Ben Edwards, 14, has become the youngest person to circumnavigate the North Pole anticlockwise in one season. He is part of the Polar Ocean Challenge crew which made the voyage to highlight global warming.

14 September

Members of the Polar Ocean Challenge have successfully completed their quest to become the first British boat to circumnavigate the North Pole anti-clockwise in one season, sailing the North West and North East Passages.

The crew of the Northabout, which included 14-year-old Ben Edwards and British explorer and expedition leader, David Hempleman-Adams, left Murmansk, Russia on 20 July, 2016.

Polar Ocean Challenge Route

Northabout’s route through the Arctic. Credit: Polar Ocean Challenge

The North West Passage was completed in an astonishing 14 days due to the fact that it was almost totally ice free.

They encountered ice only twice in their 1,800 mile journey through the North West Passage.

Hempleman-Adams said this highlighted the extraordinary loss of sea ice in the Arctic.

“Whilst we are all delighted to have succeeded, it is extremely worrying to see this lack of ice so starkly,” commented Hempleman-Adams, who has been visiting the area for the last 30 years.

The objective of the expedition was to raise awareness of the change in the fragile climate in the Arctic.

Polar Ocean Challenge

Ice spotted in Lancaster Sound. Credit: Polar Ocean Challenge

This is also the focus of Hempleman-Adams’ charity, Wicked Weather Watch, which inspire young people to tackle climate change.

The crew of Northabout left Lancaster Sound, Canada at 19.18 UTC on 12 September, which marked the end of their Arctic circumnavigation.

The 48-foot aluminium yacht, which is being skippered by Nikolay Litau, is now heading for Greenland.

Also on board are Barbara Fitzpatrick from Ireland and Constance Difede from America.

Ben Edwards helming during his Arctic challenge

Ben at the helm of Northabout. Credit: Steven Edwards

Writing on his crew blog, Ben said: “The North West Passage is over!  We’ve done it!  The trip isn’t over yet but the difficult part is. While we aren’t done with the trip yet it does put quite a few records to our names.”

“Nikolai’s the first skipper to do both passages twice, David and I are the first Brits to do both passages in one season and Constance and Barbara are the first women from their respective countries to do the same.”

“Rather sadly however I just feel like we’ve crossed a line we drew on the chart plotter, which is of course exactly what we have done,” he added.

Prior to leaving, YBW spoke to both Ben and Hempleman-Adams about the challenge.

Ben said he was unfazed about being on the purpose-built yacht for so long.

“Four months from home is not a big deal. My parents will be coming out for part of the trip, I will not miss my siblings but I will miss my dog,” he said.

“Being away from school is a bigger problem. The teachers I will have for GCSE have given me a set of material to do through the holiday and I am planning to do one hour a day.”


17 June

The Polar Ocean Challenge team will be in a race against time to complete their circumnavigation of the North Pole anticlockwise this summer.

Organisers say that if they succeed, they will be the first British boat to sail around the North Pole in one season.

It will also mean that crew member, 14-year-old Ben Edwards, will be the youngest sailor to achieve this feat.

This expedition is only possible due to the impact of climate change on the region and the increase in the melting of the polar ice.

This has opened up the Arctic Ocean, making it possible for boats to attempt the circumnavigation in the summer.

The trip is being led by the British explorer, David Hempleman-Adams.

Ben Edwards David Hempleman Adams Polar Ocean Challenge circumnavigation of North Pole

Ben Edwards and David Hempleman-Adams on board Northabout. Credit Steve Edwards


The crew will sail the North East Passage via Siberia to Alaska before joining the North West Passage to complete the circumnavigation of the North Pole via Greenland.

Led by experienced Arctic skipper, Captain Nikolay Litau, most of the crew will change over the 4 legs of the expedition

Only Captain Lutau and Edwards will remain for the duration of the whole trip.

Watch a video of the team’s shakedown voyage below

Teenager Ben has trained for the challenge, completing the training and exams for the RYA Day Skipper qualification, although he is too young to officially receive the certification.

