South African tackles the Arctic seas
Being a powerboat magazine we don’t usually include articles sailing based; but we do have an unconditional love for the water and an unrelenting addiction for adventure. In the spirit of all things boating, we embark on a journey to see the beautiful world of water through the eyes of a yachtie water-lover.
South African yachtsman Ralf Dominick has added his name to a prestigious list of only 150 people to have sailed through the Northwest Passage, one of the world’s most severe maritime challenges.
The notorious waterway, a sea route through the Arctic Ocean along the northern coast of North America, has historically been considered impassable by many sea explorers. Located 800 km north of the Arctic Circle and 1 930 km from the North Pole, the route is covered in arctic pack ice for most of the year, which prevents regular shipping in the area. Dominick describes his journey as spectacular, and he has no regrets for making it. The highlight of his journey was arriving in Nome, Alaska, and realising he had traversed the passage unscathed.
On a boat, built for adventure Dominick’s 75 000 km voyage of almost three years, circumnavigating the globe, started in February 2010 onboard the 53-foot yacht Imvubu (Zulu, meaning hippopotamus). Throughout the journey he wasn’t ever scared, and he says he shares the life philosophy of Captain Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around the world alone. “His response to people asking him if he was ever scared was no, I feel more alive.”
He didn’t plan the trip in too much detail either, except for his crossing through the Northwest Passage. That required good timing and planning the best route as there are numerous ways to get through. “I also met experienced sailors who provided us with a lot of knowledge and we used ice maps from the Canadian Ice Service,” he says. “We took enough provisions to last a year – just in case we got stuck in the ice. You have to be prepared, otherwise you could die.” What followed in the months leading up to the Northwest Passage crossing, and afterwards, was an adventure of a lifetime to more than 52 of the world’s most spectacular places. He has so many memories, but a few stand out as some of his best moments on the voyage. One of them is drifting in front of the Blackstone Glacier in Prince William Sound on a clear and still autumn day. “The incredible fjords, mountains, scenery and hospitable people of Newfoundland and the Alaskan Inside Passage from Cape Spencer to Ketchikan are simply spectacular,” he says.
At Viequez Island on the north eastern Caribbean, he encountered a large bioluminescent bay, considered one of the most spectacular in the world. The luminescence is caused by micro-organisms which glow whenever the water is disturbed, leaving a trail of neon blue. “It looks like fireworks. It was the most amazing thing,” he says.
A life dream realised
Dominick had a desire to sail from childhood, and this expedition was a dream-come-true for the 53-year-old explorer. “I set a goal for myself that at 50 I would like to sail the world,” he says. He was born in Germany, but when he was a child he came to South Africa with his family, on a boat. His father built fishing trawlers in Luderitz in Namibia.
But his love for the sea and sailing is not accidental, he believes it is genetic. All three of his uncles had careers in the maritime industry, and his grandfather saw servicec on a German submarine in World War Two.
Planning his next adventure
Dominick is already planning his next maritime adventure. Imvubu is back at the Bluff Yacht Club in KwaZulu-Natal where she is undergoing a refit after the hard use over the past three years. She is being prepared for her next voyage in November 2013. The destinations are the Antarctic, Strait of Magellan, the Chile coast, the Panama Canal and Europe.
Dominick was named the Royal Natal Yacht Club’s Sailor of the Year for 2012 as well as the Barton Cup by the Ocean Cruising Club, an international body, for the most meritorious ocean race or passage in 2011. He had more than 50 books and 1 000 movies on board to while the time away and even though his boat had many modern conveniences; he still missed a few South African comforts. “What I missed the most was biltong and dry wors,” he says.
Dominick says circumnavigating the globe has equipped him well for his next journey. “The one lesson I did learn on this trip was the amount of maintenance required to keep a boat going on an extended voyage,” he says. “I am extremely lucky that I didn’t suffer any major mishaps along the way.”