CV grad tracks his maritime heroes to the ends of the Earth - LancasterOnline: Sports

CV grad tracks his maritime heroes to the ends of the Earth

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Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 7:32 am | Updated: 12:42 pm, Tue Sep 24, 2013.

Some gravitate to the sun and sunny places. For Mark Roye, it's always been ice.

Far from outgrowing his childhood fascination with early whalers, seal hunters and maritime fur traders that roamed the world's most remote and harsh climes, the 1966 graduate of Conestoga Valley High School spent a lifetime preparing to follow his little-known heroes.

He wanted, to quote Herman Melville, "Penetrate the secret drawers and lockers of the world."

And once he sailed to and tasted Antarctica and the Canadian Arctic, he couldn't get enough of what he describes as "the subtle light, the Aurora Borealis, the incomparable power of the ice...the nearly frantic urgency of summer."

Before his journey to the opposite ends of the earth, Roye's life was filled with many other quixotic adventures.

After graduating from CV, where he played football on both sides of the ball, Roye got a law degree from the University of Colorado.

He grabbed at an offer to do legal service work for remote Native American villages in Alaska, which he traveled to by dogsled, snowmobile and bush plane.

He worked on a litigation team that successfully forced the state to build 125 high schools for Native American villages where education had traditionally stopped after eighth grade.

He took a year off to, as he puts it, "play Jack London, living in the bush and writing short stories and making wooden toys. The short stories were no good, the wooden toys were okay."

Following was 23 years as a commercial fisherman, logging more than 200,000 miles at sea. He chased Pacific salmon, halibut, black cod and others from the Gulf of Alaska to the Bering Sea.

He skippered boats from a 25-foot plywood skiff to a 91-footer. During herring season, he'd be out a couple months at a time, wandering over several thousand miles.

Twice, he had to abandon ship on life rafts, once paddling to an island and being rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter after his fishing boat sunk.

Still, even more remote places beckoned. Cape Horn, the treacherous Drake Passage, Patagonia, the Arctic and Antarctica.

In Seattle, in 1986, he met Nancy Krill, a woman his equal for wanderlust. She had lived and traveled all over the world, had a geology degree and a keen eye with a camera. The couple has been "happily not married for 25 years," as Roye puts it.

Out of the blue a week before Christmas in 1999, Roye got an offer to sell his boat and business. Within weeks, they were en route from Alaska to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to purchase Tamara, a 44-foot, Swedish-made twin-mast sailboat especially made for high latitudes.

For the next 11 years, the couple lived on the Tamara and sailed nearly 50,000 miles. Roye, 63, anticipates pushing the odometer over 50,000 next month when he sails her to Prince William Sound in Alaska for some backcountry skiing. Krill, 62, won't be sitting home. In April she will start hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

Sailing between the poles, they often followed the routes of their solitary whaler, sealer and fur-trading heroes. They were particularly smitten by sometimes uncharted waters in Labrador, spending four sailing seasons there and overwintering in Maine.

"Those people really pushed the envelope. They were the real explorers," says Roye with admiration.

"The importance of it commercially is really staggering when you read the history."

The quest to fulfill the dream of Antarctica was not easy. Initially denied permission by international authorities to sail a private sailboat there, Roye finally managed to convince U.S. agencies that he was no mere inexperienced boatsman.

They allowed him to go by classifying his journey as an official U.S. expedition. The Tamara was one of only two private sailboats granted such permission over a seven-year period. They were required to take all necessary provisions to be completely self-sufficient.

The month they spent exploring the Antarctic peninsula and surrounding islands was chronicled in words and photos weekly through dispatches posted online.

A detailed illustrated look at all their journeys from 2005 through 2011 may be found at www.krillroye.blogspot.com or www.krillroye.com.

Their Antarctic experiences are thrilling.

One night, they heard whale songs through the hull. "It sounded like an elephant underwater followed by another sound that was high-pitched and screechy," says Roye.

They heard ice splintering from icebergs and pushed through minefields of floating ice. Strings of brush ice scraped off paint but the boat was never damaged.

A constant companion was the sound of gasses trapped in ice slowly seeping into the air, a sound Roye described as "effervescent, like frozen champagne."

For more than a month, sometimes sailing, sometimes motoring slowly, they explored deserted bases, sheltering coves and the wrecked ships of whalers and seal hunters.

There were days of sleet, snow and high winds. But also settled weather and 24-hour light. They were 600 miles from the South American continent.

They climbed ashore when the weather let them to wander among Gentoo penguins. They sledded down a snow bank on an inflatable kayak near a Ukrainian base.

Their forays into the Canadian Arctic were equally stirring.

One night, around midnight, while Krill was giving him a haircut, Roye heard a swoosh under the boat and the steering wheel started turning. A polar bear was standing on the rudder and had both front paws on the rail when Roye appeared with a shotgun.

He fired a warning shot into the air. The bear calmly swam to shore and curled up and went to sleep.

Roye and Krill were surprised and saddened by the number of cruise ships that appeared in some places in the Antarctic, a place where virtually no man tread not that many years ago. In 2011, some 40,000 people landed on the continent.

The couple saw with their own eyes the retreat of polar ice from global warming. They also see an increase in sea ice off the coast of Antarctica, caused by increased snowfall on the continent from warmer global temperatures. The weight of the huge volume of snow pushes ice into the sea.

"There's no reversing it at this point," says Roye. "The problem is there is 7 billion people on the planet. The real issue is population."

The seafaring couple has been decompressing out of the water since October in Port Townsend, Wash. They give a lot of talks and slide presentations on their journeys.

They hope to return to Lancaster County to give a show or two within the year. Roye's brother, Brian Roye, lives in the Leola area.

Their accounts of their adventures have appeared in a number of magazines. Later this month, they will be in New York City for Roye to receive the Charles H. Vilas Literary Prize for his story, "Ice Dream," that appeared in "Voyages," the journal of the Cruising Club of America.

"Life ashore will never again be what once it was," writes Roye in " Ice Dream." We hesitate between feelings of triumph and regret...Only far horizons seem to bring fulfillment."

acrable@lnpnews.com

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