Historic sailboat rides wind to new adventures

The search for a route from the Atlantic around the top of North America and into the Pacific consumed explorers for centuries. Within the last decade more and more sailing adventurers have been traversing the waterway.

Last summer, the classic wooden boat The North Wind came across the Northwest Passage and moored in Homer for the winter.

In 1905, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first person to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage in a wooden sailboat. Other ships tried to cross before the 1900s, but they were forced to abandon the quest, disappeared or were “crushed like a nut on the shoals and buried in the ice,” as one 20th-century Canadian captain put it. Since the first boat crossed until 2007, about 110 boats successfully completed the trip, according to data collected by the BBC. Due to the Artic ice breaking up, more boats in the last decade have had success in the crossing. 

The North Wind’s international crewmembers talked about the Northwest Passage trip and how excited they are to explore more of Alaska. 

A few days prior to their next Alaska adventure, the owner and his guests arrived. Last Saturday the 88-foot sailing vessel departed on its way to Prince William Sound with the owner, his guests and five deckhands on board. 

“We have heard so much about the fjords and glaciers of Prince William Sound and are very interested in seeing the beauty,” said Peter Sotham, one of the deckhands from Argentina.

Over the winter, the Homer harbormaster kept an eye on the sailing vessel. Two weeks ago, Captain Alex Veccia and crewmembers from Argentina and Brazil arrived to do maintenance work including rigging the sails and lines, an oil change and refueling. The other crewmembers have worked on boats their entire lives, so they are seasoned sailors on the water.

The owner of North Wind, Otto Hanz-Albilstch from Europe is a wooden boat collector. He also owns the Veronekui and the Gione. The North Wind has sailed all over the world, including the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Mediterranean, to New Zealand, around Cape Horn and through the Northwest Passage. 

The Veronekui is stationed in Spain and the Baltic Islands. The Gione is a 1912 classic sailboat and is in Newport, R.I. 

This past April, the owner raced the Gione in the Antigua Classic Boat Regatta and won first place, said Igor Mestriner, a crewmember from Brazil.

In 1939 in Germany, Herman Gruber designed two yawl sailing ships, the North Wind and her sister ship, the West Winds. Both ships were built for the Nazi Navy. Mestriner said that Adolf Hitler chartered the West Winds. Now the West Winds is deteriorating in a shipyard in Scotland. The North Wind had a better fate, and has been sailing constantly all over the world thanks to the owner and crewmembers aboard who keep her in top shape.

The North Wind has said “bon voyage” to Homer, and is off to its next adventure in Prince William Sound. After Prince William Sound the vessel will follow the wind to its next exotic location.