not be comfortable

- We will wonder what we are doing here

- It will be cold

- We will get wet

- Resting will not always be there

- The risk of getting seasick is non-negligible

- It is a team work

- The risks are real

- There is the possibility (small but real) that we will never reach our destination


I invite you to read this list a second time.


Still up for such an expedition? Good.


It's time to equip yourself accordingly.

One of the most important aspects of a cold crossing is to stay dry and warm, or at least to be able to stay dry and warm. Let me explain. You know the famous cold drop that drips down the back from the neck or down the arm from the sleeve? Not very pleasant, is it? If it only goes around once before it disappears, well, that's okay, it's not a pleasant experience but hey. But now turn the drop into several drops, which wander around, come and go without getting tired, wetting all your clothes in the process. It's enough to drive you crazy!

So say "no" to the drops. You have to stay dry. A good watch jacket and overalls can make a difference. Still not 100% confident? Then how about a waterproof shell and waterproof pants to boot? That'll keep the drop out of your flesh!

And the same goes for the cold.

Let's face it, evolution has done a pretty good job with onions and their skins, so why not take inspiration from it? Several warm layers will keep you warm while the breathable and waterproof outer skin will keep you dry!

And it's the same for your feet! The worst enemy of a comfortable crossing is to have cold and/or wet feet. For this expedition I opted not only for waterproof and felted boots but also for merino and waterproof socks, a first!



I remember a crossing on board a Volvo 60 between Bermuda and Antigua in November. It was relatively warm but we had rain for several days in a row, and on these boats forget the automatic pilot, there is none. I remember the first few nights, when I finished my night shift at 10pm and started my second shift at 2am. At the end of the first shift spent in the rain, all of our watch jackets were soaked and it took us about 15 minutes to change and get dry for the rest shift. Imagine the horror of, after having rested for barely 3 hours, it was time to wake up and put on the soaked jacket and overalls knowing that we had a 4 hour shift ahead of us in the heavy rain and big waves.

At the slightest hint of sunshine we were all trying to dry our gear knowing that the next night would be the same!


So now, instead of a nice 15 to 20 degrees Celsius, put in this hectic recipe with temperatures around zero degrees. I guarantee you'll want to stay dry!


Anyway.


Today there are only 6 days left until departure.

6 days before we cast off from Brittany towards 67° North. 5 weeks across the English Channel, the coasts of England, Scotland and the canals of Norway.

Until then, we must rest!


Take care of yourself!


Axel

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