Young sailor calls into Lerwick as Northabout heads for Arctic Circle

A group of adventurers visited Lerwick this week before setting off on what they hope will be a record setting journey to the Arctic Circle.

The eight man crew arrived in Shetland on Tuesday evening having started their four month journey in Bristol.

Sailing with the crew onboard Northabout – an Irish-made aluminium-hulled vessel – was 14-year-old Benji Edwards, and his father Steven.

Of the eight men who arrived in Shetland on Tuesday Benji is one of only two who will stay with the yacht for the duration of its four-month trip, sailing counterclockwise around the Arctic Circle.

The Russain yachtsman Nikolay Litau is captaining the expedition and will lead with experience having previously made seven trips in the Arctic Ocean and a circumnavigation of the Antarctic.

Expedition leader David Hempleman-Adams is another old hand who will be lending his experience to the crew. He is a seasoned adventurer who has visited both the North and South Poles and was also the first man to reach the highest peak on all seven continents.

Benji will be able claim himself as a record setter if he completes the journey, being the youngest person to complete the trip “by about 20 years”.

From Lerwick the crew will call in at Tromso, Norway, before concluding the first leg of the trip in Murmansk, Russia.

During the second leg they will travel through the North East Passage, with the exact start and duration of the trip being dependent upon ice conditions.

After stopping for provisions in Point Barrow, Alaska the third leg will see the crew tackle the notoriously dangerous North West Passage.

Finally they will sail down the western side of Greenland, stopping a few times along the way, before eventually arriving back in Bristol in mid-October.

Although Benji was in part inspired by a sense of adventure he explained that the journey also aimed to highlight two charitable causes.

One charity they are raising money for is the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (Act) in Cambridge.

Money donated to Act will go towards funding research on inflammatory bowel disease, a condition which Benji lives with.

A second charity, Wicked Weather Watch, will also benefit from the adventurous exploits of the Northabout’s crew.

This charity aims to give young people access to unbiased information about climate change.

In performing this journey the crew will be highlighting the need for imminent discussions about the fate of the Arctic.

Steven said that until recently making such a trip in one season would have been impossible because of the narrow timescale between the ice melting in both the North East and North West passages and then refreezing again.

The journey was only completed in one season for the first time three years ago.

Steven added: “We try to stay out of the politics but the fact is there is less ice.”

Benji joked that beyond highlighting the realities of global warming another reason for the journey was “sibling rivalry”.

He explained that his older sister, Bea, had visited the South Pole in 2011 – on the 100th anniversary of Ernest Shackleton’s famous expedition – and he was unable to go at the time.

Benji hopes to bring home the bragging rights by being the youngest person to ever sail the Arctic Circle.

Although the crew of the Northabout hopes to use their sails as much as possible they do admit that the engine may be required in order to meet their tight schedule.

As a result the boat has been loaded full of fuel provisions, as well as long-life food to ensure survival during the lengthy time spent away from ports.

Another essential item for the trip is the satellite system which will allow them to monitor the weather and send emails as they travel.

Steven said: “Knowing the weather can save your life out there. If you sail through a storm in the ocean your boat might take on water but in an ice pack with the ice crashing about you’re in real danger.”

Despite the risks of the trip Steven is not worried about his son’s chances of completing the trip.

He described Benji as a “determined” teenager who has an affinity with the outdoors. He added: “if the journey is successful he’ll make it to the end.”



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