Ice was not opening any way out of Melville Bay, scientists were getting worried not to be on time in Qaanaaq, so Vagabond turned back, despite southerly wind forecast. We are now trying to reach Upernavik reluctantly, two hundred nautical miles south. This is the closest airport. Facing wind, stronger than forecast (gust up to 50 knots), with fog and rain, forced us to shelter for a day and a half. After weeks of sun and calm weather, after having dreamed about gale to move all ice around, this low couldn't have come at a worse time! But we could discover a little island often visited by Greenlandics, as remains of kayaks and camps show. And what a pleasure walking a bit on land!
Melville Bay is keeping us. Past years, there was ice in the area up until the middle of July. But this year, there is a lot! We are studying carefully daily ice charts, hoping to find easily walruses beyond this frozen area; and hoping that the team will be able to get their flight from Qaanaaq on July 13th...
While Vagabond, slowly, is opening up her way through melting pack ice, a polar bear showed up yesterday, and we could come near another one today. Then, we passed very close to a young rind seal not shy at all, obviously he never saw a hunter. But the big ship seen by few of us has disappeared! After several days stuck in pack ice, we are on the brink of this type of hallucination.
Our progress across Melville Bay is slow and winding, as shown by our track. Ice situation (sea also Danish or Canadian charts), can explain our difficulties, despite the beautiful weather prevailing since mid-June. We have perfect ice conditions for walruses; scientists are looking for them on ice because walruses are more shy on land due to hunting in Greenland and Nunavut. This is why we came in this area before ice breaking-up! Thanks to the hydrophones we could listen to seals, narwhals, whales... but still no walruses.
We have been in pack ice for the last ten days, making slow progress towards the North, always looking for seals and walruses for the scientific project. Melville Bay seems determined to keep pack ice longer than usual, and walruses are probably set up in that inaccessible area for now! So listening and playbacks are focused on bearded seals. It's about watching reactions of males, each one having his own territory, when the song of another male is played with the underwater speaker of Isabelle and Thierry. It is the female seduction period, rivalries can be hard between males, and reactions very different to this synthetic intruder!
June 23rd. Vagabond is gliding on a sea like a mirror, until her stem slowly climbs on pack ice. Three Greenlanders are approaching by dog-sled. They accept my invitation: they tie their dogs to the boat and they come on board. Nuussuaq is five kilometres away, and pack ice is fragile with many holes at this time of the year. Snowmobiles are resting until next winter. Dogs are the safest solution to go from the village to the open sea, before the complete breaking up. Now, six people are arriving by motor boat. While speeding up his powerful outboard engine, the pilot is handling his mobile phone with his gloves made from polar bear skin. Then, everybody is coming on board to visit Vagabond, before going to the village. Two dog teams are pulling, on ice, the motor boat, two sleds, and about ten people waving at us happily. In the background are snowy mountains and sunny ice cap. The scene could be from another time.
Again, Vagabond is moored to an ice block and is drifting with pack ice (0,4 knots to the North!). This time, there is not enough open water to sail ahead, so we wait. Wind, current and thaw are changing tirelessly the scenery, a way can open any time. Two days ago, for summer solstice, despite the sun still high at midnight, and a sea like a mirror, it was fog that made us look for a place to stop for the "night". No need to keep going if we cannot see properly the animals (seals, whales, many birds, still no walrus...)! So everybody enjoyed walking on pack ice after several days wandering between ice floes without disembarking.
An ice strip about two kilometres wide was on our way, on June 17th. It was time for the new crew to learn about sailing in pack ice, using the crow's nest and ice poles. Then, it was open water up to Uummannaq. Long detour for a short stop to get more details about walruses in the area, and about ice situation. I was also the opportunity to have a quick look at a place where Vagabond could spend some time for another project (2012-2014...). Peter, black halibut fisherman, immediately invited us at home to answer all our questions. No doubt, we must reach the ice edge, further North, to find walruses.
On June 16th, Vagabond crossed Disko Bay and stopped at Qeqertarsuaq. There we met Mads Fage, he has been watching and recording whales for years, with his partner Outi Tervo who Isabelle knows pretty well! So we have plenty of things to ask and share. Outi has just left for a "whale" cruise, heading North as well. But already from the village, France, Léonie and Aurore could watch two whales, between icebergs slowly drifting along the coast.
Luckily, current is going our way to sail down the long Kangerlussuaq fjord, and Vagabond is quite quickly back to Davis Strait. Stop at Sisimiut yesterday morning, to gather information on animals seen in the area, on ice and on weather forecast. It seems that we should start searching for walruses at the ice edge north of Disko Bay.
June 13th, Vagabond is at the appointment to welcome the team "walrus". Just above the polar circle, at the end of a magnificent fjord long of 170 km, is the main airport of Greenland. Scientists Isabelle Charrier and Thierry Aubin are joining us for one month, in order to record walruses. A project supported by Institute Paul-Emile Victor and by National Geographic. Charlotte Blan and Nicolas Gilbert arrived with them, sent by Océanopolis (Brest), to make a film about the expedition.
It is also here that Carlos and Piem are leaving us. Carlos will be back in Tunisia in a few days, to serve fine cuisine to the French Ambassador's guests. While my dear little brother Piem is starting a new life: only with his backpack, carefully prepared, he has ahead of him the easiest but also most difficult trip. For many months or years, without planned route neither agenda, and with a minimum budget. He is first thinking about a one week trek... if mosquitoes are OK. Then, he would be looking for a boat to go to North America. I'm pretty move leaving my best homeless, and I suddenly find Vagabond quite heavy, complicated, safe and comfortable.