• Simon gonfle peau de phoque a Igloolik

A notre surprise, Igloolik abrite une station scientifique depuis 1974 ! Nous y sommes chaleureusement accueillis et pouvons attester du bel exemple de coopération entre blancs et inuits, qui mènent ensemble des études sur la faune locale.

La ville subit pour l'heure quelques soucis avec son réservoir d'eau potable... Ce n'est pas l'escale rêvée pour les douches et lessives, cependant, la responsable du développement économique de la ville, ayant vécu sur un voilier, nous ouvre volontiers sa porte et sa salle de bain !

Le soir nous retrouvons Simon, venu la veille sur sa barque à moteur accueillir notre voilier rouge : il offre dans la salle commune une démonstration de fabrication du ballon flotteur en peau de phoque, qui amarré au bout du harpon, permet de ne pas perdre l'animal qui coule à la chasse, que ce soit un phoque, un narval, un béluga... Soirée passionnante, offerte principalement pour transmettre la tradition aux jeunes inuits du village.

Le porte container qui approvisionne le village une fois l'an est là, son remorqueur fait des vas et viens en poussant sa barge lestée de containers. Il nous procure des photos de ses cartes marines du bassin de Foxe, spécialement peu reconnu et insondé.

Après son départ, nous faisons le plein de gasoil à la limite de l'échouement sur la plage, face au vent, une amarre fixée sur un container de la berge. Pour une fois, cette manœuvre est d'une simplicité déconcertante !

Fury and Hecla

  • Escale banquise Fury et Hecla

Beautiful day, glassy sea and whales when crossing the Gulf of Boothia. The crew is lucky! Alicia and France can sort out the coralline samples, while the girls are playing on the front deck.

It's getting dark when Vagabond reaches Baffin Island again, threading her way through drifting ice. First ice floes since we left Qikiqtarjuaq, end of July! Magical night watch. A shooting star, very bright, green, is showing me the way. Radar, sonar, and search light are helping me to find a safe anchorage, in 4 meters deep water, waiting for the sun to rise to sail again.

Ice charts are clear: mainly open water, only the next 50 miles will have drifting ice. Early in the afternoon, despite the wind picking up, we choose a big ice floe to moor to. France is guiding me from the crow's nest, then she takes over steering to keep the bow against the ice, while I set up an ice-piton and tighten the rope. We are right at the entrance of Fury and Hecla Strait and we are drifting at one knot to the East with the current, in the right direction!

Aurore already slipped on her wet suit. Here she is paddling in the melt ponds, where France and Alicia are collecting fresh water. Celine and Yves are diving to explore our ice floe. Leonie is also very excited to run, jump and dive. Then time to take pictures and videos for our partners. We were all missing ice!

After all, we spend the short night moored to the ice floe. At 3 am, we enter the long strait (80 nautical miles). Goodbye pack ice, three cheers for the good wind and current, our speed reaches more than 9 knots at times. whether the tide is coming in or going out, it seems that the current remains favourable. Electronic charts are not yet existing for this region, neither for the entire Foxe Basin. So we are using a copy of the paper chart given by the captain of the Amundsen, on which is drawn the route of the ice-breaker. Even if there is no sounding, the land charts are quite precise and useful too. As well as the satellite pictures we downloaded before from GoogleEarth. At the narrowest (Labrador Narrows), the strait is still about 2km wide. Quickly and without a hitch, we enter Foxe Basin.

Getting to Igloolik is more tiring. Yves tries to find a pass between shallows from the crow's nest, being shaken a lot. Usually, we can see much better the seabed from the top of the mast than from the wheelhouse. In vain, we have to go back and sail all around a little island before entering the nicely protected bay of this large Nunavut community.

According to the sailing instructions, "it is not possible for other boats than icebreakers to try to go through Fury and Hecla Strait". This year with no ice is exceptional. We learn that our friend David Cowper, on board Polar Bound, went through last week, going West. Vagabond might be the first sailboat to go through the Strait. A cruise ship is suppose to pass in two days. Our friends on board the sailboat Pachamama are planning to go through in a few days.

So now, it seems that sailing in this region is difficult due to the lack of sea charts, not any more because of drifting ice. For the local hunters and their small boats, less ice means more waves, which is much more dangerous.

Bears and search

  • Ours pres du detroit de Bellot

If you look for Coralline, you may find... bears! At the end of a chain of islands, south of Bellot Strait, where search isn't giving much, we discern an white rock; but is goes into the water. Right at the location we are about to search, so the bear who tried to go south is now going back to the island. This time three of us are in the dinghy, instead of two, to keep an eye at the bear while dropping down the video.

Prince Regent Inlet is not giving us much coralline. After a few days and nights of sailing without going ashore, and a lot of disappointing search, we drop anchor late in the afternoon at the last site before crossing the Gulf of Boothia to Fury and Hecla Strait. We first all go for a needed trip on land. Girls are soaking their feet as much in ponds as in mud or in sand. Back on board, Celine and Alicia are searching for coralline, while Yves is setting up the search light for night sailing, others are busy in the engine room or in the kitchen, the young ones are watching a cartoon. The search is promising. Early the next morning, I bring Eric and Yves by dinghy to the site, and while I'm going up the nearby hill in the morning light, they are doing a great harvest at last.

