Congratulations to Sprague Theobald on (yet another) Emmy award, this time for The Other Side of the Ice!!!
The Other Side Of The Ice
At over three thousand miles, the trip from New York to Seattle is arduous by air, daunting by rail or coach, and downright exhausting as a road trip – but Emmy winning documentary maker and author Sprague Theobald is made of far sterner stuff than the average traveler.
Following a random discussion at a dinner party in 2007, Sprague decided he’d like to try the scenic route. And you don’t get more scenic (or exciting and dangerous) than taking the Northwest Passage option.
Largely uncharted, volatile and frozen for most of the year, the Northwest Passage has been the holy grail of shipping companies for hundreds of years: this potential short cut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would benefit shipping companies more than the Panama Canal – but it remains wild and untamable, a fickle and gelid mistress inhabited by towering icebergs, crushing ice floes, treacherous, uncharted shoals – and if that were not enough, hungry polar bears that love humans in a different way than a philanthropist does... The weather is not the most clement either: changeable and stormy, with blankets of fog that reduce visibility to a few yards – which is not the best way to navigate a fiberglass hull between boulders of ice as the surface of the sea is freezing around you.
The 8,000 mile detour, which took a further two years to plan and more or less everything Sprague possessed, was just as much a voyage of discovery as it was a documentary-adventure – it would give him and his grown-up children the opportunity to reunite and bridge the gaps in time and distance that inevitably followed when he and his ex-wife dissolved their marriage. You can preview Sprague’s novel The Other Side of the Ice and read much more about the fascinating journey by visiting SpragueTheobald.com or watch the candid fly-on-the-wall documentary of the adventure HERE.
Sprague has kindly agreed to answer some of my random questions about sailing, life, the universe, and everything (in no particular order):
As captain of the Bagan, and with a crew comprising your children and close friends, you must have felt a higher than average sense of responsibility for them. What was your darkest hour in this regard?
Although they were all grown adults, having my son and two stepchildren aboard brought and element of concern and safety that played out in the worst of all possible ways during the two days we were stuck in the ice. The Canadian Ice forecast had indicated and opening trend in the ice flow in Peel Sound. Being a forecast, it was wrong and led us right into an ice trap. We became firmly stuck in the ice, couldn’t move an inch backward or forward, slowly being pushed toward a rocky coastline. One thought kept going through my mind, “Have I brought my family together only to lead them to their deaths?” Not something a father ever needs to ponder.
Your daughter Dominique played a big part in forward-planning and logistics. She also took on handling any medical emergencies by training under a doctor prior to the voyage – did she ever get to try out any of her newfound healing skills?
During that five month period, time and again it played out that we were being watched over by some very benevolent and protective entity! I’m happy to report that although Dominique learned how to handle just about any medical emergency, we never so much as broke out a Band-Aid!
Catering for hungry diners can be difficult under easy conditions. Now you’re older and wiser – on a future expedition – what main course would you serve up to your crew that would lead to clean plates all round?
Nothing, absolutely nothing beats the basic hamburger! Vegetarians not withstanding, every time Dominique thawed some burger meat and started preparing it, the galley was constantly filled with admirers!
What item do you wish you’d taken with you on the 150-day voyage?
Because of the global financial disaster in 2008, months prior to departure for the Arctic I lost every penny of my funding. Needless to say that, unless it was safety equipment, at times I couldn’t buy the best of the best. Having said that, I wish I’d bought the top of the line satellite equipment. Our needed phone conversations and the ability to upload articles and pictures was very frustrating in that 40% of the time we could get a signal and at that perhaps 50% of the time we could keep the connection.
What item do you wish you hadn’t taken?
When the going got really tough, your crew responded in stoic unison as they faced the greatest challenges. This must have made you proud of them and impressed with their growing and associated strengths?
It was the same for all three of my children; I got the chance to see them grow up. By that I mean I was able to see them reach into some very dark and powerful places, asses the situation and come out of it determined to survive. My son Sefton and I were very close before the trip, my stepchildren, Dominique and Chauncey less so. By the time the trip ended we had seen each other into some very scary and perhaps terrifying situations, stood by one another and came out all the closer. I saw them react and take on horribly complicated and demanding scenarios, all the while not asking for help. I feel that each child reached a new “level” in life, a deeper understanding of not only it but themselves that “normal” life would never have afforded them the opportunity to do so. It was ironic – for the “professional” that I hired simply fell by the wayside; when the going got rough he buckled and collapsed mentally, physically & spiritually.
What is your favorite camera shot taken during the expedition?
Hands down my most favorite shot was taken by Sefton and Chauncey. We were in a remote anchorage while in Greenland and they had hiked inland a few miles to snowboard a small glacier. They took the chance to set the camera down, running, about half a mile away from the glacier. What came from this was one of the most beautiful and haunting shots of two tiny figures snowboarding on a very large and remote glacier. Perhaps the first in history to do so?
How did the reality of the trip compare to your expectations prior to the adventure?
The pressures of the trip; financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually were more demanding than I could have ever dreamt they would be. There was no way one could prepare for the tremendous depths mine and all of our minds tumbled into. So deep and powerful were they that I never used the set of noise-cancelling headphones I had aboard to listen to music. I feared that if I allowed the music to take me and my troubles “away”, when the music stopped I’d never be able to come back to reality. So fragile was my mind. Trying to function within this fragility and make sure that all regarded me and my leadership as “all’s normal” was a constant balance and I hope that I was presenting a convincingly brave front!!
So what’s your next great adventure going to be, or have you hung up your gloves for the time being?
When the trip ended I vowed to those who love me that I would never play out of the backyard again. However... I’ve had my eye on kayaking the length of the Connecticut River from Canada to the Atlantic. I’d like to do a film and again, a book on the history that I find. That takes money though, which I don’t have right now. I’m currently rewriting a piece of fiction I wrote years back. I’ve also been approached about doing an autobiography but don’t know if I feel I have that much to offer... yet.
Good luck with that, Sprague and thanks for taking time to share your experiences.
Readers: for much more about this fascinating trip, visit Sprague’s website.