Vagabond all set for winter

  • 1013 Position finale pour hivernage ©France Pinczon du Sel
  • 1704 Travail de terrassier ©France Pinzcon du Sel
  • 1638 Position de Vagabond apres premiere tentative ©France Pinzon du Sel
  • 0104 Maree haute au milieu de la nuit ©France Pinczon du Sel

Once Léonie and Eric left for Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, just on time for school and new position (new research station), we remained two of us, Louis Wilmote and I, onboard Vagabond, for the two following weeks. Louis, before landing in Grise Fiord, made a stop in Arctic Bay in order to dive and recover most of the coralline samples and about ten sensors waiting since last year. Successful job after two stops, on his way to and back from Grise Fiord!

Very busy fortnight: a lot of maintenance, including smelling sessions in the engine room... at anchor in front of town or sheltered behind small islands not far from Grise Fiord, before beaching Vagabond. Finally everything is ready for the first attempt. The tide will reach a sufficient level of water by the middle of that night. In the evening Paul digs with his loader at the same place where Vagabond wintered last year. Everything would have been simple if ... is it the violent gust of wind or the beluga that came two times around Vagabond, who would have decided that we would not see the depth of the hole dug that evening? Vagabond began to drift as the loader was digging. When the anchor hooked again in front of Grise Fiord, the hole was finished but we didn't feel like leaving Vagabond, doubting about the good behavior of the anchorage.

Later on this moonless night, we begin the approach. But we quickly realize, immobilized in front of the shelter and after that broke a line by the traction of the loader, that it is not for tonight...

The following evening Paul digs again around Vagabond, high perched without water on the slope of the foreshore. At 1am, Vagabond progresses 3 meters before the chain slips. Then a second rope breaks... The pressure is rising: there is only one more attempt possible before the tide coefficients will decrease again.

Then comes back Raymond: he is the one who dug last year, "as much as he could"! The next morning he finds a longer and bigger chain that we prepare. Without any notice, at midday he arrives with his loader to make a test. Vagabond turns little bit but the loader rears up! A bit later at the highest of the tide, he comes back with Paul: in line one in front of the other, the two loaders hoist Vagabond without difficulties in its cradle! Before having finish our meal, spectators on the deck, we are in place for winter! Thank you Paul and Raymond for your pugnacity.

Next mission on summer 2022!

Back to Sverdrup and Belcher glaciers

  • 2139 Mouillage glacier Belcher ©EB
  • 1549 Mise a l eau mouillage Belcher ©France Pinczon du Sel
  • 1507 Jeremie remonte bouteille Niskin ©EB
  • 1606 Leonie labo Vagabond ©France Pinczon du Sel

Coming back from north, a bit in a hurry, we decide to go directly to Sverdrup glacier on the north coast of Devon Island, for the planned hydrographic stations. But the weather conditions with up to 35 knots wind gusts prevent us from heading towards the glacier, which is no longer sheltered at all. Vagabond runs for about fifteen nautical miles more before to find a temporary shelter; then we leave again and finally discover a better shelter five miles away! Waiting is part of the game, we take advantage of it by stretching our legs, having a picnic on land and observing the sea condition from higher.

Back to Sverdrup glacier, we carry out two transects with CTD stations and various filtrations. Megan and Jennifer are back to it and it takes even more time with a broken hand pump ... But in two days without stop, it's done! Before heading back to Grise Fiord, we take and filter some water from the glacier, what a pleasure to walk on rock and ice! Two young scientists in Grise Fiord are waiting for this sample water, as well as for our Vagabond to do more sampling in front of the village. On the other side of Jones Sound therefore, we embark Maria and Patrick for 5 hours of sampling which turn into 14 hours. And it will take them almost two more days non-stop to finish treating all this water without delay.

