Snow and northerly wind for the last few days. We are enjoying the little comforts of the only inhabited spot in the whole area, rocked by sea ice cracking. Vagabond is so close to shore that she is tilting and righting twice a day, trapped between ice floes going up and down with the tides.
While the stillness of our ship will last for many more months, Francis Joyon sailed alone around the world in 57 days, and Tara is just free from pack ice after 16 months across the Arctic Ocean. This boat is heading for Longyearbyen where a good many of the scientific instruments will be conveyed to Vagabond. Our commitment for Damocles is extended until summer 2009, which will allow us to welcome the team of Montagne du Silence as their next expedition is postponed to next year. Our 3 dogs are enjoying being on pack ice next to Vagabond, at least, but would have been happy to get a copy of this week issue of Femme Actuelle magazine to read the article about our family life.
Since 2 days, the moon, northern lights and stars are reflected on snow and ice, and are turning our heads. Around midday, a very pale twilight is showing up in the south, but the polar night is holding out. -20°C and absolute silence outside, unless when dogs are barking after Léonie's cries, or when ice pack is cracking. +15°C and fresh bread and chocolate cake smell inside Vagabond, it's Sunday.
Crew change went fine, as planned, last Monday. Well settled in her sleeping bag Lestra made to measure, sheltered with her mum inside a sled on skis, Léonie (10 months) crossed few glaciers to reach Vagabond. I was looking behind quite often to see if the family was following my snowmobile, without being shaken too much! With Alan and Daniel, we were expected by Sanna and Fabrice for a nice meal on board a welcoming boat, plunged in the polar night, and immobilized by a 70 cm thick pack ice. The storm we have now was already threatening, also our companions all left the same day for Longyearbyen. We are happy being back on board, after 3 months away, and we are getting ready for more measurements on pack ice.
While Léonie, France and I are getting ready to travel to Vagabond with snowmobiles, with Alan and Daniel, here are the latest news from Inglefield's bay: "The calm, warm weather from New Year's eve continued for couple of days, but not even the small rain put us down... that just makes the snow even better to work with. The result was the biggest snowman of the whole East Coast... and lot of other snow things. Zodiak got also his part and now he has a fancy snow wall to protect him. This one is so strong after few days of minus degrees that even the biggest polar bear we have seen so far could not destroy it. Imiaq, Jin and Frost didn't get snow wall because they would have destroyed them faster than we can build. We have tried to make the dogs a bit less energetic by sledging and skiing everyday. The track around the boat is getting bigger and bigger day by day. Yesterday, even Imiaq was laying down in the snow after the trip. We have noticed that since we started the sledging, the dogs have also been a bit more quiet, except when there is a bear, which has been more often during the last few days. Even though the dogs are quiet, it is not quiet in the bay. The ice is making the sounds like in video games while tides lift and low icebergs close by... or in war when the ice bangs around the boat. Now the apple pie is ready." Sanna and Fabrice
"The third year of the Damocles project will be extremely important for the success of the project. Following the past summer event with an exceptional sea-ice retreat that was not really predicted we are facing a lot of important issues involving both models and observations. The Damocles General Assembly in Oslo was a good opportunity to make a real evaluation of what we did and what we need to accomplish. The meetings in San Francisco were also a good occasion to strengthen our link with American partners. There will be a workshop in Iceland in February concerning NWP and how Damocles can improve weather predictions in the Arctic, and a second workshop in the USA in March concerning Arctic Observing Network.
Also field works will be an important aspect with the spring operations in Fram Strait with KV Svalbard (iAOOS Norway) and north of Canada (Eureka) with air logistics and during summer with multiple ice breakers operations from Sweden, China, Russia and Germany and open water ships operating in the Norwegian Sea and around Spistbergen. Tara left the Arctic Ocean early on December 2007 and she is now drifting north of the Greenland Sea at about 77°N and 7°W still frozen in ice and drifting with the East Greenland Current. The russian NP 35 drifting station is progressing well on the southern flank of the transpolar drift. Vagabond is again (the fourth wintering) in place in Storfjord since last September 2007 and will continue some of the routine measurements we had at Tara.
The next Damocles General Assembly will be in Sopot (Poland) from November 24 to 28, 2008.
I wish you all and Damocles an excellent year." Jean-Claude Gascard, project leader.
Sanna and Fabrice keep trying with the sledge, but the dogs seem quite happy to just run around the boat... There are quite a lot of polar bear tracks at Vagabond, now that the ice broke in the big bay. Zodiac was scared when a big male went looking inside his house and smashed his snow wall! The New Year's eve was as long as some party in town. But instead of drinking and dancing, Sanna and Fabrice were cleaning and drying the boat: the temperature suddenly changed from -20 to +2 with a strong southern wind. It seems like that every time there is a special day, the bad weather shows its respect with its presence.
"For our first attempt at getting to Vagabond, we chose the "shortest" route... on the map. In reality we got stuck in slush and huge amounts of loose snow so the only thing that seemed short was the distance we were moving for the 12 last hours before we decided to turn back. We were lucky on our second attempt and Ulli came back to Longyearbyen on time. After he left it started snowing and blowing heavily and the temperature went up to almost freezing point. On Christmas Eve we measured a dramatic reduction in the sea ice thickness and as the wind started to get pretty strong Sanna became concerned about her dog Zodiac, and Fabrice, more down-to-earth, about his snowmobile. Around midnight we went out in the storm to move everything on land close to the other dogs. The sea ice was clearly starting to break away from the shore so we got into kind of a hurry. When we came back inside we had a good laugh reading a message from an unknowing mate who said he was envying us t he unstressful Christmas far away from civilisation. The storm lasted the whole night and the following day but fortunately the ice held. During 27 December night we learnt the difference between howling and barking. Suddenly there were not 4 but 5 animals around the doghouses, one of them very big and completely white. We scared him away but he came back some hours later and then again in the evening." Sanna and Fabrice
After being obliged to turn back, letting behind a snowmobile which we will get back later, Fabrice and Sanna could try a second time to reach Vagabond, with success. It took 3 days to make this crew change because of last heavy snow falls. Happily the full moon was illuminating the landscape, and Ulli could get back to civilization. He spent 8 days alone on board, to fill the gap between the teams. The next crew change will see France, Léonie and me coming back on board, mi-January. Merry Christmas!