Sailing back to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

  • 1230 Vagabond a Nuuk©EB
  • 0942 Vagabond traverse la mer du Labrodor©France Pinczon du Sel
  • 1900 Vagabond St Johns
  • 1159 Rencontres pendant escale a Saint-Jean de Terre-Neuve©EB

We arrive in Nuuk at 6pm with the photographers on September 6th, then Eric and I set sail again for Saint-Pierre at 3pm the next day: we don't want to miss out on a good weather window to head south.

The wind is strong: as soon as we leave the sheltered waters between the islands, the heavy swell swung our hull without mercy. Our top speed is up to 8 knots, but our stomachs aren't prepared and it's difficult to rest. In two days we sail a good distance. On the third day, we eat and rest, we're back to life. Eric and I take turns during 48 hours of calm weather, enjoying to see a lot of dolphins and sparkling night skys, where as many stars as satellites are travelling.

Finally the Newfoundland coast appears, in the distance. Then the wind starts again, but headwind. The cyclone Lee is forecast, and our weather window is getting tighter. We push the engines, hoping to get through, but the result isn't brilliant: the diesel-oil dirt clog the filters and stop the engines several times. Around midnight with headwind and swell, in a sticky mist, the St-John’s port entrance catches our eyes. It's already almost behind us when we decide to opt for rest and safety. We do a sharp turn over 90° and reach the shelter.

The stopover falls on the weekend, so we're lucky enough to be able to make a real pilgrimage to the Irish session bars where we played with the Celtic Cods last autumn!

After a final 36-hour leg, we finally meet up with Léonie and Aurore on the pier of Saint-Pierre!

Photo trip

  • 0940 Baleine Ilulissat©EB
  • 1518 Retour a bord de Vagabond en annexe©Marc Querol
  • 1657 Stage photo avec Christian Morel©EB
  • 0941 Amarres a terre Uiffaap Qeqertanngui©EB

In the crowded port of Ilulissat, Vagabond finds refuge next to La Louise and it's a pleasure to see her captain again, Thierry Dubois.

In a few hours time, we move from science to photography: three people from Grenoble, Ludivine, Marc and Christian, are joining Christian Morel, the organiser of this photo trip, as well as Jessica coming from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon with Amaury, her 8-year-old son, who is as sharp as he was perceptive and attentive!

Of course, the starting site sets a high level: the whales are adding to the magic of the imposing ice front. However, as the idea is to head back down to Nuuk, we have to leave this scenery behind to find the islets and villages scattered along the coast.

The weather is not idyllic. We'll have to adjust our speed and stopovers according to the wind gusts, to appreciate the shades of grey and to capture the best moments of light. At night, however, we are treated to a magnificent full moon, known as the blue moon (in fact red), and a few northern lights. Sailing at night is necessary to cover the distance in time. We are doing 2 people shifts which makes some great moments of sharing and gives photographers the opportunity to discover this special atmosphere.

A natural stopover sheltered from the swell, in a mini pass, then a stopover between three islets, including the village of Itilleq, again to shelter from the headwind... Vagabond's anchor has the courtesy to slip only once everyone is back on board, after visiting the village and picking up mussels. On the thick seaweed that seems to cover the seabed, anchoring properly is not easy. A young Greenlandic fisherman tries to help us, then offers us an Arctic char of his catch. The next day he gives us seven more and tells us about his caribou hunts! Eric was even offered coffee and fresh caribou the day before at someone's place. Memories are coming back for some of the locals, who recall Vagabond stopping off at their place 9 years earlier with Léonie and Aurore, they were very young!

Still running between two gales, looking for new shelters on our way, we end up in a very high and narrow fjord: here, with two mooring ropes to shore, one on each side, in addition to the anchor, we are fine with the 40 knots of wind (50 knots outside the fjord) and the heavy rain.

