At first, I have to check the state of the sea ice in the vicinity of the ship. What a great surprise then, to see Gérard Guérin arriving, by helicopter from Dumont d'Urville station where he arrived by plane a few days ago. Chainsaw expert, he comes to assist the mooring of the icebreaker. And here we are both mandated by the French Polar Institute (IPEV) to contribute to the good set-up of the big red boat against the pack ice: a nice nod to our long journey around the Arctic aboard Vagabond in 2002-2003. I explore the region for 8 days, from the ice edge, where L'Astrolabe is moored, up to Dumont d'Urville station, 50 km away. The proximity with penguins and seals is incredible. Here, no bear, no fox. No predator. The pack ice is perfect, solid, thick, well snowy, and flat (neither hummock nor sastrugi). Nothing like arriving by snowmobile at DDU to get a good idea of the immensity. I carry on the measurements in the neighbourhood of the base, until the Rocher du Débarquement, where Jules Dumont d'Urville took possession of Adélie Land, in 1840. On November 24, the fuels convoys and helicopters slings are completed, everything has been landed, L'Astrolabe is heading North. The arrival in Hobart on December 1st marks the end of R0 (first rotation). I meet again with my family in Ambato (Ecuador), just in time to feel the earthquake of Sunday, December 3rd at 6:19 am, magnitude 6.2, whose epicentre is a few hundred kilometres only from home!
Story by Serge Fuster, district leader (mission TA67), to read from the official blog: Un transfert d'enfer.
Special stamp collection, by Eric Sengler, the postal manager of the French base (TA67).
Here I am back on sea ice, this time in Antarctica. The red boat is moored to the ice edge. First we make a helicopter reconnaissance flight with the expedition leader. Then I get everything ready, the snowmobile, the sled, and the "icemeter" (EM31), needed to measure the thickness of the ice. My mission is to validate the route to the base of Dumont D'Urville, like in 2014. 50km to go on the frozen sea. Objective: 4 to 500 cubic meters of fuel oil to be unloaded, half of what is necessary to run French programs in Antarctica. The rest will be delivered during the next rotation of the ship, before March 2018 (early winter). There is emergency, the stocks of the bases are exhausted at the end of wintering, and last summer conditions have only allowed a minimum resupply.
On September 14th, 2017, the new Astrolabe was delivered to the French Navy. The red icebreaker will now be based in Reunion Island to resupply the French Antarctic bases in the summer (Dumont D'Urville and Concordia), and patrol the waters of the southern lands in winter (Kerguelen, Crozet, Saint-Paul and Amsterdam, Eparses). He thus replaces the old Astrolabe and the Albatross (on which I returned from Kerguelen in January 1995).
November 3rd: heavily loaded with oil and equipment, the polar patrol boat leaves Hobart, Tasmania, towards Adelie Land. Weight of the ship when loaded: more than 4000 tons. On board, 21 sailors and 43 passengers, embarked for the very first rotation. A first for the Navy as well, whose boats have not been south of the 60th parallel for 65 years.
November 7th: stop at Macquarie Island to drop about ten Australian scientists. The sea was rough, crew and passengers were well shaken, so we enjoy the opportunity to relax a few hours, sheltered by the island. A big male elephant seal approaches, 3 killer whales come nearby, and the albatrosses are faithful.
November 9th: arrival in the drifting pack ice, first contact with sea ice for the new Astrolabe, designed to break 80cm (class IB5). 4 engines for 9200CV in total.
November 13th: The Astrolabe reaches the ice edge, 60km from the base. We are welcomed by more killer whales and penguins! Bad weather suspends operations.
November 14th: One of the helicopters is taken out, test flight, mini reconnaissance, aerial photos, nothing more while waiting for a better weather window... we all look forward to disembark and do something!
November 16th: favourable weather! A dozen flights allow the helicopters to bring the mail (54 bags!) and some fresh food to the base (isolated since March 2017), then to transport eleven new winterers and summer scientists and technicians. Vessel side, refuelling operations are starting (R0, first rotation of the 2017-2018 season). The experienced IPEV team (French Polar Institute) is learning little by little to work with the Navy, watched by many curious penguins. And here we go for the seaice mission!