We quickly prepare our departure to the Belcher Glacier. Jeremie embarks everything necessary to deploy another oceanographic mooring, including some curious engine parts, as heavy as one could wish, found at the dump to serve as ballasts. Jennifer does not re-embark, but everyone will lend a hand. Night shifts. The next day, conditions are perfect. We go straight to the good shelter spotted the previous year with the family to complete the preparation of the scientific mooring. And the next morning, splash! Everyone is happy, the launch was smooth. The glacier is magnificent, we start the filtration again under the direction of Megan, still surrounded by brash or icebergs; glacier is carving... luckily we have already passed the place! The last evening we take advantage of the still sunny night for a walk on the glacier.


  • 1915 Prelevements eau baie de Talbot ©France Pinczon du Sel
  • 1743 Amarrage banquise ©EB
  • 1928 Jeremie et Leonie devant glacier Wykeham ©EB
  • 1054 Leonie entend le mouillage oceano installe en 2019 ©EB

Talbot inlet. This huge bay surrounded by glaciers is the scene of our mission. Animal life abounds here, well protected by an accumulation of ices, some more or less old icebergs or young sea-ice not yet melted - will they melt? - brash, pack, all kind of shapes, colors, heights. sailing and squeezing through that is exhilarating. The first objective is to recover the oceanographic mooring deployed from Vagabond's deck two years ago. This is Jeremy's challenge: after having listened, located the beep beep emitted by the pinger from the bottom of the sea, he presses on "release" but the acoustic release is not doing anything, nothing goes up! We tire our eyes by browsing the perimeter as best as possible but at the end still nothing, just disappointment. Is the acoustic release battery too low? However the mooring is closeby, 600m under Vagabond's hull. Will the Amundsen manage to recover it by sending an ROV to cut the ballast cable during the summer campaign?

The weather is perfect and we must take advantage of it. We do CTD transects and hydrographic stations, we collect water samples and do a lot of filtering. Days, nights without night, with watches shifts or steering in the maze of ice, a strange labyrinth where we are never sure to reach the next point. But at the end, we can approach the glacier fronts much more than in 2019!

Then we rest nearby the coast, go to shore to look for an untraceable weather station and meet 3 then 5 bears around! We can even observe the female with her two cubs nursing.

The locations selected for coralline search are difficult to reach. We can only wait or drift, moored on some big sea ice floes, we even let ourselves locked down inside the entrance of the bay by some huge multi-year ice floes drifting from the North. At the end we can only explore a small amount of the coralline sites planned.

When it's time to come back to Grise Fiord, Vagabond is escorted by ice fields for a long while, the magic never ends!

See Ellesmere 2021 photos.

Talbot's polar bear

  • 1310 Narval sonde iceberg Talbot ©Leonie Brossier
  • 1410 Leonie photo ours ©France Pinczon du Sel
  • 1410 Ours de Talbot ©Leonie Brossier
  • 1414 Ours inspecte amarre ©Leonie Brossier

After a week stuck inside Grise fjord due to pack ice, we finally managed to get the scientists on board last Friday. This morning (Monday) we made the first station, after spending 3 hours trying to listen and recover an ocean mooring, in vain. I finally went back to bed around 1:30 am to fall asleep 1 hour later and get up at 9:30 am. I arrived during busy filtration time, performed by hand because the pump was not working... Suddenly Jennifer comes inside more or less panicked. I rush to the window and, while she tells us that there is a bear outside, I watch it climb on the ice, watching the commotion we were making. I went downstairs to wake Dad up, and when I got back up, he was sniffing the bow of the boat, which he had access to thanks to the ice floe we were moored to. Fearing that he might get on board without permission, Mum came out with a pan cover and banged on the railing with it; and after a second or two of hesitation, the bear ran away! Dad arrived at this point and only had time to see him disappear behind the bump, and Jeremie only got the story. I dressed quickly to climb the mast, and it was I who saw him swim from the roof. I still climbed the mast, from where I could see narwhals. Later, when everyone was in bed except Mom, Jeremie and I, we saw lots of narwhals on all sides. I came out with the camera, but it's hard because it only makes small black dots... Personally I'm very happy to have seen three tails, including one facing me and two teeth!