To make sure our friends can catch their planes in Nuuk, we have to set off again for a night's watch... which is more hazardous than ever: trying to follow the single sounding line, which passes between a multitude of rocks, in a swelly and windy night. But above all, there's this really tight passage further south. We reach it at pitch dark, the mainsail still pinned to the mast with the wind astern. The swell is channeled by the islets, but the current is strong and the tide high. Despite our vigilance, with two people outside with head lamps to see better, Vagabond hits the entrance to the passage. Nothing serious, thanks the layer of kelp. But the bow is deflected and we almost climb onto the rocky coast. - Full astern! Then - full speed ahead! - but another rock appears in the light! In the end, it is sideway and the stern first, carried by the current and the wind, that we cross the passage. Adrenalin guaranteed.

As if to comfort us, we get the most beautiful morning in the world in the Maniitsoq Alps. We enjoy photos, lights and rest along the inland canals, before our arrival in the capital.

The photos and memories will remain with us forever.

Coralline mission

  • 0720 Christian Jochen et Jean observent echantillons coralline©EB
  • 1731 Jochen et Eric plongeurs Akunap Nuna collecte coralline©Jean Perrin
  • 0753 Eric et Jean apres une belle plongee©France Pinczon du Sel
  • 1408 Prelevements eau de mer baie de Disko©EB

Eric and I are sailing all the way straight to Nuuk to meet up with Jochen, for whom we have been collecting coralline since 2015, this stunning limestone algae known as a paleoclimatological marker. This time, he has a family team: his partner Martina, and his two daughters Citlali and Krista. Christian our friend photographer and Jean, another friend diver, are completing our crew. The idea is above all to recover measuring instruments placed in 2019 on good coralline sites for one year. It was before Covid... What happened to these instruments since?

The closest site from Nuuk is not the easiest: it will take 3 dives to achieve our goals! For the first dive, the current is too strong for the divers and the buoy supposed to serve as a marker is sinking, carried away horizontally. On the second dive later in the day at slack water, the visibility quickly becomes insufficient for the divers and safety from the surface turns to be hazardous. Finally the next morning, at low water, our divers easily find the instrument which has been recording temperature and light for 4 years (3 years bonus)! With some more algae samples collected near the logger, complete analysis will be carried out at the University of Toronto.

Four days of navigation later, heading north to the second site. Photographer, wife and daughters are on land, Jochen follows the operations through binoculars from Vagabond, the two divers are underwater and the wind is picking up, getting strong. From the dinghy, while looking after the divers who are difficult to spot in the little waves, I'm worried to see Vagabond pulling on the anchor towards the rocky shore... The divers are coming back, the valuable sensor was found! We leave quickly since the wind is pushing us, still heading north.

Navigating at night between the rocks of the inside route and the rough sea along the outside route, we are getting quickly to Sisimiut where we stop for a few hours to let pass a big swell and a gale. This is the opportunity for Christian to pay his respects for the first time at Kampé's grave, his late great Greenlandic friend. Julien, a French friend who has lived here for a long time, meets us at the harbor: today he is a guide on a cruise ship that we will visit, in addition to a nice shower.

After some mussels harvesting and cod fishing between the islets strewn on our route, and after taking the last water samples, we end up seeing a thin white line haloed with clarity: it is the shield of Ilulissat which is growing, growing to become this wall of enormous icebergs that we admire while sailing along. The show is sumptuous as always. The sketchbook of Citlali, an art student, is delighting. Beyond all hope, the 5 logger instruments from 2019 have been found, mission 100% successful!

Gardar epilogue

  • 0830 Longue reparation de la trinquette©EB
  • 1802 Tarte aux camarines et aux myrtilles©EB
  • 0835 Lecture qui interpelle©EB
  • 2059 Renne ile Tuttutooq©EB

To close our beautiful southern page in the heart of Gardar, I'm giving you here all these little things which sow memories and smells, which enliven the atmosphere on board.

Vagabond travels through lavish nature: besides the cod carpaccios, while the freezer is already full of fish, how many times have we plunged our arms between the seaweeds to come up with full pans of mussels. On the menu again, blueberry and crowberry tarts or coulis, decorated with a few juniper seeds; something to delight our taste buds.

