Grise Fiord

  • Vagabond sur la plage de Grise Fiord pour l hiver ©EB
  • Sortie de Vagabond à Grise Fiord ©EB
  • Mouillage au bout du fjord Starnes ©EB
  • Festin pour phoques et oiseaux fjord Starnes ©EB

Here we are alone again, just the family for the last week of the summer cruise. It's getting late in the season and the weather encourages us to explore the sheltered fjords. The first one east of Grise Fiord, the longest in the region (50km), is Starnes Fiord which I visited only once in spring to measure the thickness of the sea ice. This time, we discover its deep waters and its shallows.

We are surrounded with hundreds of harp seals, fulmar petrels, kittiwakes, herring gulls... all of them are stuffing themselves with small polar cods before migrating south when the sea will start to freeze early October. Foxes stealthily take advantage of the remains of the feast they find along the shore.

The seabed is rich, the water becomes clearer in this season, colder too! But above all, quite far from the suggested sites, we find some of the best coralline samples of the entire summer. As a result, centuries of data on the waters and the sea ice of this fjord. During the last dives, I do a few quadrats too, for the Arctic Kelp project.

On 19 September, the weather is good, the swell is weak, the tide is very high at 1 p.m., everything is in order to haul out Vagabond on the beach of Grise Fiord. At same place as 8 years ago, Raymond has prepared a real tailor-made port, the operation is simple and fast.

In ten days, we will leave our ship here for the winter and fly to France, which we do not yet know at the covid time. Nunavut, which we have not left since before the pandemic, has been spared until now. If conditions allow, we will come back to Vagabond in spring 2021, for the next scientific cruise.

Last summer mission

  • Morse Harbour Fiord ©EB
  • Depart Gabriel Grise Fiord ©EB
  • Baie bien protegee Harbour Fiord ©EB
  • Installation sonar pres de Grise Fiord ©EB

We have been on stand by near Grise Fiord for 8 days now. Weather stand by first: it has been 9 days with no plane and Gabriel finally arrives with his 8 boxes of equipment and 3 days delay. Then we have a bit more stand by due to some medical concern for our new arrival. Nevertheless we set up the sonar and, despite the continuous northerly wind in Nares Strait, Eric and I are ready to give a try, at least to Cape Norton Shaw. Even if we know that it will not be easy.

It is ultimately decided not to leave Jones Sound. But we do not have the authorizations to map the sheltered fjords of Southern Ellesmere Island, the long administrative procedures have not yet been completed yet. So where to go and what to do?

After our short attempt to the north, we shelter in Harbour Fiord that we never took time to explore, and we discover a great wintering site that makes us dream! Widely open to several valleys, the peaceful place shelters also our various thoughts about the way that takes this end of mission and it is also here that Gabriel decides to leave earlier, because no work is possible for him. A thick blanket of snow is covering the landscape on the day of his departure, "winter is coming" are saying the grisefiordmiuts (people from Grise Fiord) with a smile!

Meeting our friends again

  • Imooshee Terry et famille a bord de Vagabond ©Aurore Brossier
  • Chez Liza et Aksajuk a Grise Fiord ©EB
  • Festin de morues pour mouettes devant Grise Fiord ©EB
  • Lemming fjord Grise ©EB

Sailing nearby Grise Fiord, we share some happy greetings by radio. Then the chairman of HTA (Hunters and Trappers Association), understanding that we are heading towards Jakeman Glacier, warns us of fear about our scientific activities in this area where the narwhals have been for a while. Although we often see marine mammals around Vagabond's hull, not looking any disturbed... There is also a family of hunters in the small neighboring fjord, Fram Fiord, and they have not heard about them for several days. We promise to keep them informed as soon as we arrive there, especially since they are friends and a transect is also waiting for us there.

However, we are living the worst sailing conditions of the summer to get there...

What a pleasure to meet up with Imooshee and his son Terry, accompanied by his wife and children! Terry has set up his own outfitting company, in order to guide sport hunters, photographers or scientists out on the land. For a week in their tents, they have not been able to hunt at sea because of the bad weather. But they had a muskox. We walk together to the river, then have supper on board Vagabond and share our stories. Last winter, during the night, while they were cutting up a seal on the sea ice, Terry and Imooshee are surprised by a bear very close, who is walking straight towards Terry. He hits it with his knife, without any effect. They try to protect themselves behind their snowmobile, but the bear stands up, its front legs on the machine. Imooshee violently hits his fist on the bear's nose, giving to Terry just enough time to grab the gun that was between the bear and the snowmobile, and to press the barrel against the bear and to shoot!

