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Frenchman finishes first known transit of Northwest Passage by solo rowboat

  • Author: Chris Klint
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 18, 2015

A Frenchman has completed a two-year, 3,700-mile eastward trip across the top of the world, becoming the first person to traverse the Northwest Passage alone in a rowboat.

Charles Hedrich arrived in the Canadian village of Pond Inlet, in the territory of Nunavut north of Baffin Island, at about noon Alaska time Thursday, according to a statement from backers Respectons La Terre (Respect the Earth) announcing the end of his voyage "from Bering to Baffin."

"To succeed, the 57-year-old adventurer had to display an immoderate tenacity and an exceptional marine spirit," the statement read.

Previous ocean rowing achievements such as a 36-day trip from Senegal to Brazil, in addition to a two-month voyage across Antarctica, left Hedrich well-prepared for his solo attempt on the Passage. His son Nelson was following his progress from shore, and the boat was well-stocked with a variety of dried foods including a staple of Hedrich's at-sea diet: beef jerky.

Hedrich began his trek July 1, 2013, departing the Western Alaska village of Wales on the Bering Strait aboard a specially designed one-man rowboat with a solar-powered GPS autopilot, satellite phone and electronic reader. About two weeks into the trip, he told Alaska Dispatch News he had faced setbacks from wind and intermittent solar recharges but his spirits were high after he received seal meat from Kivalina residents during a stop en route to Point Lay.

With a generally favorable season, Hedrich traveled more than 1,800 miles that year, seeing bears and getting his boat lifted by a curious whale, before ice forced him to winter in Tuktoyaktuk in Canada's Northwest Territories.

During the voyage, Hedrich often had to duck into the rowboat's small enclosed cabin to keep the sweat of rowing from compromising his cold-weather gear.

"Despite his size (6 feet, 4 inches tall), he has to change himself constantly to stay dry in this constantly humid environment," the statement read.

In summer 2014, Hedrich took to the water once more, covering about 1,200 miles before he made his second wintering stop in early September in Taloyoak, Nunavut. He often rowed throughout the day during his time afloat, sleeping 10 minutes at a time, he said.

On his final leg, Hedrich covered about 600 miles, departing Taloyoak on Aug. 13 and pulling into Pond Inlet after a combined 165 days of rowing during the two-year trip. This year's trip, with 36 days of rowing, was perhaps the most eventful of the three, with Hedrich evading an attack by a polar bear and holding an impromptu convention aboard the cruise ship Le Soléal as it began a Greenland-to-Siberia trip through the Northwest Passage.

Hedrich even faced a last-minute emergency, when he had to put out a cabin fire during the final 22-mile dash to Pond Inlet.

"The adventurer takes his grill (the origin of the fire) and put it in the ice-cold water," the statement read. "Some materials damaged in the cabin, a burned hand and some hairs burnt but nothing serious."

A webcam aboard the boat showed him making the final strokes of his oars with his back to the sea, his expression one of determination as he pulled on the handles and the paddles bit into the water.

Residents of Pond Inlet alerted to Hedrich's arrival on Facebook greeted him on the beach as he arrived Thursday -- having traveled from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic on the strength of his arms.

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