Also the mind is satisfied during our informal philosophical breakfasts, most often launched by Laurent; luckily, he is the leader and he does not darken a little delay to start field work. We had good laughs looking at the cover of the book that our English geologist Jordan is reading: “Surrounded by idiots.” You mean us? Or how to feed these enjoyable breakfasts: why do we so often don't understand each other? Question of behaviors...

At anchor at Tuktutok (tuktu: caribou in Inuktitut), a caribou with oversized antlers followed by his small herd silhouetted against the sky this evening, then again many other evenings. Indeed, this island is a livestock farm. There are funnel-shaped enclosures up to the water's edge, then very white piles of tangled antlers where the caribous have finished their journey.

Marc did not mention the hours spent sewing the staysail, equipped as he was with all his panoply of sailmaking. Nor from the Foehn, this strong and hot wind coming from the East which pushed us at good speed over 20 miles to the exit of a fjord.

Gardar, by Laurent Geoffroy

  • 0746 Laurent explique mission geologique a Jacky©EB
  • 0946 Observations de dykes pres de Sidlisit©EB
  • 1353 Laurent explore environs de Sidlisit©EB
  • 1319 Jordan echantillonne©EB

Gardar, the magmatic province that tectonic and magmatic researchers dream of, is located in the SW of Greenland, in the former territory of the Vikings.

You can pass through this region without noticing much, apart from lush vegetation (relatively at least for Greenland) and a network of very active farms (which, in particular, breed sheep).

But really, the province of Gardar is a hidden treasure. Here, a little over a billion years ago, the continent that would someday become Greenland was subjected to extensional forces that caused the Earth's crust to rift apart and the hot mantle(1) beneath to melt.

In the case of Gardar, the magma was injected into vertical cracks (called dykes), whose width in this special place is extraordinary on the global scale and throughout Earth's history. Here, dykes are up to 1000 m wide, when usually they only reach a few metres in width.

But that's not all, the mineralogical and chemical composition of the associated rocks here is also astonishing(2) (for specialists on the subject that is). Do these magmas really come from melting the deep mantle, as this is the case in more recent extension zones, or from melting the lithosphere itself?

In addition to giant dykes, volcanoes were common in this region one billion years ago. Today, after much erosion, we only see the magmatic roots of these volcanoes.

Some geologists have compared the Gardar to the East African Rift System, where extension is accommodated by faults (cracks) and sometimes by the injection of thin dykes. But we don't think so. The Gardar rift, if we can call it a rift, is unique in its structure and magmatic injection mechanisms.

Did the continents in the Middle Proterozoic (i.e. of Gardar age) have the same mechanical properties as the current continents? If the answer to this question is "no", what does this tell us about the rate of Earth's cooling since its formation?

These are some of the questions that the Protero-Litho2 program (2023-2025), supported by the IPEV (French Polar Institute), proposes to answer - with logistical assistance from the Vagabond, our preferred vessel for our work in Greenland, and her trusty crew.

(1) The hot rocks below the Crust (the outermost layer of the Earth).

(2) Their rare chemical elements are very enriched, with possible economic potential. However, the environmental consequences of exploiting such a resource are difficult to assess.

In the kingdom of Gardar, by Marc Givry

  • 1627 Bateau de croisiere et elevage de moutons pres de Igaliku©EB
  • 0632 Avec Eloise au petit-dej a Igaliku©EB
  • 0740 Observation d un ours depuis Igaliku©EB
  • 1321 Marc se protege des moustiques a la pause picnic©EB

26 July 2023, Igaliku,

We are in the kingdom of Gardar ("Gardar" also lends it's name to the small village of Igaliku where we are staying), although it is not truly a kingdom. Maybe just a paradise for sheep, and for tourists now as well. Of course, far be it from me to compare tourists and sheep. By the way, numerically speaking, for now here the sheep are still winning.