The next day in the mist, the sea calmed down and we carry out our samplings and CTD transect before returning to Grise Fiord since the Jakeman is forbidden to us.

When we arrive in the dinghy, faithful, Jimmy welcomes us on the beach, then Imooshee back from Fram Fiord and above all, Liza and Aksajuk who came by car. Generous as always Liza invites us for showers and laundry. In the warmth of her home, we have the feeling of being again with our grandparents from Nunavut.

The next morning a lot of inhabitants armed with garden tools are walking between the rocks at very low tide looking for clams! Groups of harp seals are swimming quietly in front of town overflown by swarms of birds attracted by the huge quantity of arctic cods whose livers they devour, leaving their remains washed up by hundreds on the shore.

The village has not changed. We are chatting here and there as if we had left the day before. And from these pleasant discussions comes the idea that Vagabond could stay on Grise Fiord's beach next winter! Indeed we have just been informed that Vagabond is no longer authorized to overwinter in Thule in Greenland.

South Cape Fiord

  • Rencontre du Pierre Radisson dans Fram Sound ©EB
  • France et Leonie cherchent de la coralline pres du cap Morse ©EB
  • Rencontre avec Raymond et Tivai dans le fjord du Cap Sud ©EB
  • France laborantine ©EB

Vagabond is at anchor near the entrance of South Cape Fiord, Ellesmere Island, exactly at the spot where we lived from October 2011 till July 2012. Our daughters were pretty young then, the winter was amazing. Memories are coming back nicely while sorting out the last coralline samples after a good dive at Cape Storm on August 13th...

August 10th: a polar bear is running away on the beach near the old scientific station Truelove. I was diving the night before without knowing he was around! Nice seafloor, a lot of kelp (we monitor our observations for Arctic Kelp team), pretty good sampling. The sea is calm, we keep searching for coralline as well as doing oceanographic stations. During the Jones Sound crossing, from Devon Island to Ellesmere Island, we even manage to send the CTD and sampling water down to 630m deep.

On August 11th, a large group of walruses prevents me from diving near Olsen Island, in Goose Fiord. I don't really want to play around with these big guys... We are searching for coralline near Fram Sound and Hell Gate. We have to deal with quite a lot of drifting ice and strong currents, which make us turn around, precisely before Cape Turnback! In the middle of the sound, while we are getting ready to launch the probe between ice floes drifting East at 2 knots, our AIS is suddenly showing a ship. The Pierre Radisson is a Canadian Coast Guards icebreaker and we can communicate in French! Watching us carefully, he starts moving towards us, probably thinking we are trapped in the ice... But once the station is done, Vagabond pushes, sneaks, and proudly reach open water. We greet the icebreaker, still following us, and enter Hourglass Bay. There, we first have to cross a very shallow and uncharted area (2 to 3 m depth) before getting to a good shelter. The little red hut is still there, it was built 20 years ago to commemorate the Centennial of Fram and Sverdrup expedition (1898-1902).

We enter the great glacial South Cape Fiord on August 14th. We have 21 hydrographic profiles to do with the probe (CTD), as well as 27 water sampling (Niskin bottle) and filtering series (nutrients, oxygen isotopes, Chla, CHN). Conditions are perfectly calm, luckily! Many icebergs, glaciers calving actively, a lot of birds, one more polar bear (we saw 9 in 3 weeks), bearded and ring seals... the rich waters are very attractive when the ice disappear for about 3 months. Raymond and Tivai are here hunting, they caught a seal and a duck, it looks better than our ocean data and filtered water bottles! They are the first people we meet since we left Arctic Bay, and we are really happy to see them again and to chat for a little while with our friends from Grise Fiord (the village is 70km away, to the East).

Vagabond Cruise 2020 map.

Sverdrup Glacier

  • Bonne ambiance sur le pont pendant les manips ©EB

Endless westerly wind is challenging our North Devon Island cruise. After standing by for three days, we took full advantage of a calm weather starting measurements and sampling at 4am yesterday morning in front of Sverdrup Glacier. The transect was completed not long after 1pm, when wind and swell were picking up again! We are back at anchor near Cape Hardy, sheltering as it is impossible for now to head West to followup with the schedule.

However we are determined! Either searching for coralline or kelp, either studying the glacier meltwater impacts on marine ecosystem. Scientific protocols have been digested, jobs are getting clarified, routines start running, fieldwork is going smoothly, more efficient, more fun. Enjoying team work together with the family in an incredible scenery!