He also joined the rest of the crew for a “shakedown voyage” last year to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole.

The 14-year-old said he is not nervous about the trip, which will begin on 19 June.

“Last year I has some bad weather (on the shakedown trip). I took some seasickness tablets but otherwise I was not really bothered by the rocking around of the boat,” said the young adventurer.

“It did make making cups of tea very tedious. I am not very worried about the trip more or less because I did some of it last year. I was nervous then but I feel confident now because I’ve already done part of it,” he explained.

Polar Ocean Challenge North Pole

Northabout on its shakedown voyage. Credit Frances Gard


The crew will leave Bristol on board their purpose-built 48 foot aluminium yacht, Northabout. They expect to return by the first week of October.

Ben said he is unfazed about the length of time away from his home outside Cambridge.

“Four months from home is not a big deal. My parents will be coming out for part of the trip, I will not miss my siblings but I will miss my dog,” he admitted.

“Being away from school is a bigger problem. The teachers I will have for GCSE have given me a set of material to do through the holiday and I am planning to do one hour a day,” said Ben.

Ben Edwards 14 taking part in Polar Ocean Challenge to circumnavigate the North Pole

Ben Edwards during the shakedown trip. Credit: Polar Ocean Challenge

The teenager secured a place on the trip after he was unable to join his mother and sister on a David Hempleman-Adams led expedition to the South Pole due to his age.

“This was a consolation prize, although I think this is probably better,” noted Ben.

The young sailor is “not worried about the cold” and is taking “15kg of hot chocolate” on the trip.

The expedition also aims to raise awareness of the impact of global warming.


As part of that, the charity Wicked Weather Watch (WWW) has been set up.

It aims to provide clarity for children and young people about climate change and global warming.

Ben is the Youth Ambassador for WWW and will be hoping to raise money for the charity and healthcare charity the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust.

Ben and David Hempleman-Adams will be touring classrooms on their return talking about WWW and the expedition, which is being followed by around 300 schools.

“This (WWW) will carry on the legacy of the trip,” explained Hempleman-Adams. “We hope it will be used as a first base for people wanting to know more information about the region.”

The explorer was the first person to reach the highest peaks on all seven continents and journey fully to the North and South Geographical and Magnetic Poles.

But, he considers this expedition to be “one of the biggest challenges I have undertaken.”

“I am a novice sailor although I’ve crossed the Atlantic and the Southern Ocean. It (Polar Ocean Expedition) is extreme. This is far more extreme than Everest, the North or South Poles,” said Hempleman-Adams, who will be doing one leg of the trip, from the North East to the North West Passage.

Northabout Polar Ocean Challenge North Pole

David Hempleman-Adam at the helm of Northabout. Credit Frances Gard


He said everyone is “slightly apprehensive” ahead of the start of the trip.

“There will be a couple of pinch points. We definitely don’t want to over winter,” noted Hempleman-Adams. “Lots of years, boats have had a clear passage and then get caught out. That is why we are doing the North East Passage first.”

He said preparations are in place in case the team do get caught in the ice. The yacht is also equipped to deal with the icy conditions.

“Northabout is French designed and Irish built. The bow is not a traditional bow so it can ride up on the ice. We also have a retractable keel,” explained the 59-year-old explorer.

“Sea ice melts closest to land as it’s the shallowest part and normally you get a little channel close to the coast which we will be able to use, unlike container ships. We’ve also got steps up the mast to look for ice and we are taking a drone to look for ice and give us a much clearer picture,” he said.

Hempleman-Adams stressed that Ben Edwards is very much part of the crew.

“He wears me out and is very enthusiastic. You could see how he had grown and matured on the last trip. He is not a passenger, definitely crew. He is certainly physically up to it, even got to slow him down a bit. Mentally, well, he will never be on watch by himself, but he is an important part of the crew.”

The Polar Ocean Challenge around the North Pole can be followed via the expedition’s website.