(Later...): the bear is back !!! This time I got on the roof and everyone was able to enjoy it! I took a lot of photos, trying to capture positions or the gaze. I got a little worried as he got closer, but Mom used the pan cover again. Eventually he left after trying to climb aboard and eat the mooring rope (pushed back by the cover).

See Ellesmere 2021 photos.

Vagabond's position.


  • 1758 Gateau de Laisa pour concours Nunavut Day ©EB
  • 1447 Recuperation donnees station meteo glacier Grise Fiord ©EB
  • 1408 Raymond degage glace derriere Vagabond ©EB
  • 1808 Leonie et France dans les glaces ©EB

Vagabond is at sea again. The second attempt was a success. Spring high tide and Kavavow's powerful speed boat were needed to leave Grise Fiord beach. Launching Vagabond means the end of a transition period.

From land to sea. From overwintering to sailing. Towards an hectic scientific cruise!

From solo to crew since France and Léonie came back on July 22nd, after 15days isolation in Ottawa. Joyful reunion upset by France's father death the following day. We are staying close to the family despite the distance.

Spring has passed in no time. Snow melted, tundra bloomed, rivers are running again. Sea ice was spotted with beautiful melt ponds for a while, until it broke up mid-July.

Transition towards positive temperatures, for sure, but it is still snowing regularly, even in summer. What a difference with the 50°C reached in the southern part of the country!

For the past few weeks hunters were bringing a small boat, on a sledge, just in case, to the floeedge. This is where they could catch again walrus, bearded seal, beluga or narwhal. Now boats are replacing snowmobiles, until the ice will freeze again.

To reach the glacier, no more skis but crampons. Without snow, I could recover the lost weather station and rescue the data logger, crucial data for the Asuittuq glacier study. Good field work!

Since I came back over two months ago, thanks to permanent daylight, our good old solar panels (2004!) are able to supply all needed power to live on board Vagabond, this is very satisfactory!

On July 1st, there has been no Canada Day celebrations in Grise Fiord after the residential schools scandal (50s to 90s) and the discovery of the remains of more than one thousands children.

On July 6th, Inuit leader Mary Simon was named General Governor of Canada, an historical step towards reconciliation. Larry Adlaluk's book is bringing a strong account on how much government made Inuit suffered in the 50s. The documentary Wounded Healers is hopeful and optimistic.

On July 9th, it was Nunavut Day. In Grise Fiord we had a fishing derby, a small boat race, a cake decoration contest, games, feast, music... and happiness to gather and celebrate.

Transition in Health Centres: it is becoming harder to work as a nurse in Nunavut and there is a lack of nurses. After servicing for 30 years in Nunavut, including the last 10 years in Grise Fiord, our friend Joanne went back to her Acadie. A very moving departure for her and the entire community as they faced three sudden deaths last winter, while there has not been any for eight years.

Transition from North to South for Vagabond's crew as well, from Arctic to Subarctic, as I will be in charge of a new research platform in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon. But we will keep running Vagabond in the High Arctic in summer!

See Ellesmere 2021 photos.

Vagabond's position.

Ocean science from its frozen surface

  • 1428 Terry snack devant glacier Jakeman ©EB
  • 1000 Eric CTD Fram Fiord ©Terry Noah
  • 1600 Oceanographie 520km de banquise ©EB
  • 1648 Releve hydrgraphique devant glacier Sverdrup avec Tom ©EB

Like most glaciers, Grise Fiord glacier is retreating rapidly. This is shown by the study for which we were digging in poles with Jimmy on May 21st. But what happens to the meltwater? What influence does it have on the ocean? What nutrient supply can we observe? These are questions from the team we have been working for since 2019.

This year, in addition to the summer cruise, we are taking the pulse of the ocean before the melt, before the glacial rivers appear.

