Following a 500-day non-stop voyage in harsh conditions, Captain Zhai Mo brought back his sailboat to Shanghai Port after becoming the first man to successfully circle the Arctic Ocean.
The renowned Chinese explorer set sail from the same port on June 30 last year to start the challenging journey aimed at raising awareness about the link between land degradation and climate change.
Along with two crew members, Captain Zhai crossed the East China Sea, the Western Pacific, the Bering Strait, the Chukchi Sea, the East Siberian Sea, the Laptev Sea, the Kerala Sea, the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Greenland Sea, the Davis Strait, the Gulf of Baffin and the Bofert Sea to complete a navigation of more than 28,000 nautical miles in over 500 days.
Born in Xingtai, east China's Shandong Province, Zhai first set sights on a painting career, and became a painter after graduating from college. His interest in sailing was triggered when an experienced Nordic sailor explained the charm of the water sport.
Zhai was the first Chinese to sail alone around the world in a powerless boat, completing the journey in 2009, with some in the media calling him "the Chinese Robinson Crusoe."
The journey of circling the Arctic Ocean became possible for the first time in human history due to global warming and the melting of Arctic ice caps.
The 53-year-old Zhai hopes his action will call the world's attention to the impact of human activities on the environment – particularly the Arctic, which is the second-largest polar desert in the world after the Antarctica. He was therefore named "UNCCD Supporter – Arctic Adventurer for 2021 Desertification and Drought Day."
According to the initial plan, the journey should have ended in four months. However, extreme weather conditions and unexpected cyclone and floating ice delayed the schedule.
"The temperature in the Arctic Ocean can reach minus 50 to 70 degrees Celsius in winter," said Zhai. "If we didn't manage to leave a certain area during the ice-melting window, the boat would get frozen, leaving us as targets for polar bears."
He added, "But we were fully prepared, having carried with us adequate food supply. We also sailed past three of the world's four largest fishing grounds, and managed to add some fish to our menu."
Zhai said that a lot of islands in the Arctic Ocean are named after sailing pioneers who lost their lives in the deadly sailing challenges.
"You can imagine how easily accidents can happen in those conditions," Zhai noted. "The icebergs are as high as buildings and hard as rocks. They are terrifying sometimes."
Despite his devotion to the sea and ocean, Zhai has never stopped his artistic pursuit, collecting inspiration from the sailing experiences.
"I'm working on a large-scale artistic creation themed on humanity. I'm still collecting materials from the voyages," he pointed out. "Every difficult voyage helps upgrade my will power. I'm interested in challenging human limits."
Captain Zhai's next goal is another challenge – sailing around the Antarctica next year.
By Ma Yue