Long sledge trip with the 3 dogs this Sunday, enjoying the great weather (cold and dry) and the dim light at midday, more and more every day but not yet enough to stop using the headlight. Pack ice is good now, and very busy, dogs were spoiled for choice with all polar bear tracks to follow! When I came back to the boat, France told me that some steps got her out of bed, these were not mine, neither the dogs who could not warn her. She could scare the polar bear away quickly with the searchlight, but he had time to put his forelegs on the boat, not far from the dog food box!
Pack ice is getting stronger now, thanks to the low temperatures we have since last week, at least (-28°C yesterday). I could go easily to shore with the dog sledge, and I did my first trip to the little nearby summit, on the moraine. Dogs also were very excited!
The weather mast is all set up, at least. Sensors, cables and guys are decorating usefully our great 7m mast near the hut. Measures are now every hours. Wind, pressure and temperature data are sent to Paris every 12 hours, for the next 18 months at least. The most difficult was not the puzzle to assemble, despite the fingers numb with cold, the ice in every single hole, or the rusty screws from last spring. The hardest is the trip to the hut, only 200m from the boat! When the weather is fine enough for such a trip, I first have to dress up with a dry suit to more or less swim to shore, across the broken up pack ice. Then a good head light to see in the polar night, and things needed to stop a too curious polar bear. Well, yesterday, right after crawling to shore, a polar bear is suddenly coming to Imiaq and me. Standing with my funny suit, tied up to my pulka with all equipment, I try to send a flare but the signal pistol doesn't work. I grab the riffle and shoot above hi s head to watch him running away to the fjord. Then, relieved, I wait for some time, and I tell Imiaq to carry on to the hut. Going to work is sometimes a bit of an expedition!
A big wave thread its way under pack ice yesterday, until the end of our bay. Ice was all broken up around the boat, and all along the shore. I was then in the hut, on land, working on the weather mast, when France called me by radio. It took me more than one hour to find a crossing not too wide, to ram the snow, to throw the snow shoes and the riffle first, to take a run before jumping on a pack ice all soaked because of the weight of the thick layer of snow. Imiaq followed me but didn't avoid a bath! All happened with France giving us light from the boat with a spot light, and under a sky full of stars and northern lights. The day before, more than 5 hours were needed to dig out ice and snow accumulated on the deck, to check ropes and anchoring... Pressure is going up again, it had not been so low (962.8 mb) since 2004!
First tests with the electromagnetic icemeter (EM31), a slightly different model from the 2 years before. Still some perfecting needed before observing accurately pack ice growth until spring, in addition to measurements done with ice drill and gauge. About the weather mast, all sections, guys, sensors, solar panel, battery and cables are in the hut, next to which it will be set up as soon as possible. But now the weather is getting bad.
We were about to miss fresh water on board, and I had seen a little iceberg, not far from Vagabond. Also I was looking forward to try the sledge, given last summer by our friends Berit and Karl, in exchange for 3 watercolors to decorate their restaurant Busen in Longyearbyen. I first had a try with Imiaq only, the rashest to make a track in the night on the thin pack ice, but also the most dissipated! Then with the 2 brothers Jin and Frost, I only had to let us go. What a feeling when coming back by dog sledge, with 2 full barrels of ice, towards the warm inside of Vagabond, the only spot light around...
Sky completely clear, very starry. The moon on one side, northern lights on the other side. Not a breath of air, we can hear only few cracks of ice, or a dog scratching. 20cm of pack ice perfectly flat, lightly snow-covered, easy to walk on without skis or sledge. A seal resting close to his breathing hole, seen in the night with the moon light. And a female polar bear with her two cubs, few meters from us. Magical moments, then, not to encourage too much their curiosity, the flash light and, with regret, one banger. Suddenly few strong breaths and a nice galloping, the three polar bears are swallowed up by the darkness.
The full moon allows us admiring the mountains, usual landscape for France and me living here a great part of the year since October 2004. Ice pack thickness keeps increasing around Vagabond, so it is easier to go and get some snow for instance, to make water, and dogs can run around freely. The year 2007 is starting smoothly for us, happy to be wintering again. On 31st December, Ståle, Josée and Pia had very good conditions to go back to Longyearbyen by snowmobiles, and it was a private New Year's Eve for France and me. Best greetings to everyone, and thank you very much for all your messages!
Conditions were ideal to drive to Vagabond with snowmobiles, Thursday night, with Ståle, Pia, and few hundreds kilos of equipment. Good snow, clear sky, moon light, and magnificent northern lights, bordered with red. It was really nice after so much work in town to get everything ready (thanks to Jörg, from Norwegian Polar Institute, for his help!). France and Josée came to welcome us on shore, ice is now thick enough to support one person, it was a warm reunion! Ståle, Josée and Pia tried vainly to go back yesterday to Longyearbyen. They had to give up after 2 hours attempt in a snowstorm, then France and I saw them coming back. While waiting for better conditions, we are now 5 on board. Our 3 big dogs left the deck and are again on sea ice.
"On est passé de -23 à +1°C, avec pas mal de vent aujourd'hui : Josée était sur le pont pour déneiger les passavants lorsque j'ai trouvé qu'on bougeait de plus en plus, roulis avec un peu d'élan... Je vais voir dehors, branle bas de combat : des fissures s'élargissaient à vue d'oeil, les plaques se dessoudaient ! Le temps de mettre la niche à bord de l'annexe (merci Josée), de libérer les chiens qui étaient proche de la baignade (mais Frost et Imiaq y sont quand même allés par mégarde dans la nuit), et de les remonter à bord, on a eu chaud. Frost a failli se faire écraser entre 2 plaques, puis contre le bateau... Et maintenant, calme avant la tempête à nouveau puisque le baro a fait une grosse chute, et la glace est toute en morceaux autour de Vagabond. Le rappel est parfois rude entre l'ancre et les amarres, les gros bouts de glace qui choquent un peu les flans avec une petite houle. Bruits de vagues, ambiance sonore curieuse dans ce calme plat... Ne vo us inquiétez pas trop, ça va quand même à bord !" France