First glacier, Sverdrup, north coast of Devon Island. It takes us three days to reach it. The sea ice in Jones Sound is chaotic this year and on top of that, we spend a day in the tent due to blizzard. I team up with Tom Kiguktak. Together we did a long journey from Resolute Bay in 2012, it is a pleasure to share this new field work. We have the same age. Having become a father a few years ago and employed full time in town, he has less time to go out hunting and has not gone out for a long time; also he is extremely happy! Before hiring him for a week, I wrote to his employer to justify his request for unpaid leave. We enjoy every moment like kids and we quickly forget about the rough ice, the wind, the skidoo or auger breakdowns, the hours of filtering sea water sampled from under the ice or deep in the ocean. Some concerns for our second camp, where we spent three nights in an area with many bears (we watch seven of them)... happy to find it intact every evening!

"We are safe, everything is going to be fine, we don't taste good, we smell skidoo," Tom tells me one evening as he steps into the tent, after checking around and observing two bears. One of them is quite close, hunting a young seal. He will eat mainly the skin and the fat, and will leave the meat to the foxes and birds. If we think that a bear is roaming outside, we must signal our presence by saying something like "hum".

I'm never tired of the incredible hunting stories that Tom likes to tell quietly in the tent. He could be the author of dozens of documentaries and adventure books!

Second Glacier, Jakeman, Ellesmere Island, east of Grise Fiord. This time I'm heading out with Terry Noah. He is not yet 30, he too has two children and has started his own business, Ausuittuq Adventures. In addition he processes some of the food he hunts or fishes. Last summer, we had welcomed him aboard Vagabond with his family. And it was him who had brought a young seal to Léonie in 2012!

Not far from the glacier, Terry has just set up a hut that we are inaugurating. Better shelter than a tent against bears or storms. The pack ice here is nice and smooth, but thick fog could be a deterrent... we reach the glacier front as well and can start the hydrographic transect.

In total, 520 km covered in 10 days, 26 profiles with the probe (23 auger holes and 3 "borrowed" seal holes), 42 water samples and frozen filters, depths from 8m to 620m (winch max.).

See the Ellesmere 2021 album.

Concentrated Arctic

  • 0636 Eclipse solaire ©EB
  • 1100 Eric collecte glace iceberg ©Terry Noah
  • 1230 Eric station oceano devant glacier Jakeman ©Terry Noah
  • 1330 Eric filtrations mini labo sur banquise ©Terry Noah

June 10, 2021: What a day!

The evening before, Terry and I arrived to his new cabin at the end of Fram Fiord, 50km east of Grise Fiord. First guests ever! The place is beautiful, the purple saxifrages are in bloom, our snowmobiles (big machines!) are parked a few meters away on still thick sea ice... peaceful spring time.

The sun eclipse begins as expected, the stars play with the fog and offer us a nice show as early as 6am. A great start.

A few hours later, despite the fog and the numerous warnings about possible thin ice areas around Jakeman glacier, we are drilling through 136cm of good sea ice at the foot of the ice wall to send the probe to the bottom and then to take seawater samples at different depths. Over a long day of field work, we are doing 7 oceanographic stations gradually moving away from the glacier. A success. In two months, during the summer cruise, we will repeat these measurements from Vagabond, there will be no more sea ice and we will have to deal with swell, wind, current, drifting ice... Let's enjoy spring!

On our way, we climb on an iceberg to watch around and to collect ice that will give us excellent water for tea and cooking. Terry brought us some delicious country food from his hunting and fishing. Before our trip he made some dried and smoked caribou, dried and smoked arctic char, and grounded muskox! It's so much better that what we find in the store in town. We see an amazing fox like wearing black panty near the cabin, muskox and their young ones, still ptarmigans, geese arriving after their migration, eider ducks flying in formation, polar bear fresh tracks... and many ring seals, lying on the ice, next to their holes. Terry is very happy when he discovers that it is a young seal that I managed to shoot, his family has been craving for it since Christmas. I will be invited to share the uyuq (seal stew) with them in a few days, once back in Grise Fiord. The skin is really nice, I'm happy to keep it.

