November 6, 2009
Rebuttal by Sprague Theobald
During these past five months, while I was away on my attempt to transit the Northwest Passage (which I’m very happy to report ended with great success last night, 11/5, at Elliot Bay Marina here in Seattle) I understand that there was quite a heated discussion brewing on various chat sites regarding the nature of my undertaking, whether it was foolhardy and reckless or well thought out and the amazing challenge that it was. Far be it from me to stand by idly while people banter my intentions about, I thought it was time that I chimed in with a few thoughts of my own.
First, and I apologize up front if this comes off as abrasive as it’s going to sound; but if you haven’t done The Northwest Passage on a 57’ Nordhavn built in 1999 with a crew of five, at the exact same time of year that we did and in the exact same conditions, you probably have only thoughts and summations at your ready and not hard, cold experienced facts. From where I stand this lessens the strength of your argument and while your thoughts and suggestions are always more than welcome, your feelings of whether I exercised the proper amount of caution etc are simply moot. If you’ve been on an ice breaker and had experience with pack ice in other parts of the world, that’s all valid and interesting. But if you hadn’t been beside me for the past two years as I did my due diligence, helped me pick my crew, discussed routes with those who have done it before and took the time to go up there and look at it first hand with me, I don’t understand why you feel you can condemn our actions. And now, a bit more about that..
The idea to transit The Passage wasn’t something that came to me overnight. I’d had the interest for most of my life, read as much as I could and in the past two years did some very active research; visited The Passage, talked with geologist and naturalist, met and talked with locals at various towns up there, was in constant touch with Peter Semotiuk who lives in Cambridge Bay who has been helping vessels to and through the ice for years. I discussed design needs and or alterations with Nordhavn as well as two commercial designers. I studied the ice conditions and general flow of the past five years. The crew and I met many, many times before we got into the prep-mode to discuss and try to find an answer for every “what if” scenario we could think of. I could go on and on about all the pre-work but as I’m pretty sure the minds of those who see this trip a reckless are pretty inflexible, so will leave it at this; I’m not out to try and change anyone’s opinion, just shed some light onto what I did and did not do to prepare for this trip. Besides, if you weren’t aware of the above facts about my prep work, how could you make a negative judgment? That completely boggles my mind. I do have to say that the only people I heard from for the entire 8500 miles were the supporters. Those who disagreed with my venture never contacted me with their concerns or questions. Very illustrative.
Finally, the crew and I discussed the worse case scenario many-a-time and here’s what we lived and thank God, didn’t die by: Seeing as we were the ones who got ourselves up there, we weren’t going to seek out and ask anyone to come an get us out trouble if it occurred. The scenario of calling in an icebreaker was totally out of the question. In fact, a boat who was trapped north of us asked for help from the Canadian Coat Guard. The Cost Guard learned that we were in the same area and asked if we needed help as well. Yes, we were stuck in the ice, but no, I turned down their offer of a rescue. It was simply up to us. If I lost Bagan that was between me and the bank. If I lost a crew member the decision had already been made months before, that, that final call was up to the crew member and him alone.
This is how I see it; this wasn’t about records or achievements, this was simply about a collective dream and trying my very best to help five other people realize it. Chasing a dream is risky but without risk, what in God’s name is life about? Look at any of our great achievements, they all came from a base of calculated risk, which is just what this program was built upon. How else will we learn about ourselves and grow and thereby be better to those around us for it? Finally, if I have a plumber come to my house to fix something, the mere fact that I’ve never done what he does keeps me from telling him what he’s doing wrong. I have nothing to say. If the job wasn’t done right, I can ask him to come back and take another whack at it but apart from that, he’s the pro. Simply because I read a book about plumbing or held a wrench for a friend who plumbs doesn’t allow me an active critical voice. As I stated in the beginning, if you haven’t been on Nordahvn57 in the Northwest Passage in the same conditions at the exact same time of year as we were and had done the exact same amount of research that we all did, you don’t have a lot to add to the argument except constructive opinion. Was it reckless, you bet! But I spell that word a bit differently, it was most assuredly wreck-less.