The Northwest Passage is the sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America. This 6,000-kilometer stretch of treacherous waters is considered one of the most dangerous nautical routes in the world. For centuries, explorers sought a navigable passage as a possible trade route to Asia but were blocked by North, Central, and South America; however, in 1906, a team of Norwegian sailors successfully traversed the passage. Since then, specialty vessels with crews of dozens, if not hundreds, of highly trained sailors have attempted the voyage; some emerged successfully on the other side, but just as many were forced to turn back, call for rescue – or worse.
In the summer of 2022, a new expedition set course for northern waters to attempt the crossing. Rather than a team of a hundred hearty sailors with specialized skills in a reinforced ice-breaker ship, this expedition was made up of a crew of three from the e-Ribbing RIB Adventure Team who cast off from Antwerp, Belgium, in a rigid inflatable boat – known as a RIB. This particular RIB, a Seafighter 36 Cabin, is 11m (36ft) long, weighs 2,500kg (5,500 lbs), and holds 600L (160 gals) of fuel. The space for 10 passengers was used for food, medical, navigational, cold-weather tools, and supplies. The two 350hp outboard engines provided the power, efficiency, and reliability to get the boat where it needed to be quickly and safely while saving precious fuel. Also aboard the RIB was a Parker Village Marine LWM-180 Watermaker, powered by an ABB Baldor-Reliance totally enclosed fan-cooled (TEFC) DC motor.
The LWM-180 is a small, efficient, reverse-osmosis desalination system that produces as much as 180 gallons of fresh water per day. The setup is ideal for applications where space and power are limited, which made it the perfect choice for the Arctic RIB expedition. LWM-180 is manufactured by ABB OEM partner Parker Hannifin Corp (Parker). Founded in 1917, Parker manufactures motion and control solutions, including fluid power systems, electromechanical controls, and related components. Its products find use in various industries and applications, including food production machinery, alternative energy, life sciences and medical, oil and gas, power generation, industrial machinery, agriculture, construction machinery, marine, mining, chemical and refining, telecommunications, aerospace, industrial and commercial refrigeration and transportation, among others.
The RIB Adventure Team, consisting of two experts in the marine field and one nautical journalist, began planning for the northern expedition in 2020. They aimed to navigate in the wake of Vikings and great 18th-century explorers who dedicated their lives to discovering the shortest passage to the Pacific Ocean. If successful, the trip would be the first time in history that a pleasure RIB would achieve the crossing, but making the record books was one of many objectives. The team would use the voyage and resulting publicity to raise visibility about climate change's intense impact on the Arctic. Ice is melting rapidly, and more and more heat accumulates in the oceans, accelerating global warming. In the last 30 years, polar ice has decreased by 75 percent.
On July 3, 2022, the team left Antwerp, Belgium, on a 4,000 nautical mile journey that would take nearly two months and pass through treacherous, icy waters; unrelenting waves; high winds; dense fog and pounding rain. The cold of the air and the sea foam never let up. Hypothermia was a constant threat, as was being thrown into the rough seas. Navigating across open oceans, through fjords and around ice floes, the crew of the small vessel made port when it could to rest, resupply and repair damage to the craft. While trapped in ice for three days in northwest Greenland, and again for a full week north of Qaanaaq, the northernmost settlement on the planet, the LWM-180 provided the only source of fresh water, literally keeping the seafarers alive.
Finally, on August 19, the RIB Adventure Team’s expedition ended. For the first time in history, a rigid inflatable boat had come so close to the North Pole. It was an epic journey to one of the last parts of the earth reached by a man; one that that remains untouched and unexplored even today. Parker and ABB were able to play a small - but incredibly significant - part in the journey.
Click here to read the entire account of the e-Ribbing “Ribbing for Arctic” expedition.