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Protector sailors complete Northwest Passage to prepare for Antarctic mission

Two officers from HMS Protector sailed the fabled Northwest Passage to hone their ice skills ready to take their ship back to the Antarctic.

Lieutenants Charlotte Eddy and Alastair Newton joined the US Coast Guard’s largest and most advanced icebreaker for the 4,000-mile journey between the Pacific and Atlantic via Canadian waters – a route the Royal Navy unsuccessfully sought to open for decades.

The two-month exchange on the US Coast Guard cutter Healy from Alaska to Greenland will help them guide Protector through the Antarctic ice when the ship begins her austral summer programme of surveying and research later this year.

The Royal Navy tried repeatedly to navigate the Northwest Passage in the 18th and 19th Centuries to spare ships the voyage around Cape Horn at the foot of the Americas.

Legendary explorer Roald Amundsen finally proved it was navigable 115 years ago and global warming means the passage is becoming easier – but for much of the year it remains a perilous journey.

Charlotte and Alastair joined the Healy in Seward, Alaska, from where they headed into the ice on a 4,000-mile journey which took the ship through the Bering Sea, Beaufort Sound, Amundsen Gulf and Melville Sound to Resolute Bay and finally Baffin Bay.

The aim of the exchange was to qualify the two officers as ice pilots for their return to Plymouth-based Protector which is currently deployed to the South Atlantic.

Like Protector, Healy’s main role is a scientific research ship so while making her historic passage, teams from some of the US’ top universities were embarked, carrying out a range of experiments, research and data gathering.

In Resolute Bay the Healy linked up with the Canadian Coast Guard ship Amundsen to practise joint search and rescue techniques and methods in the unique Arctic environment.

It’s very hard to single out one event which was a highlight of this trip.

Lieutenant Alastair Newton

On completion the Healy continued eastwards towards Baffin Bay – the eastern end of the passage, so big it’s actually a sea with Baffin Island to the west, Greenland to the east.

In doing so, Lieutenants Eddy and Newton believe they could be the first Royal Naval officers to transit the Northwest Passage since Admiral Robert McClure in the 1850s and his expedition to find HMS Terror and Erebus, which vanished attempting the voyage a few years before.

“It’s very hard to single out one event which was a highlight of this trip,” said Alastair.

“Along the way we saw walruses, polar bears, a variety of whales, unfortunately however, we didn’t glimpse any narwhals.

“The Northern Lights were amazing, seeing the CCGC Amundsen again – she’s a ship I have served in in the past – was awesome, however, playing my own very small part in providing a platform for the scientific research into climate change in the region really must be it – especially when you consider COP26.”

It’s the second year running Protector’s officers have benefited from an exchange aboard a USCG icebreaker.

Last year, two exchange officers sailed with the cutter Polar Star as she pushed her way north through the Bering Sea – an experience which helped guide the British survey ship as she made a record-breaking foray into the Arctic over the summer.

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