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July 28, 2012

Going behind The Other Side of the Ice
P.A.E. President Dan Streech offers a prologue to the recently published Nordhavn owner-penned book

Sprague Theobald has owned three Nordhavns. His first was an N46 named Gryphon which was purchased in 1993. A casualty of divorce, Gryphon was later replaced with another N46 Perseverance and then finally by the N57, Bagan which was hull #10 of that 40 boat production run. 

Who is Sprague? What does he do? Now 60, Sprague has led a life of adventure which has included 40,000 miles of open ocean travel- much of it on Nordhavns. Additionally, he is an Emmy™  winning film maker, author, explorer, investor, ocean racer, American’s cup crewman and even a chef before he gave up drinking in his late 20s. By the way, he also produced the “Welcome to Nordhavn” video that many of you have seen.

Sprague and I hit it off immediately during his purchase of Gryphon and have been fast friends ever since. It is seldom that a day goes by without some kind of e-mail exchange between us ranging in nature from political to social to personal or just the typical one…”How about that @#$%ing market?”

So, when Sprague approached Jim, Jeff and me in late 2007 about attempting a voyage through the Northwest Passage, he knew in the back of his devious little mind that he was putting a match to gasoline. It had been over three years since the successful completion of the NAR and those three years had been busy and prosperous for P.A.E. We were hungry for the next adventure and ready to join him. 

Several ideas were kicked around. Sprague of course was already positioned in Newport, Rhode Island with Bagan, so his passage was certainly going to be from east to west. The idea on P.A.E.’s side was to produce an N43 for the passage and then sell it afterwards much like we did with the ATW N40.  We would either ship it to RI and travel together with Sprague or depart from Seattle and travel from west to East.. meeting in the middle.

As time went by, work load realities and time constraints brought an end to the N43 idea and we readjusted our plan to be a simple financial support and sponsorship of Sprague’s adventure. But first, we decided to go up to the Arctic and take a look. During the summer of 2008, we booked three staterooms on the Akademik Ioff, a Russian expedition ship scheduled to transit the NW Passage in the fall of 2008. Jim and I with our wives, together with Sprague, made the trek to Cambridge Bay where we boarded the ship for the ten day adventure…which turned out to be equal doses of exquisite adventure and gut wrenching emotional turmoil.

Prior to departure for the trip, there were financial rumblings in the world markets and the housing bubble was already showing itself to be teetering.  But, even knowing that, we still thought that things were “normal”.  We had no idea of what was about to happen, and it literally “happened” while we were aboard the ship in the Arctic. Each morning, the ship produced a two- or three-page news summary which they somehow picked up through a radio transmission. I dreaded that daily report as it showed the rapidly declining American financial situation which led to the fall of Lehman Brothers and a free fall in the markets. Jim and I were sick with despair and worry about what this meant for P.A.E. and were helpless to do anything about it.  We were carrying an Iridium phone which was used a few times to call home, but it was problematic as it needed to be used outside in the frigid (and often windy) conditions and the connection was scratchy and imperfect. Additionally, I had left town with my personal portfolio exposed without stops or sell orders. I knew that it was taking a massive beating. Not the formula for having fun. Amazingly, we somehow still did.

By the end of that trip through the Arctic, Jim and I knew that we would be going home to some serious challenges at P.A.E., and that sadly, we were not going to be able to support Sprague, that our primary obligations were to our customers, factories, employees and to the fundamental survival of P.A.E. through what turned out to be a massive challenge to the boat building industry.

The long introduction above brings me to the purpose of the posting: Sprague soldiered on, overcoming endless obstacles and DID IT! Sprague transited the Northwest Passage in his Nordhavn 57 Bagan during the summer of 2009. It was an incredible adventure which involved danger, despair, exhilaration, adversity, perseverance, risk and ultimately success. Through it all however ran a second thread, an unexpected and unplanned for discovery; Sprague reconnected with his son and two step children and picked the scab off of unhealed wounds and unfinished business from many years earlier. 

The best part?  Sprague has brilliantly and wonderfully captured this story in his new book The Other Side of the Ice.  The book is now available on Amazon. I have read it and it is great! Also, a documentary of the trip is in final editing and will be completed soon. To follow the progress of the documentary and to get a preview of the book, check out Sprague’s web site at: http://spraguetheobald.com/ 

Dan Streech
Reporting from Squirrel Island, Maine