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John Bockstoce became the first person to travel the Northwest Passage, from West to East, in a small boat. This adventure took most summers from 1972 to 1988. He and his crew undertook this feat in a Umiak -- walrus hide stretched over a wood frame to make a boat capable of moving through an ice strewn sea. These boats are indigenous to the Eskimo culture. John Bockstoce is an Artic historian and archaeologist, schooled at Yale and received his doctorate at Oxford in England. Working with the National Geographic Society he undertook this 3500 mile passage from the Bering Strait off Alaska to Baffin Bay in the NE of Canada. He and his crew encountered high winds -- 70 mph.+ on occasion, brutal cold (hard to believe it’s summer time above the Artic Circle!), and the ever moving, ever crushing pack ice. “Artic Passages” detailed, scaled maps give a good sense of the distance traveled and to reinforce this incredible accomplishment of long journey in an open boat.
Jon Bockstoce’s Umiak was originally built in the 30’s. It was 32 feet long, about 5’ wide at the gunnels and had a transom like stern, on which a 2-cycle outboard motor up to 50hp. could be hung. For their size these boats where light as often the ice forced the mariner to the beach. After unloading the gear one could roll the boat up on the mud (little sand in the Artic) on fenders and turn it on its side, bottom facing the wind. Here the Umiak became a shelter to cook and sleep under.
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