This day offers us a concentrate of the Arctic life we ​​love, intense, just for my 52 years, unforgettable. The satellite receiver has rang many times today, bringing full of good wishes. Back on Vagabond in Grise Fiord, I will have to open the gifts prepared by my daughters before my departure from Brittany last April.

Back to Grise Fiord

  • 1528 Vagabond au centre de Grise Fiord ©EB
  • 2254 Trou pour perche de suivi de fonte du glacier ©EB
  • 1325 Relais VHF sommet Nuvuk pres de Grise Fiord ©EB
  • 1436 Mesure de la taille d un chabot ©EB

Event this weekend at Grise Fiord: the Fishing Derby. Today is the third and last day of the great annual fishing competition. Arctic char fishing in a lake on Devon Island, a dozen hours by snowmobile (the ice is very rough this year), or sculpin fishing under the ice for those who have not left the village.

Yesterday, from a 800 meters summit above the sea ice, the panoramic view was extraordinary. Perfect weather and ideal snow conditions, a long ski tour that made me forget the three weeks of travel and quarantines to come back to Vagabond.

I was very moved when I dropped my bag on board last Thursday. Several elements reminded me last year's long journey: same seat in the same plane, heading to Vagabond, flying over so many places we visited during our previous winterings and navigations in the area... After 18 nights in hotels, 5 PCR tests (all negative!), 9 stops from Paris, endless documents checks, I was impatient. The death of our friend and guide Alain haunted me. My daughters playlist, who are in Brittany with France until the end of the school year, increased tenfold my feelings!

40°C difference between Ottawa and Grise Fiord but I heard many warm "welcome home".

Already the next day, I was collecting scientific equipment for the upcoming field work, I received my first vaccine injection, and, happy riding a skidoo, I joined Jimmy for six hours of drilling and measurements on the neighboring glacier. To understand the importance of this glacier for the community, read the article The taps of Grise Fiord soon dry (Radio-Canada, May 5, 2021, in French).

Christian Morel is back

  • 20200321j Light painting ©Christian Morel
  • 20200321i Light painting ©Christian Morel
  • 20200321h Light painting ©Christian Morel
  • 20200321g Light painting ©Christian Morel

It was a year ago. France hosted a new artist residency aboard Vagabond, frozen in the ice in front of Arctic Bay, in Nunavut. And then the restrictions fell, the artists left in a hurry. Among them Christian Morel, photographer, used to sea ice and to the cocoon Vagabond.

His photos speak about the balance sought by the Inuit, between tradition and modernity; a very promising look to talk about our relation to the land and to consumption.

Christian Morel explains:

"The Inuit have in one hand a state-of-the-art iPhone and in their eyes a spark of love for these harsh lands where fishing or hunting remains a vital necessity.

I tried to bring to light this paradox, to picture this invisible separation, a sort of virtual passage in space-time and between two worlds. During this residency, and before the covid-19 pandemic suddenly stopped it, I was able to work on a series of stagings with Inuit from the village of Arctic Bay (Ikpiarjuk). All were photographed exclusively in the dark, in the coldest hours of spring, so that the light-painting technique can highlight the difference between reality and history.

A particularly demanding photographic approach for everyone, mixing very long exposure times and light movements at -38°C. Whether it was for the Inuit volunteers who had to hold their position without shaking too much, for my faithful assistant Léonie without whom I wouldn't have succeeded, for myself or for the equipment."

In 2016, during a residency aboard Vagabond near Qikiqtarjuaq (Nunavut), Christian was telling us sea ice stories.

Long-time lover of polar environments, Christian has done valuable work on our polar heritage in 2007-2008, during the International Polar Year.