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
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
by Daphnée Buiron and Stéphane Dugast at E/P/A.