Growing up on an off-the-grid farm in northern New Hampshire, Christopher Betjemann dreamed of sailing.

He made his way to the University of Rhode Island, where he took sailing classes, and to Newport, where he joined racing teams. In the years since, Betjemann, now 50, has sailed from Maine to the Caribbean, deepening his love for the water.

This week, the Biddeford businessman is setting sail for the Arctic Ocean as part of an expedition that is attempting to set a world record, draw attention to the melting pack ice and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the World War II sea battles during the Arctic convoys that transported war materiel to the former Soviet Union.

It’s a journey Betjemann, a designer and developer from Biddeford, never expected to be on.

“I’m excited, but I’m nervous,” he said. “Cold water sailing is serious business.”

The first leg of the international expedition Arctic Ocean Raptor will attempt to set a world record by sailing to 81 degrees north, one of the most northern partially ice-free places on earth. That spot is about 500 miles from the North Pole, a part of the world where vessels more commonly have thick steel hulls that can withstand and break through ice if necessary.


The expedition, which departed from Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago, on Saturday, is sailing under the leadership of the Global Offshore Sailing Team, a group of sailors from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, France, Greece and Spain. The trip is being sponsored by leaders in Norway, Canada, Germany and Italy, he said.

Betjemann will join the nine-member crew for the second week of the expedition aboard a 47-foot fiberglass boat. As chief engineer, he’ll be responsible for the mechanical equipment on the sailboat.

During the trip, the crew will commemorate the lives and ships lost during World War II.

A total of 78 convoys from North America, Iceland and Scotland sailed through Arctic waters to deliver supplies to the former Soviet Union. Thousands were killed in the battles as U.S. and allied navies defended more than 1,000 merchant ships against German air and sea attacks.

“We feel it’s important to have this history remembered,” Betjemann said.

Betjemann’s passion for sailing developed young, but his most profound experiences came in 2004 and 2006, when he sailed from Maine to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands aboard the Wings of Time with Dodge Morgan.


Morgan, the fourth person and first American to sail solo around the world with no stops, set a world record for eastward sailing when he completed his journey in 150 days, breaking the previous record of 292 days. Morgan, who died in 2010, spent his last years living in Maine on a 30-acre island in Harpswell.

“The trips with Dodge gave me salt in my veins,” Betjemann said.

The opportunity to go on another expedition – a much colder one – arose in January when Betjemann was visiting his wife in Italy, where she works as the head of design for Benetton. After talking about sailing with one of his wife’s neighbors, the man invited Betjemann to join the Global Offshore Sailing Team and take part in the Arctic expedition.

“My reaction was very mixed,” he said.

Deckmaster Linden Blue will help navigate the Arctic adventure. Photo courtesy of Expedition Arctic Ocean Raptor

Deckmaster Linden Blue will help navigate the Arctic adventure. Photo courtesy of Expedition Arctic Ocean Raptor

On the one hand, Betjemann was excited about the adventure, but also worried about missing time with his wife, Ashley Tyler, whom he married on a sailboat last fall. They only have two weeks of vacation together each year and the expedition falls during one of those weeks.

“My initial reaction was there’s no way I can go,” he said. “Then, on second thought, I realized she’d say ‘You’re only going to get the opportunity to do something like this once, so do it.’ And that’s what she said.”


Since he committed to going, Betjemann has been preparing for the cold water voyage, which he said can create problems that sailors don’t normally encounter. The crew will be on constant watch for icebergs, debris and polar bears. There will be little or no heat on board the boat because fuel is limited.

There will be daylight 24 hours a day during the expedition, for which Betjemann is grateful.

“I’m happy it’s complete sun so we can see ice in the water,” he said.

The crew also must prepare to deal with the cold temperatures, which are not expected to rise much above 50 degrees. The water is 32 degrees. Betjemann will pack the layers he’s used to wearing during Maine winters, but is also making a trip to L.L. Bean to stock up on silk long underwear for himself and his Italian friend, who is not used to the cold.

Betjemann leaves Biddeford Wednesday to fly to Oslo, then on to Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in the Svalbard island chain, where the expedition vessel, Arctic Light, will return before departing for the second week of its voyage. The island is home to 3,000 polar bears, Betjemann said, which will require constant vigilance – and a rifle to fire warning shots if a polar bear gets too close.

Polar bears aside, Betjemann is looking forward to exploring a new part of the world.


“I’ve always hoped to sail around the world,” he said. “This trip will be further training for that.”

The first leg of the expedition set out on Saturday, making its way north from Longyearbyen. In a video posted on Twitter as the boat set sail, deckmaster Linden Blue sent a short message to the people following the voyage.

“We’re all pretty excited because most of us have never done this before,” Blue said. “We’ll see what happens.”

The expedition can be followed online at or by following Arctic Ocean Raptor on Twitter.


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