Admittedly, UNESCO has classified the episcopal palace of Gardar as a world humanity heritage site, thus attracting multitudes of tourists. It was indeed the seat of a bishopric from 1126 to 1377, during the golden age of the Vikings. Built from 1126 the cathedral was dedicated to Saint Nicolas, the Patron Saint of sailors, a patronage that you may like.

Regarding the multitudes of humans, I shouldn't get carried away. In winter there must only be twenty permanent residents, then in summer about forty, and when a cruise ship anchors in the fjord at most it may be counted in hundreds. These indicative figures have been communicated by Eloise, the French cook of the Bydgehotel in Igaliku. The number of cruise passengers she knows only too well, because when the arrival of a ship is announced she must prepare dozens of gourmet coffees (but no more evening meals than usual). In effect, if the cruise passenger is greedy, he is also careful, because he always comes back on board before dinner is served. As if heading in before the wolves come down the mountain. Of course, we didn't say there were no wolves here - bears maybe, but we'll talk about that later.

That said, cruise passengers may be wrong not to take advantage of Eloise's evening cuisine - delicious, I guarantee. Eloise is in fact a patented backpacking cook. See her pedigree: high-level catering training in Grenoble, cooking teacher in a catering school for 15 years, cook in Crozet for those wintering in the southern islands. Cooking is a way to travel for her, if possible in cool places under the high latitudes, while sometimes returning to the country of her ancestors, to Gresse en Vercors, where in the cemetery she told us seven generations of family hold their arms out to her.

But back on topic. According to a breeder we met, there would be 18,000 animals each year entering the Narsaq slaughterhouse. Just for one farm, Ipiutak's farm, Henning, the new farmer who last year replaced Agathe and Kalista (France and Eric's friends), told us they produced 400 lambs, and he intends to expand.

So here, the sheep are fine, the tourists are fine, the mosquitoes are fine (but I won't talk about that as I'm too afraid of letting myself go to some excesses). For the bears I won't say as much. First of all, they are not very numerous. And if there is one, it's because he was off course.

In general, the bears descend along the east coast, but they should stop well before the ice terminus. And when they've missed the last stop, all they have to do is go north by land. But their journey will be strewn with anthropogenic pitfalls. At the time of our stay, a bear was announced and the whole village was alerted. The information was correct and we saw him quietly traversing the shore and then the mountains towards the north. We learned later that another bear was also shot that same morning in Qassiarsuk.

So we are in the kingdom of Gardar, a paradise for sheeps, tourists, but not the bears. Perhaps also a future paradise for the geologists we have just taken on board?

But for them, Gardar is not a kingdom, just a "magmatic province which exposes an intracontinental rift system dated to the Middle Proterozoic”. For your rule, we are now going to walk through an area which dates back a good billion years. A number that makes me dizzy and you will easily understand that I must withdraw discreetly from this blog, to leave to the valiant and educated geologists the responsibility to continue.

Friend reader, my similar, my brother; that I hope is entertained by these four episodes, whoever you are, I salute you.

Marc, Greenland, July 2023

Chronicle of modest adventurers, by Marc Givry

  • 0545 Approche cote Groenland©Marc Givry
  • 0747 Iceberg dans la brume sud Groenland©Marc Givry
  • 1707 Pangaea et Vagabond a Narsaq©EB
  • 1744 Retrouvailles avec Mike Horn©EB

17 July 2023, still in Narsarsuaq,

I've just realised that in this rambling narrative, I hadn't told you how we got here. And yet a blog should be chronologically ordered.

So let's continue. We set off from Saint-Pierre with live music on a foggy night with a rather choppy sea. This was followed by a foggy crossing with fairly calm seas, followed by a little wind and choppy seas towards the end (thanks to the approaching Cape Farewell). The finish was superb, with icebergs and sunshine.

"Happy families have no stories" is how Tolstoi's novel Anna Karenina begins. But for me, happy crossings are full of stories.

