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Polish boat sets sail for Northwest Passage

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KETCHIKAN, Alaska — Ryszard Wojnowski slid his finger along the perimeter of the polar ice cap, pausing on the village of Dikson on Russia's north coast.

"In Dikson we stayed two and a half weeks," Wojnowski said, still pointing to the map. "Here was the most difficult part."

The Kara Sea, on the edge of the northern cap, catches and holds sea ice, which last year was thickest in the area since 2006.

The Polish engineer and recreational sailor — on a year-long voyage around the arctic on his yacht, the Lady Dana 44 — slid his hand from east to west across the sea.

"You need to get wind from here so it pushes the ice out," he said.

Sitting at the table inside the Lady Dana 44 (which is actually 47 feet long) Wojnowski told the Daily News about his trip so far, which has been partially documented online at http://arctic2013.pl/en/, and how he and his crew of seven had arrived in Ketchikan.

Wojnowski set sail from Sopot, Poland, on June 8, 2013, planning to circle the North Pole beginning on the Russian side, crossing the Bering Strait to reach Nome — as far south in Alaska as they intended to go — and returning along the top of the North American continent.

It was the Dikson delay and some engine trouble that halted the trip.

"We wanted to do it in one season," Wojnowski said, "but due to difficult ice conditions, we only managed to pass the northeast passage above Russia."

After Dikson, the Lady Dana 44 crossed the Bering Strait to arrive in Nome.

"We went straight from Bering Strait to Vancouver," he said.

The crew took 17 days to travel 2,000 miles. The Lady Dana 44 has traveled more than 10,000 miles since it was finished in 2013.

Wojnowski stored the yacht, which he had built for his current voyage, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Oct. 15 and flew home to Poland for the winter.

The Lady Dana 44 — steel-hulled to withstand the arctic ice — was constructed in Poland by a Dutch yacht builder.

Wojnowski, his wife, Dana — the vessel's namesake — and six others returned this summer to Vancouver and are now working their way up the Alaska coastline.

"We are slowly moving forward so our friends could see Alaska," he said after arriving in Kethickan in mid-June. "People say Alaska is one of the most beautiful places for sailing in the world."

From the First City, the Lady Dana 44 will travel up to Petersburg and Sitka and onward up to Southcentral Alaska before rounding Nome and passing through Canada on their way to the Atlantic Ocean and Poland.

So is he worried about passing back through the strait?

He hesitated.

"We don't worry because we crossed the Bering Strait once," he eventually said, "and it was quite rough. We hoisted the life raft."

It was from the strait that the crew moved quickly for Vancouver.

Wojnowski was mostly confident that he and his crew would be able to get from Nome on Aug. 1 to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, in northern Canada by Aug. 17.

"Normally it's possible to pass northwest passage, but in the arctic, we're never sure, eh?" he said. "We hope it will be OK."


Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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