49 Voices: Jannelle Trowbridge of Nome

Jannelle Trowbridge of Nome. She’s currently a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage. (Photo by Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

This week we’re hearing from Jannelle Trowbridge from Nome. Trowbridge is a UAA student and Arctic Youth Ambassador who almost a decade ago sailed up to Alaska with her family from Michigan.

Listen now

TROWBRIDGE: Like, ever since before I was born, my dad’s like sail boats. My whole life, he’s secretly dreaming of moving the whole boat (family) on a boat and sailing away. So ever since I was little, we were downsizing and moving, downsizing and moving. We didn’t really have a set plan. But we didn’t want to… he didn’t want to just go to the Florida Keys and chill in the Florida Keys. He wanted to do something more adventurous, I guess.

So on June 14, 2008, we, our family, got on our 30-foot wooden sail boat, and we left. And we went to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway – a couple of canals in there – and then we went to the ocean, to salt water. And we stopped in Newfoundland for a winter.

And once he heard about the Northwest Passage, he started researching and started gathering different types of equipment and supplies.

We had Precipice, that’s the name of our boat, surrounded in ice, and we’re like, “OK. Well… we could either freak out and call the Coast Guard, but that’s not something we want to do ’cause that’s serious. That’s like aborting the adventure.” What we did was we backed it up as far as we could in our little space and then rammed it on the ice. And it would get up on the ice and then crack the ice. And we kept doing this.

We were sailing towards Nome and we had started having engine issues. We had a valve spring that was snapping. The engine’s out of commission, but we’re good. We’re a sail boat, right? So then we’re sailing and then we get a huge storm.

We just… wait out the storm, and then when we surface after it’s died down a bit, our life raft – which we tow behind our boat – has been ripped off its harness and it’s who knows where… St. Lawrence Island by now.

We’re like, “OK. we don’t have an engine. We don’t have a life boat. We should probably go to port.” Nome’s the closest port. So we called in for the radio and we asked for a tow. And a fisherman came and towed us. We traded him our bear gun – it was like a pump rifle. And then we were in Nome.