Chinese artist-turned-sailor Captain Zhai Mo was given a hero’s welcome after returning to Shanghai from his nonstop 17-month voyage circumnavigating the Arctic Ocean, making him the first Chinese person to do so.
Zhai, 54, was welcomed at an event organized by the Chinese government and the International Maritime Organization in Shanghai on Tuesday. During the event, the China Institute of Navigation presented him with its Science and Technology Award.
Zhai embarked on his 500-day journey along with two crew members at a port in Shanghai on June 30, 2021. Zhai, who was once a painter, intended on using the widely covered voyage as a platform to raise awareness of the connection between climate change and land degradation.
Speaking to Sixth Tone after his return, Zhai noted that it was his long-term goal to circumnavigate the Arctic Ocean, an area in the Arctic with a route so covered in ice that some sailors call it the “death route.” Zhai reportedly managed to complete his journey because of the melting of the Arctic ice caps due to global warming.
“We encountered lots of floating ice instead of huge icebergs at the location where the Titanic sank… it was also striking that the temperature in northern Siberia reached 37 degrees Celsius this summer,” Zhai told Sixth Tone.
The 28,000-nautical mile voyage took Zhai and his crew through “
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,” according to Shine
Although the voyage lasted 17 months in total, Zhai noted that he expected it to last around four months. He revealed that he and his crew encountered severe weather conditions during their journey, as well as an unanticipated cyclone. The floating ice in the Arctic Ocean and the extremely cold temperatures also made the voyage difficult. Thankfully, they came prepared, Zhai said.
“To fully prepare for various accidents, we carried food items that would support us for a year and half,” he told Sixth Tone. “And we were lucky to pass through three of the four largest fisheries in the world, which meant that our food supply was sufficient.”
Before sailing, Zhai revealed that they had extensively planned everything for the voyage, such as timing their arrival properly in relation to when the ice melts and bringing tools to drive away polar bears.
“We have a lot of preparation and back-up plans. We will also receive data from a team of experts on a daily basis, on the change of weather, ice, etc,” he told CGTN before his departure.
Born in Xingtai in eastern China’s Shandong province, Zhai became interested in sailing in 2000 after learning about the beauty of the sport from a Nordic sailor. He reportedly became the first Chinese person to sail the globe alone in a powerless boat in 2009.
An environmentalist and Ambassador of China’s Maritime Science and Technology, Zhai was named “UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) Supporter – Arctic Adventurer for 2021 Desertification and Drought Day” on July 2, 2021.