Belcher's Hell

  • 1254 Recuperation mouillage oceano endommage par icebergs©EB
  • 0901 Ours observent Vagabond devant glacier Belcher ile Devon©EB
  • 1909 Vagabond echoue devant Grise Fiord pour reparations©EB
  • 1045 Longue lutte dans la houle et la glace©EB

For the fourth consecutive summer, the science campaign takes us in front of the spectacular Belcher glacier front, coming straight down from the ice cap of Devon Island.

The breakup was late this year. Impossible to navigate before the beginning of August, "as before" said our friends from Grise Fiord. On August 8, there is still a lot of ice in Jones Sound, we have to be patient to find a way to Belcher (100km). Luckily we meet two bears in this dazzling maze.

At first, too much ice to get to the site. But we manage to reach a kind of shelter from where we observe the ice drift and recover a tide gauge set up a year ago. It's a no visibility dive: the water is so laden with sediments that it is already dark at less than 10m depth! Fortunately the icebergs didn't damage the instrument and the GPS coordinates are precise enough to find it.

August 11, Vagabond finds his way through the ice, pushing from time to time. The oceanographic mooring site is reached, there is little ice around, the sea is calm, so it's time to trigger the acoustic release and free the mooring from its weight. It works! Buoys and instruments gradually appear on the surface, all connected by a 300-meter-long line. Everything is recovered and secured on the deck which ends up very cluttered. The cages designed to protect the instruments from the icebergs are totally destroyed, but the majority of the sensors recorded properly for a year. The whole team is satisfied!

A moderate easterly gale is announced. No shelter in the area but the ice should protect us, as usual. Problem: the winds offshore are much stronger than expected, it's a very unusual storm. As a result, most of the ice is swept away and the swell forms. For endless hours, Vagabond is trapped between thick and hard ice floes hitting hard the hull, at every wave. Stress is increasing on board. At times we have to hold on not to fall, to shout to be heard. Will Vagabond resist? As the hours pass, we imagine the worst. I remind everyone where the survival equipment is.

I don't want to think about our crew taking refuge on the large ice floe that just sank our boat... Would we be able to wait for help? Which help? This scenario that we have always been prepared for has never seemed so close to happen.

The wind and the swell are finally decreasing, the pressure of the ice slackens, we get out of the trap and leave behind the three bears who kept us company during these thirteen hours of struggle. Exhausted, aboard a battered Vagabond, we search in vain for a shelter to wait for better conditions to sail to Grise Fiord. We end up going back into the ice, but this time in a very small bay filled with brash which dampens some of the swell.

On August 15, Vagabond is voluntarily stranded on the beach off Grise Fiord. At low tide, we can see how much Vagabond is damaged, but its sturdiness still impresses us. The hull is terribly dented, nothing to do. The rudder is fine, a miracle. The cages, twisted, protected the propellers; but the starboard cage is so deformed that it blocks the propeller. Yves helps us to straighten everything with a hydraulic jack, a blowtorch and an hammer. Inside the boat, cracked walls and broken pipes are quickly repaired. The science campaign can carry on.

After Belcher's crevasses, Belcher's ice...

This episode will haunt us for a long time, we will never finish learning about sailing in ice, captivating and formidable.

Campaign 2022, action!

  • 1918 Deux loaders pour tracter Vagabond©EB
  • 1622 Claire Maya Minoli Ana Leni recuperent donnees CTD©EB
  • 1250 Yves collecte coralline ile Skerries©EB
  • 1450 Vagabond et banquise en debacle tardive pres des iles Skerries©EB

The ice breakup is late... France and I have been back in Grise Fiord since July 25, but the ice is forcing us to be patient!

Finally, on July 31, after two attempts, a lot of shoveling and the use of four different machines, Vagabond is floating again. Thanks to Charlie, Nathan, Paul and Jessie. And thanks to the whole community for looking after our boat so well.

The same day, the scientific team is boarding and setting up all its equipment. On August 1, Maya Bhatia, project manager, and four students are on board for a first trip: our goal is to test everything and validate the protocols. The pack ice, beautifully covered with large melt ponds, is keeping us close to Grise Fiord. No way out. On the other hand, the neighboring fjord is free of ice and on August 3 there are eight of us on board for a long day of oceanographic measurements and sampling. All good.

Yves arrives from Qikiqtarjuaq just in time for a first dive at the bottom of the Greenlander, the mountain next to Grise Fiord: we get a nice collection of coralline! So we dive again at the foot of this amazing cliff the next day. Minoli and Ana, the science team, are busy with the samples.

There are therefore five of us on board: Minoli, Ana, Yves, France and me, for a one-month mission in Nares Strait, between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, and north of Devon Island. When the ice will permit.

On August 7, we attempt a dive at Skerries Islands. Search in previous years were promising, but conditions were never favorable for diving. This time, thanks to the pack ice which has not yet broken up, the sea is perfectly calm around the islands which we manage to reach by zigzagging through the ice. A polar bear sunbathing on the ice is watching us from afar. France, Minoli and Ana first explore the seafloor from the surface, using the drop camera, and identify the best sites. When Yves and I jump into the water from Vagabond, the ice is quickly drifting around us. Barely time to reach the bottom and take a few samples of coralline that we hear the boat's engines! We come up, find that Vagabond is coming straight at us and that the ice is compacting against the islands... Under the moving ice, we are looking for the right place and the right time to surface. There you go! On the ice with all our equipment, then on the boat! The bear didn't move, phew, enough emotions for today.

Geophysical survey on top of Devon Ice Cap

  • 1305 Equipe et pilotes mission geophysique ile Devon©EB
  • 1754 Tim et Brittany installent capteur magnetique vertical©EB
  • 1729 James aux commandes des mesures TEM©EB
  • 1243 Eric marteau source prospection sismique calotte glaciaire ile Devon©BM

Back from 27 incredible days of field work on top of Devon Ice Cap, at 1800m altitude. With a great team of 4 people, carrying over 3 tons of equipment, we looked for subglacial lakes!

Airborne radar surveys flown in 2016 and 2018 gave evidence for the existence of a hypersaline subglacial lake complex beneath the center of Devon Ice Cap, Canadian Arctic, where the ice is 760 m thick and the estimated basal ice temperature is -14.5°C. Read more: Radar sounding survey over Devon Ice Cap indicates the potential for a diverse hypersaline subglacial hydrological environment

To confirm the airborne surveys and determine the thickness of the water layer, we did a detailed ground-based geophysical survey on Devon Ice Cap. The data acquired included: 9 km of seismic reflection data, 17 magnetotelluric (MT) stations, and 7 large loop transient electromagnetic (TEM) soundings that used a 500 x 500 m loop. Twice more data than expected!

This research is part of the SEARCH-Arctic project funded by the Weston Family Foundation. Thanks to the Polar Continental Shelf Program for logistical support, in particular Dom, Pierre, Tim and Glenn. Field team members: James Killingbeck, Eric Brossier, Brittany Main and Tim Hill. Team members involved with this project, not on the ice cap: Siobhan Killingbeck, Martyn Unsworth, Chritine Dow, Alison Criscitiello, Ashley Dubnick, Anja Rutishauser and Zoe Vestrum.

Brittany and I also went down to Belcher glacier (and almost into crevasses!) to service 2 glacier velocity trackers. These devices were set up in the summer of 2021 by Luke Copland and his Laboratory for Cryospheric Research to better understand how glacier motion is evolving in a warming climate.

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.