Today it’s hard to be a real adventurer. Just about every place on Earth except the ocean has been explored and now we are venturing into space. But there are still some true sailing adventurers today. One man stands out far above anyone else. His name: Roger B. Swanson.
Roger’s calm, commanding demeanor captivates you quickly. He takes great care to plan his voyages with methodical efficiency and he is passionate about visiting historical places. He is most definitely a man with whom you would go anywhere in the world.
Roger served in the Navy during the Korean War and became captivated by the sea. Returning home to his pig, corn, and soybean farm in a tiny town of southern Minnesota, he couldn’t stay away from the ocean for long and bought a CSY 44 which took him and his family all through the West Indies from 1972 to 1981. That was just the beginning.
In 1975 he sold the CSY and acquired Cloud Nine, a rugged Bowman 57-foot ketch which became his vehicle for all of the following adventures: 1975-82, Eastern and western Caribbean; 1982-84, First Circumnavigation; 1985-87, Caribbean to Europe.
That was mostly warm weather sailing and not too challenging, so Roger decided to sail into the ice. Skirting icebergs and pushing aside growlers and bergers seemed much more interesting: January 1988, Antarctica. Since he was already so far south, the big seas beckoned him further and he headed west: 1988-1992, Second Circumnavigation west from the bottom of South America to the bottom of South America. Since he was already in the vicinity, he went further south again into the ice; 1992, Antarctica and back to the Caribbean; 1994 First attempt of the Northwest Passage.
In 1994 a significant thing happened: Roger met Gaynelle, his future wife, who was one of his stalwart crew. He sort of “broke her in” by attempting to transit the 3,000-mile Northwest Passage from east to west without assistance. They played dodge ball with icebergs off of Greenland and through the Baffin Straits, then entered Lancaster Sound below Devon Island.
It was a fight most of the way trying to punch through the pack ice. They also had to be cautious not to be trapped when anchored in a cove should ice invade. Many times they anchored in leads, small openings in the ice and waited for the ice to move out. Once they took shelter behind an ice flow and the shore in a small lead. It was a potential death trap for Cloud Nine, should the wind change and push the ice flow into the shore, crushing the boat, but Roger was well prepared. Around-the-clock watches were followed meticulously with anchors ready to be pulled in seconds. While waiting, the crew got a little exercise walking on the shore, but rifles were always carried in case a polar bear appeared.
Eventually the wind changed. The anchors were pulled and the boat got underway before the ice flow ground into the shore. They ventured out again but the ice gods were not benevolent and Cloud Nine finally could not make it further than Resolute on Cornwallis Island (74 degrees 42’N, 94 degrees 50’W). Having made a total of about 300 miles or so with some 2700 to go, they turned back and sailed to England. (As of June 2007, only one yacht had traversed this passage without the assistance of icebreakers.)
In 1995-96, since Roger was now in Europe, why not explore the northern parts? So for a year he sailed that area and then left the boat at Gibraltar. Back in the “heat” of Minnesota again, other things warmed up and Roger married Gaynelle in 1996. Since Gaynelle had never completed a circumnavigation, one of the stipulations of their marriage was that Roger must take Gaynelle around the world. He gave her, not just a bouquet of flowers, but the entire world.
The 1996-2003 third circumnavigation ended in the Caribbean. Gee, that was fun but not too challenging. Ho-hum. So it was off to the far north again! In 2005, Roger’s second attempt of the Northwest Passage, a goal that eluded him… and in 2007, Roger and Gaynelle were made their third try to traverse the entire Northwest Passage, one Roger said would be his last.
Word came in September…Roger Swanson completed his third attempt to traverse the Northwest Passage from east to west. There was so little ice that presumably all the yachts made it! He even had time to go to Russia.