After staying with us for about 3 weeks, Lucas and Nicolas left yesterday, not able to wait any longer for Vagabond's release. They hope to reach Svea, the closest civilization, in less than 3 days, if rivers are not too difficult to cross. So France and me are alone on board again, less than 2 km from open water... Tenths of seals set up on the sea ice still around us, and we can watch a polar bear hunting now and then, sometimes visiting us on his way. Our dogs also our curious, and without worrying about water ponds, they can pull us very fast towards one or the other seal. Jin and Frost seem amazingly distraught to see it disappearing before reaching it!
The Super Puma from the Governor of Svalbard brought us the mail! The crew used this flight to do a hoist training, the fascinating operation last about half an hour. So it was a rescueman, great in his red survival suit in the blue sky, who came down to give us 2 parcels (last postman was in May). He left with few letters to send, and some unneeded equipment for Lucas and Nicolas, who will certainly have to walk back, as the ice breaking up is later than we hoped. Nevertheless, the 50 knots of wind during the previous night helped pushing away all the icepack in front of Inglefield Bay, and it is 'only' 3 km of ice left between open sea and Vagabond... On top of this lively day, a big polar bear came to the boat last night, Frost barked on time, and one fire cracker was enough to stop him! It is today 9 months that Vagabond left civilization.
Despite the cold wind that has been blowing for the last 2 days, we made a fire last night on our small beach, about 200 m from Vagabond. Sitting on a big timber from Siberia, or on a whale vertebra, surrounded by the ice pack, it was really nice to grill some local meat and toast some fresh bred. It was pretty early this morning when a polar bear came to visit our little territory. As usual, Frost barked, Jin hide himself in his dog house. 2 bangers and 4 flares were just about to make the curious leave the place. Regarding the ice thickness, still 1m30 near Vagabond, like 2 months ago!
After one week of bad weather (temperatures around zero, snow fall and rain), sun is shining again. The ground is showing up more and more, and it is now possible to walk a bit along the shore, where seaweeds, whales bones and timbers can be seen again. What a pleasure to walk without ski or snow shoes! More and more water ponds on the ice pack, still solid around us. Also our feet were soaked on our skis yesterday when we tried to reach the open water, 9 km from Vagabond, attracted by the nice sound of the waves; but few cracks dissuaded us from going to the edge. If the ice thickness lost only 4 cm during the last month, almost all snow melted and ran out to the sea by cracks and seal holes. Ice pack is then much lighten, and is now about 15 cm above (measuring free board). A CTD cast also shows the quick evolution of temperature and salinity of the sea, very different from the surface to the bottom (95m). A lot of seals and birds, they don't seem to be in a hurry to see their preferred icepack going and drifting away ...
The pack ice is more and more flooded. Snow is melting at the surface, and real lakes are growing around us. Skiing is becoming more and more water skiing! Water can only run down the cracks along the shore, or near icebergs, sometimes also by the seals' breathing holes. These holes look like bubbling traps now. From Vagabond we could watch a polar bear hunting. On the look out for few hours, still, he caught a seal when he was coming to breath through his hole. The polar bear moved the seal (50 to 60 kg) for about a hundred meters before eating it. 2 hours later, he was sleeping close to the carcass, carefully cleaned up. During the night, the polar bear passed between Vagabond and the dog houses, curious, but a banger was enough to scare him away, he was obviously not hungry! Dogs could eat some little left-over fresh meat, birds and foxes are now finishing the job.
We will be by phone on Radio France Internationale tomorrow June 21st, at 11:45 UTC, after marine weather forecast (www.rfi.fr).
Lucas and Nicolas, after 5 days skiing across the glaciers from the West Coast of Spitsbergen, arrived Friday to Vagabond. They brought some mail, including 2 letters 'lost' in Longyearbyen for over 6 months... one of them, from December 12th last year, was announcing a nephew or a niece to France for June 17th, the day we received the letter. And yesterday morning, June 18th, we had a message saying the baby was born during the night ! Medicine is amazing.
So we are 4 on board, ready to sail again. Navigation season already started, about 10 days ago, on the West Coast. But our bay is so well protected that the ice breaking up may come very late, also we enjoy as much as we can the nice summer weather. France started making a kite, to ski faster, with the remains from the tent destroyed by polar bears. Digging under the snow, we managed to find a little stream, no need to go and collect ice anymore to get fresh water.
Nice day yesterday to check our sails. Sun shine, westerly wind 15 knots, for about 4 hours Vagabond looked like sailing close to the wind on a flat sea covered with snow... walking around the boat under sails was an amazing feeling, it was like moving in a picture. From a nearby summit, the icepack is not showing any movement around us... sails and engines are not yet enough to reach the open sea!
Thousands of shrimps are living under the hull! This is what I saw while diving under the ice earlier today. I could use the hole we hardly dug last month, and which is now well open as the sun has been shining for the last 3 days. I even could surface at the back of the boat, through the hole made by the sea water exhaust from the generator. You may imagine how I surprised the dogs, sun bathing on the snow, when they first heard bubbles, then saw a strange animal, and then recognized my voice! Vagabond is completely free from ice now (she is floating!), light is making a nice halo all around, very nice seen from under the sea, while darkness is everywhere else under the icepack. It is amazing in this season, because we forget about night with the permanent daylight. During the winter, the hull let her print in the ice, which was increasing slowly, and also getting a bit down after each big snow fall. The final architecture is amazing. Still about 10 km of icepack are keeping us away from open water... Polar bear visits are not finished, the last one took away the seal skin France was about to tan!
Intense stay for Fred, Jean and Lucas: short dive under the ice, even shorter sea bath, seal hunting, visit of a polar bear... The weather became bad again for the trip back. There was just enough snow to drive the snowmobile back to Svea, from where our 3 friends were taking the plane. Without any visibility, looking carefully at the GPS, driving slowly across the glaciers, I was not so proud about pulling the 3 skiers in such conditions. 12 km from Vagabond, Jin suddenly went back. One of our 2 dogs was following us faithfully towards Svea, to join me for the trip back, to help pulling the pulka and to watch my tent during the night. I drove back few kilometres, I called in the storm but no answer. I only had to find my friends again, hoping Jin was not lost. When we arrive in Svea few hours later, after a really tiring trip, France told us on the phone that Jin was not back to the boat. The next morning, I said bye to our 3 friends, I parked the snowmobile, I took the mail, and I started pulling the heavy pulka back to Inglefield's bay, 45 km from Svea. 36 hours after having seen the last prints from Jin, I set up my tent at the same position, hoping to see him coming back. It is only the following day that I found some tracks on the moraine between Edvard and Nordsyssel glaciers, 10 km from Vagabond. I looked around for few hours, before resigning myself to go to Vagabond, because bad weather was coming again. This last gale was short enough, France and me could go back there quickly, set up a camp to search more with Frost, despite the permanent fog. Yesterday at last, down Storbollen, at the end of Evard glacier, Jin heard our calls. Emotion to see him running to us, after more than 5 days of roaming! The governor also will be happy, Jin will not do like this other dog lost in spring, killing reindeers to eat and hiding himself from the snowmobiles looking for him. No polar bear visit on board while we were away, and Vagabond even lost her listing, thanks to thaw.