We are happy to meet again with Jones Sound wildlife. Despite polar bears, we have been watching muskox, walruses and even belugas. Vagabond keeps faithfully offering us an intense experience, facing wind, swell, snow (already on August 3rd!), uncharted shoals (many times in less than 3 meters depth the past few days) and drifting ice.

Vagabond is sharing her position every two hours, see the Vagabond Cruise 2020 map.

A polar bear on the beach

  • Leonie Aurore et ours Pointe Raper ©France Pinczon du Sel

The day before yesterday, in the evening, we went for a hike to see if the swell would be less on the other side. I was walking a little bit behind to watch all the drift wood on the shore, also to look at the skuas flying above us, suddenly I stopped. My eyes just came across something white, slowly looking at me. My first thought was: "A bear! How did I miss it!?!". My second thought was: "Oh my god, Dad, Mum and Aurore didn't see it, they are walking strait to him!". So I shouted, not too loud: "There is a bear!". I was getting worried because Dad was still walking at a good speed towards him, when Mum stopped: she had just seen the bear too, he was then coming down to us. I didn't want to catch up with them, but they did by turning around: we were heading back to the dinghy (not running of course!). Mum took out her flare gun and Dad got the riffle out of its case. The polar bear was following us. He was even walking faster than us although he looked like he was taking his time. We reached the dinghy. Once all onboard, we went closer to the shore, where the bear was standing, to take some pictures from a safe position. Then, once on board Vagabond, sitting around the table, we watched him until he disappeared behind the cape.

First day of transect

  • Ours devant glacier Belcher ©EB
  • France et Leonie remontent la bouteille Niskin ©EB

This day begins early: at 2am we bring back the anchor and are heading to Belcher glacier. The swell prevents any rest between our watches and six hours later we end up at the glacier front. A nice brash is breaking down the swell, still strong. If brash and icebergs, then polar bears! Great show this morning: two, then three bears, including one cub, are watching out, standing up on their back legs, looking at each other, moving around. While working on our first station we are also watching them, looking for them and finding them again... When bringing back up the CTD, some grumbles surprise us: walruses, drone? No, one of the bears caught a seal, he is running on the ice holding his prey between his teeth, and the game between the three fellow creatures doesn't look friendly. On board Vagabond, we feel safer than yesterday on the beach...

This was a great way to start again a day which is going to be busy: one transect with nine CTD stations (hydrographic profiles) of whom four with water sampling. For this, we have to integrate, set up and optimize the choreography; so the first station is taking us up to three hours! And it is work for everyone on board. Two people doing the CTD cast then sampling water with the Niskin bottle at three different depths (bottom, maximum chlorophyll and surface). After that, two lab technicians to do the filtering and samplings, manual pumping to filter and eventually two more hands to hold well the funnels and containers in the swell! And we have not to forget the icebergs around while Vagabond is drifting or sailing to the next station. We improve our methods along the day and Eric do the last filtering in less than one hour while we are looking for a shelter in the heavy fog.

It's ten at night when we finally have our supper, happy to be finished with the swell and the transect, and soon enjoying some rest.

Coralline, icebergs, polar bear and patrol

  • Ours pointe Johnson ile Devon ©EB
  • France regle genois ©EB

Devon Island East coast survey is over. Icebergs from Baffin Bay are visiting all of the eight suggested sites and coralline has not much time to grow before being ripped off by drifting ice. France is spending hours in the dinghy with the drop camera to select the best diving spots if any. Samples are then dried and marked, we will ship them to Toronto at the end of the cruise. Clathromorphum compactum is a promising climate archive for improving our understanding of past changes in Arctic ocean and ice sheet conditions well before the beginning of instrumental observations.

Very loud sound, scary. An iceberg is breaking up not far from me... France is watching from the dinghy, she is not sounding the end of dive alarm, so I keep searching for coralline. She tells me later that she was scared too!

On Sunday, a large aircraft suddenly flies very low near Vagabond, twice, before a friendly interview in French! The military patrol is asking us name and call sign of the ship, flag, port of registry, last stop, destination, number of people on board, cargo, radar make and model! To their knowledge, there is no other ship around, neither further North.

