We couldn’t demonstrate it, but we keep on saying it anyway

We, Belgians, are not a seafaring nation. Our Northern neighbors, the Dutch, have a longer track record and are much better in it. Yet we had a polar explorer in our ranks. His name was Adrien de Gerlache and he lead the expedition of 1897-1899 to the Antarctic in his ship “Belgica”. On board also volunteer first mate Roald Amundsen (Norway) and physician Frederick Cook (USA). Amundsen became much more famous for his later expeditions than De Gerlache.

In a nutshell: De Gerlache and his crew left the port of Antwerp ill prepared, got stuck in the Antarctic ice (in the at that time not charted Bellingshausen sea), desperately trying to dig out the wooden vessel, surviving a harsh winter with limited food and only after 13 months they finally succeeded to find open water (probably more despite him than because of him). Although the mission failed miserably and was incredibly close to disaster, they were celebrated as heroes when they sailed back into the harbor of Antwerp two years later.

I couldn’t help thinking about this when I heard of the adventures of the Mainstream Last First team. They couldn’t complete their mission and had to abort their adventure because of blocking sea ice ahead. Now they are celebrated as if they had proven their case. Not only at their own website, but also for example at Global News. There was a video titled: “Modern day explorers traverse the Arctic for climate change”. In fact, this was not really the case. They didn’t traversed the Arctic at all. They wanted to row a part of the Northwest Passage, but they got stuck half way their mission. And yes, they tried to row for awareness for climate change, but had to stop just because climate change was absent this year (the Arctic didn’t melt as much in summer, leaving more pack ice intact and in other places freezing it earlier).

The title “Modern day explorers traverse the Arctic for climate change” is misleading to say the least. Someone who only reads the title will have a different understanding of the case than the one that actually saw the video to the end. Those who only read the title will think that this “modern day explorers” did succeed in traversing it and that the cause (climate change) is still alive and kicking. It takes to actually look at the video to know that the message of title is NOT true.

There all back home in Vancouver, after a failed attempt to become the first to navigate the Northwest Passage under human power alone. They already accomplished a lot, said Kevin in the middle, who just three years ago set the world record to fastest, unsponsored land track to the South Pole. Now he turns his attention to the other side of the planet.

[Kevin Vallely, Antarctic World Record Holder]
There is far less ice in the Northwest Passage now than there has be over decades past. And we thought that by traversing it in a single season on human power we really would make a really strong statement about the changes that are happening in the Arctic.


They repeat their message about the crossing being a strong statement. Now they weren’t able to traverse that part of the Northwest Passage (which according to their theme should be open for non ice-breaker ships because of the melting of the ice), how strong is that statement still?

They basically blamed it on the wind. While that is perfectly plausible (if the wind is drifting them out of course they will be delays and missing the opportunity of that window where the passage is open), they forget to tell us that the passage closed much earlier than last year. From another Arctic rower we got to hear that last year the Passage closed mid-October.


Pinned by ice or being blown of course meant delay after delay and by late August time and daylight was running out to the point where the decision had to be made. The crew had rowed almost 1,900 km where it should have been 1,500 km.

They did encounter ice and wind and had to divert it which added more kilometers. The wind blew ice into their direction. Ice that shouldn’t be there. Ice that should have melted because of climate change and result in an ice free passage suitable for crossing by a unstrengthened row boat. Can we also conclude that they were ill prepared (of very unlucky) and/or that their boat was no match against the ice? So much for the cocksure “only possible now due to the melting ice in the Arctic”-statement from when they started. They encountered already multi-year ice in Franklin Bay and pack ice in Darnley Bay. That was early in their trip.

[Denis Barnett, NW Passage Rower]
Essentially, the Arctic is as we say the Canary in the coal mine for the rest of the world. If all these changes has been magnified right up there, you know, then there must be something going on, you know?

The canary in a coal mine is a nice way to put it, but it seems a strange statement to make after the canary suddenly started to whistle even stronger than before.

If their theme was that the trip would be a really strong statement for Climate Change, then failing to do so must mean that it is not that strong statement after all. While it doesn’t stand anymore, they still make this statement as if they already traversed it and demonstrated their case.


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