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Sailboat with environmental message docks at Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club


‘Let’s make the planet great again’

Boats dot the docks at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club on Friday afternoon, but one stands out from the rest.

A bright yellow 51-foot sloop, the Breskell, sails home a message — ‘Let’s make the planet great again!’ is written in black across the hull.

The boat shows signs of a rough voyage.

As it’s hoisted out of the water for storage, the once red-painted bow is scuffed away to reveal black underneath.

The skipper stands on the dock.

Olivier Dupont-Huin has a grey beard and tanned hands, and — despite the warm sun beaming down — he wears a black toque and sips hot coffee, as if he’s still trying to warm up after his latest adventure.

Dupont-Huin has spent his life sailing around the world, but he had no intention of charting this course for Newfoundland just a few short days ago.

In his mind, he should be pushing through the Northwest Passage by now.

“I knew it would be a very interesting adventure,” he says, with a tinge of disappointment.

He 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.

Sailing around the world sounds romantic — full of adventure and challenge — but for Dupont-Huin it’s also an opportunity to experience and share the harsh realities of a changing world.

Despite describing awe-inspiring sights of whales and polar bears, the crew also encountered the parts of nature that would be easier to forget.

That’s the point.

Dupont-Huin recounts anchoring near pebble beaches that just a few years ago were covered with glaciers.

He says it was beautiful — and dreadful.

The crew of the Breskell: Eric Maffre, Olivier Dupont-Huin, Joe Hanson, and Dominic Joyce. -Juanita Mercer/The Telegram
The crew of the Breskell: Eric Maffre, Olivier Dupont-Huin, Joe Hanson, and Dominic Joyce. -Juanita Mercer/The Telegram

“Political people, they are not concerned about it, and that really piss me off,” he said. “I would really like political people (to be) much more concerned about it, especially Mr. Trump. I would like him to understand that global warming is here. It’s not a joke.”

Dupont-Huin had to bring the Breskell from storage in Virginia to his new home in Port Townshend, Wash., so he thought, why not sail it through the Northwest Passage?

He rallied sponsors, including corporate sponsor Patagonia, and gathered a crew of three others to make the journey.

“We’re in the last cohort, really, of trying to do it when it’s still the challenge that it’s supposed to be,” said Dominic Joyce, one of the crew and also a filmmaker who recorded the adventure to be released as a documentary.

“It’s just becoming popular because it’s getting easier and easier.”

Dupont-Huin thought there’d be no better way to show climate change deniers the effects of global warming than by sailing a wooden boat through the Northwest Passage.

The crew members left their homes in the United States and England and met in Greenland in July.

They set sail from Greenland and pushed through ice as far as Prince Regent Inlet, when they were forced to turn around, their passage blocked.

Even though this August had the seventh-lowest amount of ice in the satellite record for the area, it was the highest amount present since 2014.

Their route was choked with ice and they had already pushed it far enough.

In Lancaster Sound, as the crew of the Breskell worked to find a route through the pack ice, they hit a growler.

A large hole left in the hull was patched with wood from a floorboard and sealed with a T-shirt-fiberglass-epoxy mix until they made it 70 miles back to Arctic Bay for a proper repair.

“You’ve got this fragile, delicate, very beautiful boat, and he’s taking it through this mega-risky place ... and a lot of the steel, thicker boats turned back far before we did,” said Joyce.

Despite their best efforts, they, too, had to turn around.

“Nobody made it through, but Olivier gave it a pretty bold attempt, and obviously we had so much drama before we turned back. We got the hole, but we said we can fix it ourselves, keep going.”


As Dupont-Huin, Joyce and two other crew members, Eric Maffre and Joe Hanson, enjoy a welcome reprieve with a hot meal at the yacht club, they speak about trying again next year.

“I hope,” said Dupont-Huin, noting he’ll have to double-check with his family and sponsors.

For now, the Breskell will sit in storage through the winter in Long Pond.

The four men plan to fly home after they take in a few Newfoundland tourist attractions.

Dupont-Huin expects to be back to Newfoundland in June next year to try again.

“I want to change people’s minds, that’s my main concern,” he said.

“It’s time to be aware of (climate change), and at least if my trip can be part of that — making people aware of it — I would be pleased.”

juanita.mercer@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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