For example, remember, before we left we had redecorated the hull of the ship to attract whales and mermaids. We didn't see any mermaid, but we did see whales. Having announced with certainty "a herd of pilot whales to port", I was taken aback by "it's not pilot whales, it's Atlantic white-sided dolphins". Serves me right, next time I'll say "Cetaceans in sight, family Delphinidae, gregarious animals, traveling in large herds".

And then on arrival we met with history, the history of Adventure, with a capital A. In Narsaq, after a few zigzags in the ice, we moored next to a large sailing boat. Impressive, over 30 metres long, rigged as a ketch, her large mast of 35 metres dominates the whole port with its majesty. I'm told, almost with reverence, that it's the famous yacht P. belonging to the no less famous M., the Adventurer with a capital A, known over the world for the extraordinary exploits that have made him a demi-god, or rather a hero, since he remains mortal. But our hero isn't dead yet. Perhaps Athena the Persian-Eyed Goddess is watching over his destiny, as I hope she is watching over ours.

The friendly crew looking after this maritime flagship explain that M. is not on board, but that they have plenty to keep them busy. In fact, their ship is a mobile video production studio and their purpose is to inform the whole world of the ongoing exploits. It may not reach the whole world (let's leave that Urbi e Orbi privilege to the Pope), but at least the millions of 'followers' who need to be satisfied on a regular basis. To ensure this media feast, the generators are constantly running and we are reassured by the constant humming that tells us the adventure never stops.

M., the Adventurer with a capital A, was greeted at the airport when we picked up the geologists. In fact, he's a friend of France and Eric. They've known each other for at least twenty years. They crossed paths in Alaska, them going east on Vagabond, him going west on his kayak.

Twenty years on, the sizes of the ships have reversed, the little ship has become quite big, but Vagabond's size remains the same. The waistline has even shrunk a little, as the impacts of the ice have created some dents in the outside and shrunk the inside (but be assured, there have been no fatal perforations, although we have sometimes been a little worried).

The Carthusian symbol is a cross on a sphere, which means "the Earth turns, the Cross remains". If I was an art teacher, I'd give my pupils the following subject: "The Earth turns, Vagabond remains", with the added bonus of "Translate the motto into Latin".

To finish this rambling account, I'd like to quote a dedication. On a book given to the architect Mario Botta by his friends, he could read: "Mario, we love you, not for what you have become, but for what you have remained".

Vagabond, we love you for what you have remained: modest.

Eagles, whales, fishermen, by Marc Givry

  • 0529 Aigle sur iceberg Narsarsuaq©EB
  • 0754 Baleine a bosse Narsarsuaq©EB
  • 1721 France peche la morue pres de Qassiarsuk©EB
  • 0746 Jacky France et Laurent©EB

16 July 2023, Narsarsuaq,

I won't hide it from you, we're in Greenland.

Nonchalantly anchored at the end of a fjord. Below the waterline, cod, lots of cod. Above our heads, eagles, quite a few eagles.

We say "eagle", but to be specific we should say "White-tailed Eagle" (or Haliaeetus albicilla). But, for simplicity's sake, we'll just say eagles to refer to these white-tailed birds. Whilst their tails are of course white, the rest of their plumage is dark brown and spotted, at least for the larger ones. The smallest have a mottled brown plumage on top, and are creamy brown with stripes on the underside and a whitish tail. Scientific treatises explain that the large dark ones are adults and the lighter ones are juveniles, but instead of "juveniles" the treatises say "immatures". As I don't think our beautiful young people, so mature these days, would like to be called immature, I'll avoid using that word from now on.

But mature or not, if we're here, it's because someone gave us the information: you have to be there, at the end of the fjord when tide is rising, good fishing guaranteed, with eagles to boot. We'd already caught a few nice cod when a fisherman we'd been talking to offered us one twice as big as those we'd already caught. Fair play (or were we tempted by a insatiable appetite for cod), we accepted the gift and from now on our future consumption of iodised proteins is assured.

The information on the cod and eagles was good, but there was still one ingredient missing from the day's show: the two humpback whales who performed their act, blowing their powerful jets, breathing two or three times, then diving to sound by putting their tails straight up out the water.

