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Captain Oliver Huin witnesses the effects of the climate crisis on his northern journey
She was stored at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club all winter after a failed attempt to cross the Northwest Passage last summer, but this year the Breskell and her crew completed the voyage in 70 days.
They arrived in Port Townsend, Wash., in late September.
The yellow 51-foot sloop garnered attention at the yacht club in Conception Bay South with its message, "Let’s make the planet great again!" written in black across the hull.
Captain Olivier Huin built the Breskell in 1986 and has since sailed from his home in France to the Caribbean, Africa and his new home in the United States. There it sat on the east coast of the country, but he needed to bring it to his west coast home in Port Townsend, Wash.
The options to get there were to truck it, which is expensive, and not environmentally friendly; sail it around Cape Horn, a longer and dangerous route; go through the Panama Canal, something Huin has already done; or take it through the Northwest Passage.
Huin thought the last option was best because he had never taken that route before, and he wanted to see first-hand the effects of climate change in the North.
Last year, the sloop struck a growler in Lancaster Sound, derailing Huin’s plan to make it through the Northwest Passage.
He brought the boat back to Newfoundland, where it sat for the winter at the yacht club.
On June 8, he returned to Conception Bay South and stayed there until July 17, getting the boat ready for his second attempt through the passage.
Yacht club ‘did everything’ to help
In the span of those few weeks, Huin said, he was amazed at the kindness shown to him by people at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club.
He said by the time he set sail on his voyage, he felt like he was leaving family.
“Those people were awesome. I really thank them a lot for all their co-operation, for their help. They did everything they could to help us.
“Whenever I needed the crane, whenever I needed anything, they were ready to do. It seemed like my schedule became their schedule. It was amazing. I never saw that in a boatyard.
Usually when you ask, ‘Oh, may I put my mast up?’ they’re going to say, ‘Oh, maybe in two or three days we’ll be ready,’ but over there, right away.”
He said anything he asked, the staff and club members were accommodating — something he hasn’t seen at many marinas, and he has sailed around the world.
One social member of the yacht club, Greg Horner, said he quickly became friends with Huin when he saw him repairing damage to his boat in the yacht club’s parking lot.
“They were working around the clock, so I offered to help them. You know, do you need a hand with anything, or do you need a ride somewhere?”
Horner, a resident of Chamberlains, helped Huin and his crew of three by sourcing and chopping firewood (the sloop uses a fireplace for the crew to stay warm and dry), driving them around town to find parts for the boat, and by sharing meals and being a friend.
Horner is semi-retired, so he had the time to lend a hand, he said.
“From what I gather, the yacht club was exceedingly helpful and co-operative with them. … A lot of sailors help each other out, but it looked like a lot of people were definitely going out of their way to help Olivier out.”
"It seemed like my schedule became their schedule. It was amazing. I never saw that in a boatyard." — Oliver Huin
As for Horner, he said helping the Breskell crew prepare for such an adventurous journey was the highlight of his summer.
“I felt part of his crew, and he made me feel part of his crew.”
Huin said he still keeps in contact with several people at the yacht club.
“It was very emotional (leaving). For us, in the beginning, I act like a normal customer, you know. I was not expecting such a warm bye-bye.”
What he saw as he sailed through the Northwest Passage, however, didn’t give him such a warm feeling.
“On my hull I have those words, ‘Let’s make the planet great again,’ and I am very afraid it’s too late. This year in 2019, the Northwest Passage has opened like it never opened before.
“I know a lot of people don’t think global warming is a problem, but I assure you, in three years the difference is huge. ... It is turning very bad.”
Huin said he spoke with many locals in the North while they journeyed through.
“For them, the summer is getting way too long. They realize something is changing in their environment.”