Nordwind departs Camden for Northwest Passage attempt
Camden — Nordwind was expected to set sail from Camden to attempt the fabled Northwest Passage this week. The 86-foot Marconi Rigged Yawl spent more than a month preparing for the journey at Wayfarer Marine. The Northwest Passage is a route through the Arctic Ocean connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and weaving through the Canadian Archipelago.
Nordwind has set impressive ocean racing records and rounded Cape Horn; her rich history dates back to her earliest days at sea.
Nordwind and sister ship Ostwind have been followed by rumors of their history — and respective rolls in the German Naval effort. Both were standard commissioned ships and not used in the Nazi war effort, according to Nordwind Captain Alex Veccia as well as history of the ship on the website for the Atlantic Ocean Racing Series.
"[Nordwind] was a Navy boat in Germany and it was 1939," Veccia said, adding the important focal point is the "beautiful boat and the places [we] go."
Veccia said Nordwind was designed, and always used, as a racing yacht crewed by German Naval officers.
According to The New York Times, it's sister boat Ostwind was intentionally burned and sunk off the coast of Florida on June 5, 1989, after prevailing — but ultimately false — allegations that the vessel was Adolph Hitler's personal yacht during World War II. Both Nordwind and Ostwind were confiscated after the war and taken to England. Nordwind was purchased by Lord Hugh Astor who raced aboard the vessel. Ostwind was owned by the U.S. Navy for a period following the war and afterward languished in a Jacksonville, Fla., boat yard prior to its ultimate demise.
Veccia said Nordwind is owned by a German man who is a "lover of wooden boats" and an avid sailor. Veccia said in addition to Nordwind, his employer also owns other yachts including a 1912 Fife. The owner will be joining the crew in the Arctic for the voyage.
Veccia and Nordwind ended up in Camden after meeting Wayfarer Marine Dockmaster Ben Cashen at the Antiqua Classic Yacht Regatta in late April 2012.
"This is a place you can have everything done and they know these are classic yachts," Veccia said of Wayfarer. He explained that several projects performed at Wayfarer helped ready Nordwind for the crossing.
"All these guys, they've been great," he said of the Wayfarer team.
Argentinian-born Veccia has been the captain of Nordwind for three-and-a-half years. He said he first saw the boat in Buenos Aires.
"I said 'I want to sail with this boat,'" he recalled.
Veccia began as first mate and soon advanced to captain. Veccia is accompanied by a crew of six. While he said he's never sailed the Northwest Passage — and he approximates only around 30 other yachts have — he said he's looking forward to the crossing.
"These types of trips, you have to respect the fact that they are very difficult," Veccia said.
He said the ice forecast is a major factor in the Northwest Passage crossing. Veccia said the voyage to Vancouver is about 7,500 nautical miles. He and the crew plan to head from Camden to Nova Scotia and precede to Newfoundland where they'll spend about one week before heading to Greenland around July 16. He said the crew will assess the ice forecast from Greenland before attempting the crossing. Veccia said there are only short windows of time when certain portions of the Northwest Passage are free enough of ice to cross. Timing and speed are of the utmost importance in order to assure that Nordwind and the crew cross during optimum conditions — and that they don't get iced in, he said.
"I think it's a brilliant adventure," Veccia said. "If you like sailing challenges, this type of trip...what do you say?"
Until the latter part of the 20th century the Northwest Passage was often too icy to cross by boat but with environmental changes, diminished ice has made it passable. Veccia approaches the opportunity philosophically. He said less ice makes for a safe trip, but acts as an indicator that the climate has changed considerably.
"We benefit from the sadness that the ice is melting," Veccia said. "It's a contradiction."
Veccia said he looks forward to seeing the Northwest Passage in person. He said by journeying to that part of the world he can "come up with a story from common people" about the melting ice. He said it's something people frequently read about and see on the news, but few have the chance to see first-hand.
"We're not biologists, we're sailors," he said.
Veccia said crossing the Northwest Passage also has become easier with advances in technology.
"These days you have much more information," he noted.
Specialized equipment aboard Nordwind includes a state-of-the-art thermal camera that will help the crew detect ice at night. Veccia said radio contact and nearby bases with ice-breakers also serve as resources that weren't always available in the past.
Veccia said the crew doesn't want to push through the ice. They'll gauge their trip based on conditions.
"Every scratch is painful," Veccia said.
He said while Nordwind is a wooden ship, it is re-enforced with steel and has water-tight bulkheads. Though the boat underwent a total restoration around 2001, those features are both original to the vessel.
A seasoned sailor Veccia has captained Nordwind around Cape Horn, sailed the Strait of Magellan and the Chilean Fjords but has never sailed the coast of Maine or visited Nova Scotia.
"The one bad thing about this crossing is that we'll be far away from this area," Veccia said. "I hope I come back here."
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.