An adventurous group are planning to be the first to row the famous Northwest Passage, the Arctic route that links the Atlantic and the Pacific - and a Scottish gin brand is on board to help raise funds.
The ice-bound passage was a thing of mystery for many European explorers who sought to navigate it in order to form a trading route to Asia.
Famous names such as Captain Cook and Sir John Franklin attempted to find and sail the passage, but it wasn’t until the latter went missing that the search for his boats resulted in the route being found.
Nowadays, due to climate change, the Northwest Passage is not only accessible, it can be navigated in record time as a consequence of the melting ice.
A group of modern day explorers not only want to be the first to row this famed route, but are also on a mission to collect data for scientists that will further studies into the changing landscape and its effects on our world.
One of the rowing team, journalist Mark Agnew, said: “In 2021 we are attempting to be the first people to row the Northwest Passage, the Arctic route that links the Atlantic and the Pacifc.
"We will be starting in northeast Greenland before going through the Northwest Passage and ending up on top of Alaska.
“Sadly, it is only possible because the ice is melting for longer each year, so we are hoping that the media attention we get for the adventure aspect of the expedition will draw attention to how quickly and dangerously the Arctic is changing and what that means for people who don’t necessarily live in the Arctic.
"We will also be collecting data for UK scientists while we are there – salination, water temperatures, currents and microplastics.”
The team are set to row the route completely unsupported, and the plan is to row for two hours, sleep for two, then repeat, with food being made on the boat. Mark admits: “It will probably be pretty grim, and also very good fun.”
In the current climate of Covid, sponsorship has been difficult so Mark and the team decided to create something people would enjoy and want to buy, to help fund the trip – a gin.
With Orkney playing a big part in original expeditions to the passage, it made sense to collaborate with a distillery there.
Mark said: “The gin is being made by the team at Orkney Distilling Ltd and is flavoured by botanicals from the Hudson Bay and from Orkney.
"Back in the day, when all of Britain was looking for the Northwest Passage, about 90 per cent of the explorers that went there were from Orkney.
"The boats would leave from London empty, go up the east coast of Britain and stop in Orkney, where they stocked up with food, water and men before heading off to the Northwest Passage. So we’re trying to link the two with a homage to both of them.”
The rowing group met while attempting to row the Atlantic and were drawn to this expedition for the ‘first time’ nature but also because it is being headed up by famous ocean rower Leven Brown.
“This is Leven’s last hurrah,” explains Mark. “He put out a call saying that he was looking for a crew for one final last great first and one by one we joined.”
The National Trust granted access to Login’s Well, which is the ancient water source Captain Cook and Franklin used to stock their boats before heading to explore the Northwest Passage in the 18th and 19th century.
This water and the botanicals have been used by the distillery to create the new gin.
The team has landed the services of the filmmaker, Michael Pitts who won an Emmy for Blue Planet and another for Secret Life of Plants. A documentary is being made of the whole trip, including the making of the gin.
Speaking of the gin, Stephen Kemp, managing director of Orkney Distilling Ltd added: “We’re tremendously proud to be supporting the NWP Expedition Team.
"Being a small part of ‘The World’s last great first’ Expedition is really exciting, and the project has been really enjoyable.
"Harvesting sugar kelp from the western shores of Orkney and collecting water from the iconic Login’s Well with local expedition team member Davie Flett was a fantastic experience, and has brought together amazing provenance and connection between the spirit and the Expedition itself.”
The Orkney Distilling Ltd Northwest Passage Expedition gin will launch mid-October at around £39.95, with proceeds going towards the expedition.
Post expedition, the team would like it to continue as part of the core range, to help raise funds for the Big Blue Ocean Cleanup, which is a charity and research centre for plastic pollution.