A bit of winter on board Vagabond in Arctic Bay, by Natasha Leclerc

  • 20200114 Louis et Natasha ©Jack Willie
  • 20200111 Copains Arctic Bay ©Natasha Leclerc

After weeks of anticipation, I left the warmth of my heated home and the convenience of big city living to go live on the Vagabond, lone ship trapped in sea ice, near the small and quaint community of Arctic Bay, NU. All of my friends and family feared for my sanity and called me “brave” for relocating my life to the North for close to two months. I didn’t feel brave at all, only that this was something I needed to do for my soul. As I arrived, after 3 days of transit, I was greeted by the Vagabond like an old friend. Other than it being much cooler on-board than it had been during the summer, I thought to myself “Buddy, you haven’t changed a bit”. Since participating in the summer mission I looked back fondly at my time on the Vagabond. It filled me with a thirst for the sea and the Arctic. I finally understood what drew so many people to this “barren land”, it was full of life, in the sea as on land in the communities that speckle its coastlines. So obviously, seeing Vagabond now surrounded with ice was an inviting sight as any. It seemed like no time until Louis and I were breaking ice with the chisel and continuing the scientific program of the year.

The first dive was shall we say… eventful. We were maybe too ambitious for our own good. We wanted to recover 10 algae samples to be used for the monthly growth calibration experiment as well as the environment recording instruments, and calibrate the instruments and to place them back underwater. After setting up the “warm” tent, which felt only slightly warmer than the outside, and preparing the safety line, we quickly got ready for Louis to dive. I guess we had underestimated the cold’s impact on everything. After Louis came back from his first dive, with free-flowing regulators, algae samples, and a few of the instruments (not being able to grab all of them due to cold hands), we realized that the instruments quickly caught cold and were not doing the data transfer. Louis was getting colder waiting for the instrument calibration and we had to make the call to wrap things up, do all the calibration work on-board the Vagabond and come back to set the instruments back up on the experimental platform. The following dives improved in efficiency, while the temperature continued to drop presenting new challenges. Gladly, by this time, we had started to make friends in the community, who helped us.

The people of Arctic Bay were very thoughtful and caring towards us, always offering for us to pop by their houses if ever we got cold or needed a shower. We joked to ourselves, that we must have looked very Vagabond-ish or smelled funny for people to stop us in town to invite us to their house to use their shower. But week by week we felt becoming closer to community in general. During the Christmas games period, the two weeks of nightly dancing and games, we missed maybe one night. Being an only child, Christmas was usually a quieter event. But here, the quiet was replaced by laughter and loud square dancing music. The music filled our ears and even when we weren’t at the games, the music continued playing in our heads until we were back the next night. We were glad that we had friends that could also translate the rules of the games to us, as our Inuktitut was very poor. We enjoyed asking people how they preferred to eat their country food, which we had become fond of, and hearing how many had diverse ways of preparing and enjoying their favorite foods: fried, baked, raw, right after the hunt, frozen, in soup, with barbecue sauce, hot sauce etc. I struggled to thank them enough for their care of us, all I could do was promise I would be back someday.