About polar bears, another one could be called "the gybe bear". Peaceful bear, on a beach on Prince Leopold Island, north of Prince Regent Inlet. To watch him better, we went strait to him, main sail out following wind. But it became gusty by the coast and we gibed just on time to avoid giving him a kiss!

Bellot Strait

  • France ouvre la cabane de Fort Ross

Jochen suggested us five sites near Bellot Strait. Every time, it is now a routine, we first look for a good anchorage for Vagabond, we launch the dinghy, and two people are exploring the sea floor using an echo sounder, to make sure we remain between 10 and 20 meters deep, and with the underwater video, which is dropped drown to the seabed. Then, having our eyes riveted on the little screen, it is all about finding the much talked-about pink crust on the rocks, and trying to guess if it is thick enough and worth diving for sampling...

Leonie takes part in one of these search, a windy day. She comes back frozen but happy after a good breath of fresh air!

It is quite moving for France and me to be back to Bellot Strait. 13 years ago, we stopped here, happy to be almost out of the Northwest Passage. This morning, we are visiting again Fort Ross cabins, where most sailors are leaving a message or signature. Aurore and Leonie are already dreaming about spending the winter here, in the nice cabin maintained by the Coast Guards!

A few miles away, the video is giving some hope. Luckily, the sea is calm. We drop anchor, we put on our dry suits, and here we are in the dinghy, heavily rigged out (about 50kg equipment each!). France drops us at the chosen site, and watches over from the nearby island waiting for us to be back. Beautiful dive: Yves and I are following a steep slope, going with the current, staying around 15 meters deep. The cliff is full of life, the rock is covered with pink coralline, but too thin. Disappointed again.


  • Diner a bord de l'Austral

Wind is gusting up to 40 knots in Prince Regent Inlet, Vagabond is going at 9 knots before sheltering in a corner of Sommerset Island. L'Austral is there later in the afternoon, and our friend Patrick Marchesseau, the master, is giving us a warm welcome on board, with all his crew. Showers, delicious diner, supplies, talk and meeting a lot of nice people on board the beautiful cruise ship. Two different worlds met at the tend of the world!

From Beechey Island to Beechey Island, via Resolute

  • Vagabond et le brise-glace Des Groseillers

August 15: amazing, unexpected collection, at Beechey Island. The few rocks are covered with coralline, sometimes quite thick, and our nets are full at the end of our dive! Jochen is delighted, he will be able to describe the ocean and the climate of past centuries, at Beechey Island, when analysing the samples.

In particular, we might be able to learn more about the conditions endured by the British expedition that looked for the Northwest Passage in 1845. Franklin and his 129 men had spent a first winter here at Beechey Island. Three of them are buried on the beach. Their two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, were abandoned in 1848, a little further in the passage. There was no survivor. For ten years, 40 ships have been seeking their footsteps. It was not until September 2014 that the wreck of the Erebus was found.

This year, about twenty sail boats and a few cruise ships are going through the Northwest Passage, completely free of ice. And even a liner of 1,700 people, a record! While visiting the graves, cairns and remains left on Beechey Island, we found a drone lost the day before by a cameraman from the Ocean Endeavour! Our friend David Reid is guide on board this passenger ship, we will ski together around Bylot island in April (a nice trip ahead!).

Our mission continues in the islands near Resolute Bay. Disappointment, Yves and I cannot find more than very thin fragments of coralline algae. For Jochen, the area around Cornwallis Island was a priority, because we have data on winter sea ice thickness, and he wants to use it when working on the algae samples. After consideration of the geological map of the region, it appears that areas of glaciomarine and marine sediments are not favourable to the development of coralline. Finally, Jochen widely changes our route and the sites to explore.

A little storm is coming, we take refuge in Allen Bay, near Resolute Bay, where Jochen, Pia and Dirk are taking a plane, as expected. While waiting for Alicia, Jochen's student who is joining us to manage the next coralline samples, we spend the day ashore. Besides the Canadian immigration procedure, it is an opportunity to see again the scientific station, the village, and first of all some friends. We are hosted by our friend Joyce, social worker; we met when we lived in Grise Fiord 3 years ago. Fortunately, friends of this remote little village are also in transit in Resolute, we're happy gathering and sharing news with Liza, Geela, Suzie, Eva, Jaypeetee, Mark!

Sailing back from Resolute to Beechey Island is tough, sea is rough. Then we need a full day to rest and repair the staysail which has been damaged by gusty winds. Again, the dives are successful, and Alicia is busy after our dives to sort and inventory all the samples. This is why we came back to Beechey, to make sure we have good samples of coralline. Yves also found a plate, he left it under the sea, following the rules... Maybe Franklin used it 170 years ago?

