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Climate change

Hong Kong sailor recalls Arctic voyage with global warming plea

After two years planning the treacherous journey, Chu Kee-duen says technical difficulties and weather conditions brought his trip to a halt

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 12:17am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 3:51am

A Hong Kong sailor, whose sailing boat was the first such Chinese craft to reach the Canadian Arctic through the treacherous Northwest Passage, has recalled his six-month expedition and told how global warming is threatening the North Pole.

Chu Kee-duen, a 53-year-old mechanical and electrical ­engineer, set his sights on ­achieving his sailing dream after buying a 58-foot vessel, Eagle’s Quest II, in 2014.

His purchase came just three years after he climbed the summit of Mount Everest.

“I love nature. I love challenging myself and see how far I can go,” said the seven-year sailor with a Class 1 captain’s licence.

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His HK$1.2 million journey was supposed to end on the Mediterranean coast of Spain this month, but it actually finished in Ireland on October 19.

Chu said technical difficulties, unexpected weather conditions and sightseeing tours had taken a heavy toll.

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He spent two years planning his Arctic ­voyage through the Northwest Passage, which has claimed the lives of many sailors.

His fibreglass vessel left Hong Kong on April 22 with a crew of 29, but problems soon arose.

Its generator broke down in Taiwan and the jib – the triangular sail on the bow – failed to furl ­during the journey from ­Hiroshima to Osaka and required urgent repairs.

“When my wife could not meet me in Tokyo as we waited for the replacement of the forestay and the furling system, a Japanese crew member asked me whether my wife knew she might not be able to see me again,” Chu said.

The Arctic expedition also came to a sudden halt on August 31, after the vessel became stranded on a shoal when the water depth fell ­dramatically from 25 metres to two metres on the journey ­between Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven, ­Nunavut, prompting a call-out to rescuers with the ­Canadian Coast Guard.

But the most frightening part of the trip occurred on the leg from Greenland to Ireland when a hurricane struck, said Chu, who was set to abandon ship. “It was horrifying. It was like having a hail of bullets outside. The troops, our crew, were suddenly called to the war when they were resting at night. At that ­moment I felt the closest to death, but, of course , it was still far way from me.”

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As much as Chu enjoyed the beauty of the landscapes and ­hospitality of the locals in different ports, he was bitterly disappointed at missing the ice floes in the Canadian Arctic and he blames global warming for that.

“In the summer, there should be still ice in Barrow, the most northern point of Alaska. But I only saw two pieces.

“The locals said there should be 20 per cent of ice. But there was only 0.2 per cent. This is abnormal. Global warming is affecting you and me.”

He also slammed the sale of cheap energy and the damage it is causing to the environment.

“I am not sure whether the over exploitation of natural ­resources is a cause of global warming, but we have got to stop,” Chu said.

“The world should join ­together to solve the problem.”