Read about the old Astrolabe: L'Astrolabe, le passeur de l'Antarctique, by Daphnée Buiron and Stéphane Dugast at E/P/A.
France keeps the marvellous memory of the energetic woman, in love with the Arctic like us, going so far as to brave with her daughter Sabrina and her cat Pungo her dreams of freedom. She was an amazing mom!
I like to tell the story when she met in the Northwest Passage with our Russian friends, the crew of Apostle Andrey, for whom women and black cats are unlucky on board a boat. She bluffed more than one!
We are sad with everyone who has admired Mic's audacity and enthusiasm to live her dreams, and to share them. Godmother Mic, that's how she was coming to us, I was proud! She took her role very seriously!
I will never forget her welcoming in Saint-Quay-Portrieux on October 13th, 2003, when we were returning from circumnavigating the Arctic. She was coming towards us aboard her sailing ship Nuage, what an emotion.
Later, I enjoyed playing for our girls the songs she wrote for her family embarked on a sailboat, "To go to America, it is necessary to cross the ocean...".
Her book Alaska Dream is still aboard Vagabond, indispensable.
Before sailing away at 42, Michèle Demai was a famous television announcer.
Aurore (7 years old), Léonie (10 years old), France Pinczon du Sel and I are in Ambato, in Ecuador, to collaborate with seismic and volcanic risks prevention. A mission organized by La Guilde, Ecuasol and the European Union, from August 1st, 2017 to December 31st, 2018.
More about this project:
A blog (in French): Vagabond / Latitude Zero
The website of the NGO in Ecuador: [Ecuasol] (http://ecuasol.org/es/que-hacemos/)
Information about La Guilde and EU Aid Volunteers: La Guilde
During this mission that takes us far from the Arctic, our polar sailboat Vagabond is on land in Miquelon. Since 2000, Vagabond has hosted more than 40 scientific programs, did 11 overwinterings, and traveled 60,000 miles in the Arctic.
Vagabond's wintering get organized, with Jacky who already watches over our red hull. Latest preparations, maintenance and we close our bags for an unusual journey. First, there are no more seat in the fast boat from Miquelon to reach Newfoundland in time. But it is because of the Dune Fest, the annual music festival which takes place in the dunes of Langlade, at half an hour driving from the village of Miquelon. So we offer ourselves for the last evening a festival ending by a fireworks, among the local people. We find again Jonathan, this time as a sound engineer and drummer! The next morning all our bags loaded in Jacky's pick up (also Jonathan's father), we arrive in a heavy rain at the pier of Langlade. A big zodiac brings all the luggage before transferring the wet passengers. While everybody is packed in the foggy shelter, four of us go up nearby the wheelhouse to enjoy the scenery, without having to take a watch. After an hour and a half of swell we arrive at Saint-Pierre, where the boat for Fortune, Newfoundland, leaves shortly after. Soaked, with our wet bags, we are happy to find shortly after the perfect Bed and Breakfast right in front of the dock and big enough to dry out all our things!
At the first try, the machine didn't make it to bring the boat out of the water, and the boss didn't want to add another machine to help. So he told us that they were gonna put the boat back in the water at midnight. The next day, dad ask the boss to try again with another machine and it worked!!! Yes!!!
... But everything does not go smoothly as on wheels, especially with those of the Boat Lift which should bring Vagabond out of the sea: once our boat is well secured on this trolley, the wheels slip on the slope too steep of the slipway. After many attempts the operator deduces that Vagabond is finally too heavy. We are concerned... Where could we go if it does not work here? But time has passed and the tide no longer allows us to go back down into the water. Vagabond is stuck at mid-slope perched on this trolley! We will wait for the high tide at midnight to refloat Vagabond, without being able to get on board. Opportunity to speak about the welcome of the Miquelonians since a house is loaned to us by the Boat Lift company.
The next day at high tide, a tractor is hooked to reinforce the Boat Lift and Vagabond comes out of the water easily.