By the way, come to think of it, I haven't told you who gave us that tip about being at the end of the fjord between eagles and cod at the end of the rising tide. He's a "good guy", as we say in Savoie. And I can say that because Jacky is a native from Savoie, better a native from Maurienne and even better a Modanais, a resident of Modane! Trained as an electrician, he has been in Greenland for a long time, first in the north towards Disko Island and then here around Narsaq where he created and developed a fine transport and logistics company called Blue Ice. Although he has now handed over the reins and sold the business, he and his Danish partner Birgitte continue to travel actively in this region. So, thank you Jacky, thank you Birgitte, Savoie is very grateful to you!

But let's put an end to this nostalgia for mountain pastures.

I won't hide it from you, we are in Greenland.

Departure in music, by Marc Givry

  • 1314 Carenage Vagabond devant Hangar a sel de Saint-Pierre©Marc Givry
  • 2007 Celtic Cods depart Vagabond©EB
  • 2038 Celtic Cods depart Vagabond©EB
  • 2100 Depart Vagabond Saint-Pierre©Rachel Robert

5 July 2023, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

It's Wednesday at 9pm, the music is beautiful, but we know we've got to go.

The air is cool. Not freezing, just around 9 degrees. Although, it's a little humid. Actually, it's downright damp, the same kind of fog we've been blessed with in Saint-Pierre for a good week now. Perfect weather to not have to look far for a horizon that once might have been blue. Best to just concentrate on scraping down the hull of the ship whilst it lays aground and the tide is low. We're giving the hull a coat of beautiful antifouling paint. This deep black protective agent should repel algae, keep us safe from the abyss, and might even attract whales (or perhaps mermaids too!).

For above the waterline, we'll settle for just a few red and white touch-ups to restore the ship to her former flamboyance. We might have repainted the whole ship, but the local fog is hardly conducive to the task. Besides, she might end up looking too new and dapper for a vessel that's been playing the Arctic for over twenty years now.

I remember twenty years ago. In 2003, we were in Kamchatka. The ship was in the middle of its grand tour. It had completed the north-east passage and was about to begin voyage of the north-west passage. Having now passed her exam of these two daring passages with flying colours, the deities of the boreal decided she could stay.

Armed with this credential, our proud vessel has never left the Far North since. Overwintering 12 times, first in Svalbard and then in Nunavut, and putting the ship to work on some sixty scientific programs, our valiant crew have remained faithful to their project - to provide a logistical base for polar science.

In 2007, a little Léonie was added to the crew, followed by her littler sister Aurore in 2009, but the ship hasn't changed course: once ice, always ice.

This year, even though the girls have gone to sample the summer delights of the warm French metropolis, we must go back once again. Science can't wait, and serious business awaits us on our first mission of the summer in Greenland. Just look at the title of the project: "Protero-Litho in the Gardar magmatic province". But it's probably too early to talk about scientific details, so just hang on a while and, if you continue to follow this blog, some of the researchers will tell you more.

It was 9pm and we had to go, but the music was beautiful. For our departure, the shore had been invaded by a group of Irish musicians: "The Celtic Cods", a name the brings delight the little son of a cod fisherman that I am. And so three fiddles, three flutes, a mandolin, a guitar, an accordion and even a Celtic tambourine (which we should call bodhran), offered us a beautiful aubade. Sorry, I should say a magnificent serenade, since it was the evening and an aubade is reserved for the dawn of the morning.

After reciting "Au bord de l'eau" by Rémi Geffroy, a song that always moves me, we cast off. Swallowed up by the fog, we hear a flute playing "Cape Clear" in the misty distance, a melody that tells us about Cape Clear Island, yesterday's powerless watchtower turned temple of memories, with its long-shimmering tears dried in the wind. A jewel rediscovered from the splendour of the ocean, still looking for its starving children in a fold of the horizon.

The music is beautiful, but we know we've got to go.