Category: Archive

Irish yachtsmen defy Russian arctic ban

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Six Irish yachtsmen have broken radio silence to reveal they defied a Russian ban and secretly entered arctic territorial waters to land on an island and thus achieve their ambition to become the first to sail a small yacht so far north in ice-strewn seas.

They spent several hours on the Russian ice-covered Victoria Island, or Lostrov Viktoriya. It is 47 miles farther north than their original destination, the archipelago of Franz Joseph Land.

"We broke all the rules in the book, but we essentially achieved what we wanted," said skipper John Gore-Grimes."

He and his crew had originally hoped to become the first to reach the virtually ice-locked archipelago on a small yacht. He had made two previous attempts, in 1989 and 1998, but on both occasions was forced to turn back by ice.

Gore-Grimes, a Dublin lawyer who has a worldwide reputation as an expert arctic sailor, had sailed from Howth last month. He was informed at North Cape in the north of Norway that the crew had been refused Russian visas.

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Yu Bog’vski, deputy chief at Russian military GHQ, said foreign citizens were not allowed enter the area.

Angry and disappointed, Gore-Grimes and his crew set course for Franz Joseph Land on the 44-foot yacht Artic Fern, hoping there might be a change of mind by the Russian authorities.

"Two days out, a large Russian trawler came close beside us and we were interrogated most politely about our destination. We exchanged pleasantries and it sped off to the east," he said by satellite phone.

Maintaining radio silence, the yacht entered Russian waters without permission. Later the crew landed on Victoria Island, which the USSR claimed in 1933.

"It was extraordinary place, like a frozen museum of the Cold War. It is about the size of Inishmaan in the Aran Islands. There were abandoned buildings, transmitters and a large radar which was completely rusted," Gore-Grimes said.

Gore-Grimes and his crew, Nicholas Healy, Robert Pendleton, Reggie Reville, Peter Culliton and Kieran Jameson, then traveled north to try to sail higher than 81 degrees north.

After six and a half hours, impenetrable ice forced them to turn back at 80 degrees 44 north.

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