Each day, we see a different ship stopping at Beechey Island. The Akademik Ioffe, the National Geographic Explorer, the icebreaker Des Groseillers. This one is a Coast Guard ship, we are welcomed on board by the 40 sailors who ensure safety in the Canadian Arctic waters. Vagabond is invited to come along to get some fresh water, to discuss the latest ice charts, to enjoy a meal, and to do a complete tour of the vessel! When leaving the Erebus and Terror Bay, we meet L'Austral. The captain is a friend and sounds the horn, we have an appointment the next day for diner and to give a talk to the 230 passengers.

On the other side of Lancaster, our search for coralline continues at Port Leopold, where Caledonia, a beautiful yacht of a German couple came to anchor next to Vagabond. The opportunity for Celine and France to drink a glass of wine while listening to the story of their Northwest Passage: no wind, no ice, they seem disappointed!

Success at Devon Island

  • Belle collecte de coraline ile Beechey

This morning, thermometers are showing +2°C, both air and water temperatures. After another search with the underwater camera, we are leaving for one and a half day of sailing. Jochen is getting nervous. But the little bay he picked up appears to be a good spot. Before diving, the entire crew is happy to walk on the small and arid island laying in the middle of the bay. We feel like being on Mars. And alone! Pile of sharp limestones, barren ground at a first look. Then a few skuas, pretending to be injured to attract us away from their chicks. Some muskox shit, witness of their stay in winter when the bay is frozen. A big and old whale head bone. Large rocky slabs are promising nice sea floor and are offering an exotic playground to Leonie and Aurore.

In the evening, at last, all is ready for diving. There will be three dives in a row, there is so much to sample! Leonie is back in the water, Celine is also collecting her first samples with Yves, and I'm very happy to try my free dive suit under the 10pm sun... We believe again in Devon Island, and we are dilighted with Jochen's smile!

Goodbye Greenland

  • Vagabond traverse la baie de Baffin

The mild Greenlandic summer is already behind us. Six dives, six different sites. At the last one, close to Upernavik, Leonie and Aurore went in the water too. I'm standing on a little island and watching for Yves and Eric's safety, this time they are using dive tanks. And I cannot believe my eyes looking at Leonie from a distance, small dark spot swimming away from Vagabond! Aurore, less reckless due to some holes in her old diving suit, is happy paddling at the bottom of the ladder.

Hello Nunavut! Since we arrive, no coraline. After three days to cross Baffin Bay, a nice passage between Pond Inlet and Bylot Island, we are following Devon Island enjoying, at last, fair winds. Life on board is easy and pleasant again, we can even all sit together around the table for diner while sailing.

Jochen has been dropping his dedicated camera at many locations, hoping to see some of this much talked-about pink coraline, but he is always finding sand or gravel. We are all looking forward to get to a good sampling site.

First dive

  • Eric et Yves se preparent pour la premiere plongee

Here we are, ready to start the coraline expedition: this diving project will keep us busy for two months. On board, Jochen Halfar, German scientist expert on coraline algae and leader of the project, Pia and Dirk, film director and cameraman making a documentary for Arte TV, joined our crew.

First dive on a small island near Aasiaat. Jochen has defined about fifty diving sites carefully located thanks to his knowledge about the algae habitat. Our new surface supply system is ready for a trial, it is a backup solution in case of a breakdown of the air compressor. Eric and Yves, each of them at the end of a hose, can explore the sea floor with air for as long as they want. A success! Beautiful collection of stratified pink domes using hammers and scissors. "As much as I could collect during my entire last cruise in Spitsbergen in June" tells Jochen.

Yves and Eric are warm in their dry suits: water temperature is at +7°C! Using the same equipment, they are use to dive in winter under the ice in -2°C water...

The seabed is covered with pink. There is coraline algae, also huge star fishes, sea anemones, sea urchins, clams, other fishes... Where coraline is thicker, it means icebergs didn't churned up the sea floor.

From the surface, we can watch two whales blowing nearby, and we wonder if the divers can hear or see them underwater!

Our surface supply works well: quick to deploy, no need to fill up tanks down in the engine room after each dive. "I feel light" says Eric, smiling, without his 18 litres tank on his back!

Those willing to free dive are waiting a little bit longer, until work will be running smoothly...

Arrival in Greenland

  • Equipage Vagabond ete 2016

This year, the big transition went very smoothly: in 7 days we went from frozen ocean - end of mission to Greenland! In the meantime, the anchor came up effortlessly right before our ice span began its usual drift. The Green Edge mission ended beautifully with the final data collection and the instruments recovered with the airboat. Once in the harbour, Yves managed to re-shape and weld Vagabond's new bow: a hard day of work for him and a memorable day for Vagabond who got her noze back! The very next evening we were sailing, our family crew along with our friends Celine and Yves.

After some 24 hours of making our way through big ice chunks without ever getting stocked and an additional day of navigation in free-of-ice water we've reached Aasiaat in a total of 48 hours. The whales were there, blowing to welcome us.

The watches in the ice kept their magical touch. Yves and Celine learned about this kind of navigation, sensitive as we are to all this beauty. Slowly getting used to the open sea again, Léonie is still amazed not to have been sick!