A cold wind has been blowing for the last 4 days, pack ice is everywhere again. Sea and land are getting covered with hard snow, packed by the wind. All prints, from skis, dogs, foxes, polar bears, are disappearing in few minutes. I have not seen any single sign of human life for more than one month, except a satellite in the sky, a star faster than others. Nevertheless, impossible to feel solitude when receiving so many friendly messages, when able to communicate with people and listen to the radio, all from such a pure and magnificent place.
The moon is back, first quarter, superb. Like the sun, hidden for about 4 months per year (length of the polar night at 78 degrees North), the moon disappear under the horizon for 9 days every 28 days cycle. Deep silence yesterday night, you could hear your heart. But cold is gone again, and the thin ice is not much resisting to the small passing lows. This morning, I can hear the waves at about 200 m from Vagabond, scientific work could well be delayed.
-2.8 degrees was the mean temperature for January (about 1 or 2 degrees less at Vagabond's wintering location), a new record. The normal monthly temperature should have been -15,4 degrees. It has been cold again for the last 3 days, sea is freezing again, the study of the sea ice and of its future should start as planned in 3 weeks...
Light wind these last few days, the sea didn't take away the little fast ice left in Inglefield Bay, the protecting ice berth is still around Vagabond. I finally managed to unfreeze the snowmobile and to move it to shore, near the igloo and the emergency camp box. Then at 7 this morning, I woke up once more time with a start when the dogs barked: a polar bear was trying to open the igloo like he would do with a seal den, jumping on it with his 2 front legs. Before sending him a deterrent bullet, he had put the snowmobile up side down. And time to check the flare gun and to put some warmer clothes, he got the snowmobile back on its 2 skis!
All ice in Inglefield Bay has drifted away yesterday. Monday already, during a short trip on the moraine, I could see there was no ice in the Storfjord. The wind changed direction since, and open water reached the Black Iceberg, at the entrance of the small bay where is Vagabond. This is why up to 5 polar bears visited me yesterday, and one this morning, looking for a way to go north. But with no ice, they are stopped on the moraine which is still protecting the boat from the open sea. Ice breaking up could be complete, if the swell and the wind don't stop. At the moment, weather is nice. Of course, everything is not ready on board for sailing now, and there is the snowmobile to bring to shore bu it doesn't want to move (frozen), the dinghy which is the roof of the safety igloo, the dog houses to dig out from the slush, the mooring lines to shore to put again... An ice breaking up alone, by night, with 3 dogs and quite a few polar bears around, I should not get bored! I'm also thinking about Mike Horn and Borge Ousland, trying to reach the North Pole, they want to be the first in winter, they left 2 days ago from Russia. I'm wondering about the conditions they will meet.
Under the weight of the snow, the ice field is sinking slowly, sea water is coming over the ice and seeping into the snow. If the cold is not enough to freeze this water, then we find water under the snow. Quite common in this season. So yesterday I had to rescue the snowmobile, parked on a 83cm thick ice field, all covered with 50cm of snow, including 13cm of slush. Without doing anything, the cold would have trapped the snowmobile in ice! 2 hours of work, it finally went out of this very cold swimming pool, and then I was gone. Impossible to stop anywhere, I could get stuck again in the slush, so I was driving around the boat until I chose a high snowdrift on top of which the snowmobile will be dry for some time. With all the noise that can make such a machine, my 3 faithful cow-boys (I should write bear-dogs) probably believed Indians were attacking.
The barometer has been rising up to 1029 mb, but the good weather never came. For the last few days, the air masses are transported across a long strait of open water, picking up moist air on the way, and bringing clouds with many snow falls. Under the wind pressure, Vagabond is tilting up to 5 degrees sometimes, now I have to use the anti-slippery sets we normally use when sailing! Our old wind generator is happy and can supply few lights, radio, CD player or computer... waiting for calm weather before going out again. Tomorrow at 12:40 pm on Radio France Internationale, you could listen to an interview from France and me, last time we met Arielle Cassim at Paris Boat Show.
Polar bears like very much bamboo, they are probably adapting themselves quickly to the global warming! Once more, a polar bear ate few bamboo sticks showing for instance where is the Black Iceberg, or where are the moorings on land, used before the sea ice formation. The fifth visitor within 4 days stayed around for about 5 hours this morning, but didn't insist when he received a nice red flare.
According to Torgeir, weather man in Longyearbyen, "we reached the highest January temperature since the airport was built (30 years ago), as the thermometer reached +7,7 degrees on Monday in Longyearbyen (+3 degrees at Vagabond). It is a little funny to compare with the normal temperature in July, which is +5,9 degrees..."
It was a nice show this morning. Warned by Imiaq barking, I could watch a female polar bear and her cub, coming slowly towards us. They didn't like the search light, the female was already going away, followed by her cub jumping around. They just forgot to stand for a picture.