In the evening, the surprise is a polar bear. France is alone in the dinghy, focused on the camera's small screen, she announces by radio that the bear is slowly coming down the cliff, then nothing. We cannot see her from Vagabond, we are getting worried, I end up saying to Aurore and Léonie "let's go!". Finally France is answering the radio and meets us at anchor, we are all still a bit nervous. The following morning, Vagabond is sailing around the small island and we can watch the polar bear, still there: I decide not to dive at this site!

Not many shelters, luckily the weather is fine. To get rest at anchor is all about the swell: either we get nicely rocked, either we are swinging incomfortably!

A lonely mission

  • 20200721 Montage du kayak ©EB
  • 20200721 Bivalves Arctic Bay ©EB
  • 20200720 Appro vivres Arctic Bay ©EB
  • 20200715 Aurore et Leonie equipieres de choc ©EB

Fair winds finally, it is time for Vagabond to leave Arctic Bay and begin her two month mission around Devon and Ellesmere Islands (map). As with every departure, it's a mixture of trepidation and excitement.

Despite the restrictions related to Covid-19, Transport Canada and the Ministry of Health of Nunavut gave us their consent as our family crew has been up North for months. But the various researchers for whom we work are not authorized to join us in Nunavut, nor our team members, in order to best protect the local communities. Only a hydrographer will exceptionally be allowed to embark at the end of August, for 3 weeks, and he will first have to spend two weeks of quarantine in a hotel in Ottawa.

Our daughters Aurore and Leonie, 10 and 13 years old, will be our team members for this cruise. A unique family configuration, unprecedented for a sailing season that promises to be wild. Arctic waters will indeed be very uncrowded this year, we will meet no cruise ship, no yacht attempting the Northwest Passage. Even the scientific icebreaker Amundsen is confined to the south of the Arctic Circle. Neither boat nor ice as sea ice melt already reaches record level.

The recovery of the last coralline samples, to end properly this one-year study, has been entrusted to our friends in Arctic Bay whom we are nostalgic to leave. Tuesday evening, the executive committee of the Hunters and Trappers Association (all Inuit over 16 are members, automatically) invited us to share our impressions and our projects during a friendly meeting. The audience also asked me about the potential impact of hydrophones on marine mammals that some scientists would like to install to listen to underwater activity, especially this summer with little ship traffic. There is also this lake in which fishermen would like me to dive to retrieve a few lost nets... See you soon Arctic Bay!

Three months after my return on board Vagabond, on Saint Brigitte's day, we are sailing again (map).

Open water

  • 20200708 Linaigrette ©EB
  • 20200705 Chez Hanna et Paul ©EB
  • 20200705 Baie Victor depuis la peninsule Uluksan ©EB
  • 20200704 Anniversaire un an Morgan ©EB

It is the end of the snowmobile season, no more hunting at the floe edge: many marine mammals gather at the edge of the ice to feed from the rich waters of the fjords which are once again accessible. It's +12°C, the ice is melting very quickly this year and we are the first to sail in front of Arctic Bay! Yesterday I dived from our boat while the day before there was still too much ice to navigate to the site.

We are busy on board Vagabond during the day with scientific work, end-of-winter maintenance and preparations for the summer mission, and we camp in the evening at Victor Bay to enjoy the flowery tundra.

Our tent neighbor Philip knows our daughters since he works at the school. He lives with his wife Sarah in a very small cabin, all year round, at Victor Bay, as there are eleven people in their house in Arctic Bay. The housing shortage is significant in Nunavut.

Sarah and Philip's niece Julian and her husband Isaia invited us to their son Morgan's birthday party on Saturday night. He was born a year ago, the day after his brother's suicide from whom he inherited his first name. Around the tents and small cabins, there were many of us to share these moving moments, happy despite everything. Their friend Cherita organized on June 26 in the village a suicide prevention march.

After a nice hike on Sunday with a magnificent view on open water and three icebergs in the Admiralty Fjord, we visited Paul. The hamlet's mechanic, so helpful to us throughout the winter, lives with Hanna in a little red house he built 7 years ago. Hanna teaches traditional culture at the Arctic Bay school, she helped France to make Leonie's parka pattern. She has just lost her son, another suicide... Paul tells us about his childhood far from his family, the residential school he went to be able to eat three times a day, and the government help he received much later to make up for the years away from his father and from his hunting and fishing apprenticeship. He caught up. He explains without bitterness that thanks to his education and his work, over time, he was able to offer several snowmobiles to his father.

In recent decades, behind the beautiful Arctic postcards, social problems have been more difficult to overcome than the polar cold. Fortunately the coronavirus did not reach communities in Nunavut.