Canadians seldom come into contact with—let alone produce—men or women who battle the elements on a heroic scale and make history in the process. So it was an unusual occasion in October when Dutch adventurer Willy de Roos sailed grandly into Vancouver’s False Creek Harbor after successfully piloting, for the most part alone, his 42-foot ketch Williwaw through the formidable Northwest Passage in just 4⅛ months, setting a world record for speed in the smallest craft ever to go the route. The cheers from the 100 or so spectators who had gathered to greet him had barely died down when, the next afternoon, another man who had fought and won a different fight with nature arrived at Vancouver International Airport. He was Alberta mountaineer Tim Auger, returning with two of his colleagues from Nepal after being part of the first Canadian climbing expedition to scale a Himalayan peak, the 23,442-foot Pomori, known as the “daughter” of nearby Mount Everest. Auger, a handsome 31-year-old rescue warden at Banff National Park, and fellow climbers Steve Sutton and George Homer (who, because of altitude sickness, did not make it to the top) seemed slightly dazed by the television crew and reporters who gathered to greet them. “Apparently this climb stirred up a lot more attention than we anticipated,” grinned Auger, who had expected their achievement to be either ignored or played down. In some circles, it was. “I must admit that when I heard about these guys finally making it up Pomori,” said one Vancouver businessman, “I thought, how typically Canadian to aim for second best.”
The naysaying was not limited to the climbing expedition. De Roos had his triumphant Vancouver arrival marred by the protestation of a former Montreal journalist that he had not, as he claimed, sailed
the passage alone. Real Bouvier, skipper of the J. E. Bernier II, which had unsuccessfully tried to make it through the passage at the same time as de Roos, complained that de Roos had had on board, for a five-week stretch from Greenland to King William Island, a young Belgian, Jean-Louis de Gerlache, grandson of the first man to winter in the Antarctic. De Roos, in canary yellow raingear and holding a red rose given him by an admirer, stood on the deck of the Williwaw in Vancouver to tell reporters he had always acknowledged the presence of Gerlache, who, he pointed out, was always a passenger and never a sailor.
Despite the nit-picking, it was clear that extraordinary feats had been performed by men more courageous than most: the Canadian climbers—Auger, Ian Rowe, 33, a mechanical engineer from Golden, BC, Lloyd (Kiwi) Gallagher, 37, an alpine guide from Canmore, Alberta, and Christopher Shank, a 31-year-old Calgary zoologist working in Afghanistan—had
struggled up the last 1,500 feet of Pomori in a stinging 40 mph wind. “It was a real cliff-hanger whether we’d make it,” said a smiling Auger. He confirmed there had been “some talk” of several of the Canadians joining a British expedition for an assault on Everest within the next two years. “People keep asking us what next and we have to laugh,” said the tired mountain climber. “All we really want to do is go home.”
For de Roos, home for the next while would be a complimentary room at Vancouver’s posh Bayshore Inn. where the publicity department has also eagerly offered to provide free moorage for the Williwaw. An easygoing man, the 54-year-old, Dutch-born former used car dealer talks often, in heavily accented English, about the pleasure and excitement of following the historic route of the RCMP schooner St.
Roch, the first to complete the Northwest Passage in one season back in 1944. He is also proud of the fact that he did everything himself on board from baking his own bread to fixing his topsail at a particularly dangerous time. “This voyage has changed me completely. Let us say that before it began, I considered myself a timid man. Now I have lost my timidity, I have become serene.” JUDITH TIMSON
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