5 x 7 inches
India ink and white ink on Bristol board.
The quest for the Northwest Passage is littered with sunken ships and frozen graves. For centuries, merchants dreamed the impossible: a sea lane that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific, a shortcut that would shave off thousands of miles.
First, they were blocked by land when they discovered the Americas. Then they were confounded by waterways whose exploration dead-ended. Finally, they were boxed in by great, endless swaths of ice to the north.
Still the expeditions persisted. There MUST be a passable strait. Saltwater didn’t freeze, they reasoned. Surely it was just a matter of navigation, of bringing along a hearty crew and enough provisions.
Year after year, century after century. Thousands bent on finding the passage returned empty-handed at best — or met a miserable end via scurvy, mutiny, or starvation.
It was only in 1903 that Norwegian Roald Amundsen cautiously hugged the shores of the Canadian archipelago and traversed, at long last, the fabled passage. Instead of a bulky expedition ship, Admundsen had a slim, square-rigged sloop. He and his six-man crew learned from the native Netsilik people how to live off the land and wore fur-lined parkas instead of wool. Nevertheless, the voyage took three whole years. It was entered into the record books; but even so the continual maw of ice and shallow water continued to crush mercantile aspirations.
That is, until the Arctic began to thaw.
In 2008, the first commercial freighter passed through unscathed. In 2016, a cruise ship sailed from Vancouver to New York City in just 28 days. Now there are talks of container shipping lanes, despite the hazards. The time and money saved, it’s being argued, would be worth the occasional delay.
As waters continue to warm, it remains to be seen whether the dream of the Northwest Passage will connect the two great oceans of the world…or melt away.