Shane’s Reflections on the Journey

September 11th, 2008 by Shane Robertson

It was asked of me numerous times before I left, “Why do you want to do this?” Well now that we are through the North West Passage and only the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to navigate I have a better answer though it has a few parts.

I never had to sign on the dotted line but I did have to do some serious negotiating. My wonderful wife (who I will be indebted to for a very long time for her sacrifice and understanding) has been tremendously encouraging.  I will be honest, the time demands of the trip in our negotiations started at two weeks and we will now be at the two month mark, due to ice conditions and other system failures, before we set our eyes on each other again. She was also supportive as I took a leave of absence from the organization I worked for.   

Not having dreamed of making such a sea voyage or navigating the Northwest Passage it was not something that I have always wanted to do. What I did know is that it would be difficult, dangerous, I would be tested and not many people have made it. It would be a unique challenge with problems that would seem insurmountable and in the Arctic the only help would be on our boat. The many issues early on very easily could have tempted us to turn back but we had a goal and we were determined to succeed. We had a cascade of electrical failures that took out all of our redundant systems. The watermaker failures soaked our main electrical system hub and shutdown our charging capacity as well as took out one of our alternators. This in turn drew down the main engine batteries to such a point that our starter stuck and literally cooked the starter motor and solenoid on our primary drive leaving us with very little power to maneuver. Previous to this catastrophic failure we spent a day working through an ice field 50-60 miles wide with 70-90% ice coverage and that ice now lay between us and our only potential source of parts 140 miles away. It was not an easy decision to work our way back through the ice with only our get-home drive, trusting we could find leads through the ice as we could not see the end of the ever changing ice field.   

To date we still have a repair on our wet exhaust consisting of epoxy, rubber and metal tape that has lasted over 4500 miles, we lost the use of our engine, our watermaker literally exploded 4 times, we had to diagnose our entire electrical system, we went aground twice due to strong currents or bad charts, have run 24 hour shifts with 5 people to fend off icebergs and in the midst one of our crew members left the boat leaving us with four. All that being said it was truly the opportunity of a lifetime and I have not been disappointed and I would not give up any of the challenges that were placed before us; ultimately that was only part of the draw.

When I heard of the trip I expressed my interest and I was very honored to be part of the crew, a responsibility I did not take lightly. The crew would have to deal with whatever issues were presented as help is few and far between in the Arctic. Four hundred square feet is a small place for four people to eat, sleep, problem solve and generally live in a high stress environment. I knew one of the crew members well (my dad), well enough to know that  it would bring its own challenges but also had a great reward to spend this much time together. The other relationships had their tense moments but we were tremendously blessed and made a great team, not one person had to walk the plank, although I found myself in the water twice, not sure what that means.

When I began this trip my greatest desire, no matter the outcome, was to come away from it a better man than when I started and I hope that I am. I know I have changed and I enjoy the challenges and risks as they bring the greatest growth and reward. I will look for those opportunities to challenge myself, not in polar navigation or great sea adventures, but in stretching in what I believe can be accomplished, determined to meet my goals and helping others to do the same in whatever environment I find myself.

It is great to look back on all of the challenges now with the feeling of accomplishment as they knit us together as a crew and tested who we really are down to our very being, they are the times we will remember most. We have gazed upon sites few have seen, tread where fewer have been and persevered and  finished a journey even less have dared to accomplish, and we are blessed because of it.


7 Responses to “Shane’s Reflections on the Journey”

  1. Isaac Montoya Says:

    Shane…know, if anything, that you have inspired me! I have learned that life has its own field of ice ready to challenge us at every stage…way to go!

    Hope to see you soon & never stop challenging yourself!


  2. Jennifer Borden Says:

    It is those moments outside our comfort zones and ruts where we REALLY see God and ourselves and the relationship therein… they are precious times. Few and far between, unfortunately, but when we allow them to occur we begin to want more of them- at least I do. Congratulations, guys!

  3. Andrew and Nola Love Says:

    We are very proud of you for sticking through this trip. And even more proud of Rebecca for letting you go. We hope you enjoy the rest of your trip and your soon to be reunion with your beautiful wife.
    We will see you when you get settled back home.
    The Loves

  4. Chuck Single Says:

    Sometimes I say “Oh, to be fifty again” as my aches and pains seem to increase. At 82, I swim three times a week, walk to church, place an autistic boy on his school bus each day, build a clubhouse for his brother, and read as much as I can, sing in the choir, belong to two bridge leagues, all to “use it or loose it” as my older brother says. But I never will take a voyage from Maine to Alaska via the northwest passage !!

    I loved your “reflections” (well said)

    Chuck Single

  5. Cecile (Robertson) Kiesel Says:

    I don’t think we’ve ever met face to face before but I feel like I’ve gotten to know the essence of your spirit (and your dad’s) through following your journey this summer on Geraldine. Thank you for letting us into your heart and soul through your reflections. You show great character. God bless your sweet wife for supporting you through this adventure. I can barely get through the deer hunt when my husband goes for a few days. I hope to meet you all at the next family reunion.
    Your (2nd) cousin,
    Cecile (Robertson) Kiesel

    Note to Chuck Single: I enjoy your comments, Mr. Single. You sound like a real sweet and fun senior citizen. I was also intrigued by your comments about when you were on a ship in the War. I’ll bet you have a lot of interesting stories to tell.

  6. Becky Wakefield Says:


    I’ve been following your Journey throught the artic and I’m glad to see you have made it safely through the ice. It’s been exciting. Hopefully we’ll be seeing you soon back in Salt Lake City.

  7. Kathy Robertson Says:

    As Shane answered, “Why do you want to do this?” Rebecca was answering, “Why would you let him go?” I’ve discovered during this voyage that some people understand a man’s God-given desire to conquer the creation and to meet challenges–and some do not. Conversely, Rebecca has demonstrated a spiritual maturity that belays her physical age–she did not presume to tell Shane what he could or couldn’t do–loving him enough to let him make this trip, understanding that it was the opportunity of a lifetime for him that required sacrifice for her. She understood Shane’s desire to make the trip and supported him with love and encouraging messages. As a mother, I am so proud of them both and so thankful that they are safely together in Kodiak. Since Shane was the youngest member of the crew, their journey is just beginning…..thanks for all your prayer and support, Shane’s Mom

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I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go — Genesis 28:15