Stefano and his group of tourists came with Hervé on 1st May, and also dropped 60 kg of dog food. Not long after they left, we managed to recover the IMB from its ice vice, not without difficulty. A light easterly wind in the morning fortunately closed up the lead. The next day, we set up for about 15 hours on sea ice, to do another series of measurements with the CTD and the current meter. On our way, it was not easy to call back the dogs, very interested in a female seal protecting her young seal. Extraordinary atmosphere at midnight sun. When coming back to the boat, very early in the morning, we saw 3 dog teams and few tents about 200m from Vagabond. You could imagine how excited were our 3 dogs when they met up with the dogs they grew up with at Arctic Adventure dog yard! Herve and I were then invited to share the breakfast of a dozen of Americans, it was very nice meeting them. I was also happy to see Lisa again, in charge of the dogs, and to get some news from Long yearbyen. Yesterday, about ten skiers from British School of Explorers Society (bses.org.uk) came to visit us, wondering what Hervé and I were trying to get from under the ice. They are all together about 30 young graduates skiing around for 3 months. While visits are linked together, we finished taking down the weather mast, and we only have to put everything in boxes and carry them to Longyearbyen with snowmobiles this week-end.
Great day yesterday, I saw a mother polar bear with her cub close to 5 reindeers, a lot of seals, birds... but last gale created a fracture in fast ice, not far from the coast, and one of our instruments, the IMB, is about 3km away on the other side of this open water lead. Hervé is coming today, then 2 of us will try to rescue this equipment.
Sun has been shinning for the last 3 days, and I've been able to do some work on sea ice with the CTD, and to travel around with the dogs or the snowmobile. Fantastic. Temperature is still around zero, the thick snow layer has reduced and packed a lot. If conditions are very good to ski around Vagabond, snow has already melted near Longyearbyen, rivers are running and are difficult to cross. We just decided to recover the equipment 8 days earlier. We will start on Tuesday 2nd May to remove and pack all scientific instruments, with Hervé who is coming back alone this time. Is it a race against global warming? Nevertheless we hope to bring everything back to Longyearbyen, with snowmobiles, before all snow disappears!
Yesterday morning, I suddenly saw few tents and skiers, on the other side of the bay, at 3 km from Vagabond. Not long after, 8 French people were on board, with all kinds of questions, and I had the nice surprise to meet up with Dominique, from Grand Nord travel agency, Stéphane, in charge of Paul-Emile Victor Centre in the Jura, and Gérard, the guide of the group. I left Jin and Frost going with them to see the glacier, and I join their camp in the evening with Imiaq. Very nice time in their mess tent heated up with a stove, then I went back quickly on skis with the 3 dogs. I will not forget the extra coffee they offered to me; I was only just back on board, I tipped over my cup and I slightly burnt my hand! Wind speed went over 50 knots last night, but I found their camp OK this morning, when I brought them what they needed to treat some blisters. Later, I could watch from a hill the little caravan slowly moving away.
Heli, our Finnish friend who was on board Vagabond last summer in Greenland, is since the beginning of the week in a very small hut, 28 km North of Vagabond, with 2 colleagues from the Norwegian Polar Institute. They came to hunt some seals to take the necessary samples for their studies about pollution impact on species. Despite fog and slightly above zero temperature, weather was calm today and I decided to go and visit them, after having entered all useful coordinates in my GPS. Lots of fresh polar bear tracks on the way. I found the hut, but nobody. Back to the boat later in the day, I had a message from my neighbours who were on board exactly when I was in their place! Pack ice radio is not always efficient to coordinate together...
The weather on 24th April morning was really nice, the skiers could dry all their equipment, and reorganize their pulkas with the supplies waiting for them on board Vagabond. The 2 Norwegians and the Swedish were happy to share their long crossing with us all (www.jenterpalangs.com), lively atmosphere on board. For Caroline and Frédéric, it was a more memorable meeting. Both of them have been selected among other candidates to have a first polar experience on board Vagabond. This invitation was organized with La Guilde Européenne du Raid (www.la-guilde.org) in return for all supports I got for the last 20 years. Caroline and Frédéric could then discover sea ice, icebergs, wintering life on board, snowmobile, Greenlandic dogs, snow analysis by glaciologists, use of CTD and icemeter, permanent daylight...
France left yesterday by snowmobile, in the fog, with the 2 scientists, the 2 young guests and the guide. The Douarnenez Sea Festival team is now waiting for her in Brittany! About science, mission accomplished for Florent and Fred from Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics Laboratory of Grenoble; everything worked well, despite poor conditions (huge quantity of snow and monthly average temperature 11 degrees above normal). Not long after the team, the 3 skiers took the same direction, able to take advantage of the snowmobile track for few hours. Time for me to get ready, and the 3 dogs and I caught up with them. I joined them for about 10 kilometres. With the 2 strong ones, Jin and Imiaq, the girls doubled their average speed! I gave them some French cheese to wish them luck, then it was time for me to turn and go back to Vagabond. After several cancelled projects, I'm alone again, for about 2 weeks, with my 3 faithful companions.
We are now 10 people on board, with Vera, Kristin and Ingebjorg, the 3 skiers who arrived yesterday evening. They left the southern point of Spitsbergen on 10th April, and they want to reach the north of the Island before 13th of May, with their pulkas and 2 dogs. Vagabond is their only supply stop. They had only bad weather since they started...
While France, Caroline and Frédéric were going with Florent to start thermal conductivity measurements of the snow, Stefano, Fred and me went to pick up the sledges and their loads, a curious polar bear looking at us. It took us all about 4 hours then, to find under the snow one of the 2 measuring stations deployed last February! It is still snowing and the sun is not often showing up, though it will not set before end of August.
Yesterday was a better day, good to see the sun for a while, great tour around to discover a transformed landscape under the thick layer of snow. The expected team finally arrived last night, after 9 hours trip from Longyearbyen, but had to leave the sledges (so no luggages, no food...) behind because of too much snow. We are going to pick them up now, at about 10km from Vagabond.
Urgent message from Paris, LOCEAN (Oceanography and Climate Laboratory: Experimental and Digital Approach) is not receiving any data from the weather mast since 14/4. Only 500m to go for us, from Vagabond, but in these conditions, the trip is keeping us busy for half a day. Too much snow and lack of fuel, dogs and pulka are replacing (pleasantly) the snowmobile to go to the mast location. The weight of snow is so that the pack ice is 29cm under the sea level, the battery at the bottom of the mast was submerged. Now out of the water, everything is working again since last night. The team we expected yesterday had to postpone their trip today because of bad weather.
It has been snowing every day since 1st of April. It took 9 hours to the previous team to drive back to Longyearbyen, last week. Despite the exceptional day on 12th April, we can not go too far from Vagabond, the visibility is often too poor. 3 days ago, we needed 4 hours to do 3km for some of the weekly measurements, which we can usually do in less than one hour when the weather is fine. But no risk of falling down badly with the kite, and we did our first tacks, dogs intrigued barking at us!