April 17, 2021

A Chilling Adventure: Hadlyme’s Theobald Describes His Extraordinary Journey Through the Northwest Passage

The ‘Bagan’ sails into the Northwest Passage.

LYME — The Northwest Passage—the sea route connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific— is widely considered the ultimate uncharted territory. Sailing from Newport, R.I., through the infamous Passage and around Alaska to Seattle, is an 8,500-mile trek filled with constant danger from ice, polar bears, and severe weather.

Sprague Theobald

Hadlyme resident Sprague Theobald, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and expert sailor, has completed this extraordinary journey.

In so doing, he and his crew became only the 24th non-military craft to have navigated the Passage since Roald Amundsen completed the first successful crossing of the fabled Northwest Passage in 1906.

Hear all about Theobald’s extraordinary journey and its harrowing story of survival, adventure, and, finally, redemption in a Zoom presentation hosted by the Friends of Lyme Library titled, The Other Side of the Ice,  tomorrow, (Saturday, March 20) at 3 p.m. Theobald himself will present the program.  

Email programreg@lymepl.org as soon as possible to register for this program and obtain the Zoom link.

Asked how he ever came up with the idea of undertaking that journey,  Theobald replied, “As far back as I can remember I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a shortcut through the Arctic, but yet, nobody could find it. How could a place exist that nobody knows about but yet they go searching for it?”

Standing on the bow of the ‘Bagan’ as it sailed through the bitterly cold, unforgiving Northwest Passage.

Theobald continued, “As I grew older and started to read the incredible tragic history of those who went to search for the Passage I became absolutely intrigued. I can’t say that it was always on my mind but I spent many, many years on boats (I’ve about 40,000 off-shore miles) and the thought of attempting to transit the Passage was always in the back of my mind.”

He said triumphantly, “Finally, all the forces came together!” noting that it took about two and a half years, “… from my openly musing about the idea to finally leaving Newport,” aboard the Bagan.

In the 1850s, the Franklin Expedition left England to find the Northwest Passage. Beechy Island was one of their last known stopping areas. The expedition was frozen in the ice for two years. This grave marker cites where one of the crew was buried.

What followed was five months on the Bagan of unrelenting cold, hungry polar bears, and a haunting landscape littered with sobering artifacts from the tragic Franklin Expedition of 1845. Theobald will explain in his presentation the innumerable ways in which the incredibly challenging trip has impacted his life since he returned to land.

Asked which of those experiences had affected him the most, Theobald responded, “As you can imagine there were many experiences which truly changed my life but I think the most powerful one was the few days that we were trapped in the ice and slowly being driven ashore by a powerful underwater current.”

He continued, “Whether it was exhaustion or fatalism, I truly understood the feeling of simply letting go and making the best of it. It was simply survival. There was absolutely nothing I could do to keep us from being pushed into the rock-face cliffs. Try as I may, I couldn’t stop Mother Nature.”

As he worked to define that specific emotion in his mind, Theobald said, “The freedom of letting go allowed me to think through the process as to what I could possibly do in the various scenarios that faced us. Luckily the very force that was hinting at our demise also rescued us! The underwater current that was pushing us ashore must’ve had a back eddy in it, for once we came within a quarter of a mile from the rocks, we very slowly started going backwards in an arc.”

He concluded, “To this day, I am able to utilize that same great feeling of knowing when and ow to simply let go and to be able to stand back objectively and assess a situation rather than be caught up in it.”

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