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From Baltic Sea to Arctic Ice: Sailing the Northwest Passage

From Baltic Sea to Arctic Ice: Sailing the Northwest Passage

Photo: Juho Karhu

Author / Arctic Correspondent

Sohvi Kangasluoma
Postdoctoral Researcher at Arctic Centre,
University of Lapland

When you look at the world from a boat, the conceptual difference between terrestrial and oceanic blurs and becomes messy. The world map seems very different when, instead of the green part, the blue part is your home. With a train, when walking, or with a car one focuses on the roads, paths, cities, mountains, and rivers of the map. From a boat, the blue parts, shallows, rocks, bays, and the vast oceans are the features that mean everything.

Our journey to become ocean creatures began from the shores of the Baltic Sea, our home. It has taken us to the Barents Sea in northern Norway, to Svalbard, to North Atlantic in the Faroes and Iceland, and now finally to the northern Pacific and the cold waters of Alaska. We live in our sailboat, Lumi. This summer, we will attempt to return to the Atlantic via the notorious Northwest Passage. The Northwest Passage is a waterway connecting the Pacific and the Atlantic, stretching from the Bering Strait to Baffin Bay, traversing above North America. From Seward, Alaska where we are now to the coast of Greenland is about 5000 miles. The route is situated in the Inuit Nunangat, homeland of the Inuit. Most of the year the route is completely frozen.

We are not the first Finns to enter this demanding region with a sailboat; before us, there have been at least two brave sailboats traversing this icy route. However, the passage belongs to the kingdom of ice, and ice alone decides whether the passage is possible in a given year.

Purjevene seilaa
Sohvi and Juho’s sailboat Lumi. Photo: Juho Karhu

Ice, or the melting of it, is one of the reasons the Arctic is under a lot of international attention. Ice also connects our dear home, the Baltic Sea, and the seas we will be traversing. While the role of ice in the Baltic Sea is not discussed as extensively in the media as the ice cover of the north, the melting of the sea ice is a tragedy both for the Arctic Ocean and for the Baltic Sea. Ice is not static: it moves, melts, freezes, changes – ice acts. Sea ice helps to cool the polar regions by reflecting sunlight into space; it provides a home for mammals such as walruses and seals; sea ice protects the coast from erosion; sea ice releases nutrients into the water and stimulates the growth of phytoplankton; it contributes to the ocean circulation. In addition, sea ice has important meanings for the local, human communities.

In my research at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, I am focusing on the role and agency of ice in the changing Arctic landscapes. During our passage, I will be conducting observations and interviews about the power and meaning of ice in these northern sea routes. Juho Karhu, my partner, will be documenting our voyage visually. In the next months, we will be posting greetings also to the John Nurminen Foundation webpage and social media.

A sailor, Adam Nicholson once wrote: “If you hope the world is alive, then you should cast off and open the oceanic door” (Nicolson, 2004: 111). For the world to be alive, in all of its meanings, the oceans need to be healthy. As humans, sailors, and ocean creatures, enhancing the well-being of the environment is our responsibility. We are happy to join John Nurminen Foundation in their quest to protect the oceans.

Text: Sohvi Kangasluoma
Photos: Juho Karhu

Arctic Correspondents

The arctic correspondents for John Nurminen Foundation bring insights and information of the northern waters from their journey through the Arctic landscapes.


Sohvi Kangasluoma is a postdoctoral researcher at Arctic Centre, University of Lapland.


Juho Karhu is an Arctic sailor and filmmaker, Alluring Arctic Sailing

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