Science et exploration dans le détroit de Jones

  • Recuperation bouee derivante

Every Friday, weather permitting, except during polar night, the school is inviting parents to join the children for a picnic or a walk. A great time to get to know Grise Fiord inhabitants better!

Weather forecast are good for three days. Friday evening, Vagabond set sail to the West. The following evening, at the end of Eidsbotn Fiord (Devon Island), we reach the latest known coordinates of the drifting buoy that was deployed north of Ellesmere Island by Christian Haas in April 2010. The buoy is there! After a long trip, it has not been moving for two weeks, it was probably pushed on shore by some big waves. Antennas are damaged, this is why no more position are sent.

Once the buoy is on board, and after few hours of rest and some preparation, we sail to Fram Sound for a CTD section, for Institute of Ocean Sciences. Despite wind and current, the CTD is storing requested data. France is steering the boat to keep the position at each station, I'm winching the CTD down to the seabed and up, while our two young daughters are watching a cartoon! Then, all happy, we find an shelter, the best for weeks, in the little Bay of Woe. Time to explore the region, before choosing our winter anchorage... A polar bear is lying down on the closest beach, as if to watch us better.

Coup de vent

  • France seule a bord pour reprendre mouillage

After five attempts, anchor is holding fine! Last night, Vagabond started drifting, pushed offshore by strong winds. We woke up with a start! For lack of shelter in front of the village, we are exploring Grise Fiord, and looking for a good anchorage without going too far... Later, while I was on land with Léonie and Aurore, anchor slipped once more and Vagabond was moving away again. Fortunately, France was on board to put the boat again at anchor!

Départ et rentrée

  • Depart Twin Otter Grise Fiord

A bright interval, tonight, allowed a Twin Otter from Ken Borek company to operate the flight on the Resolute Bay - Grise Fiord route. We were moved to see our colleagues and friends leaving, after an exciting and productive mission, also thinking of the people who died (including the director of Resolute Bay scientific station) in Saturday's plane accident.

More strong emotions today for Léonie, especially, who took part in the start of the new school year. Umimmak School opened her doors after two months of Summer holidays. First Inuktitut lesson for her, very well welcomed in a nine pupils class (three levels). During that time, Aurore was making a new friend at the day-care (day-nursery)!

After school and day-care, more emotions again when meeting with part of the family in France, by Internet.

Grise Fiord

  • Arrivee a Grise Fiord

Between Devon Island and Ellesmere Island, a dozen of CTD casts are done across Jones Sound (some Arctic Ocean water is going this way to the Atlantic Ocean). In the middle of the strait, Vagabond stops and drifts, while we are repairing the capricious winch! Happily, wind and swell are moderate.

Then, it is at the end of South Cape Fiord that we drop anchor for a rest day before the end of the cruise. Weather is perfectly calm, tenths of narwhals are swimming around. In fascination, we watch and listen to them for a long time: their back are shinning in the sun, their powerful blows are echoing in the fiord.

Christian was dreaming about fishing and about a glacier trip. Fishing attempts are quite short, from the boat, but a nice trip allows everyone to step on Sydkap Glacier, and see two arctic hares, and footprints from polar bears, wolves, foxes and muskox.

Friday morning, sea is flat, ideal for the scientists to pack all the equipment, while sailing, and to give us orders: icemeter, CTD, winch, and part of the weather station are staying on board. We will follow given protocols to do measurements all along the winter.

At the exit of South Cape Fiord, hundreds of Greenland seals, in small groups, are swimming and jumping like dolphins. Spectacular, unforgettable. On our way, we find a little bay well protected which could be fine to overwinter...

At the end of the day, we get a very friendly welcome in Grise Fiord. Entry formalities to Canada are done in French, in the local office of Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and by phone with Iqaluit authorities (Nunavut capital).

Great meeting with Jon et Erik, from the US, they also just arrived in Grise Fiord after 104 days expedition around Ellesmere Island: Ellesmere Island Circumnavigation. We passed them a few days ago, less than four mile from each other, but too much ice to gather.

Mary, Lea and Christian are still with us, because their flight was cancelled yesterday. Airspace is closed around Resolute Bay, where was a dramatic plane crash.

Avec une douzaine d'ours en DGV

  • Ours et tariere

High speed drift: Vagabond just covered over 100km at 2km/h average speed (up to more than 3km/h!), trapped in multiyear ice coming from the Arctic Ocean, all carried away by winds and currents. It was more opportunities for ice thickness data and for new ice cores (chlorophyll, pH and salinity measures). Many polar bears are enjoying these thick and dense ice concentrations to hunt. One of them, intrigued, came and knock at the kitchen window! Our noisy reactions got the better of his curiosity.

So, without any detour and without using the engines for two days, we left Smith Sound and entered Jones Sound, where we hope to recover a drifting buoy (Ice Mass Balance), deployed by Christian in April 2010 in Lincoln Sea, 800km further north. For now, we are finishing CTD sections in Lady Ann Strait, south of Coburg Island, and in front of magnificent Belcher Glacier.

Before leaving Smith Sound, we visited five young biologists working at Alexandra Fiord station for the summer. It was build in 1954 by Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Not far from there, we were happy to watch (at least!) a small group of walruses.


  • Mesure epaisseur banquise detroit de Smith

Vagabond is in Canada since last night! We changed time, there is now six hours difference with France.

The scientists arrived in Qaanaaq two days late, due to a plane break-down in Resolute Bay (Canada). In the end, on August 8th, first day of school in Greenland, Vagabond took on board Christian Haas (University of Alberta, Canada), his daughter Léa, and his colleague Mary O'Brien (Institute of Ocean Sciences, Canada), with all their equipments.

Heading North, Vagabond stopped in Siorapaluk, once more. This time, a little party was organised after the good hunt of a minke whale, villagers invited us spontaneously. A few hours later, we dropped anchor at Etah, historical site of arrival of first men in Greenland, coming from the West. Remains of stone houses are next to more recent huts, used in summer for hunting (muskox, reindeer, fox, walrus, seal...).

The next day, avoiding drifting ices, Vagabond reached Littleton Island. Despite wind and fog, the first task of our mission was accomplished, for the Scottish Association for Marine Science and for the Technical University of Denmark: on top of the island, the weather station is repaired. "Congratulations, data is received now, I just had a phone call from Scotland!", France told us when we were coming back on board Vagabond. A polar bear had only snatched away the main unit, this is why the station was not transmitting anymore since last April!

Wednesday, weather conditions became gradually ideal. The section across Smith Sound was a success: eight hydrographic stations to better understand the strait between Greenland and Canada. Through this strait are some major exchanges between Arctic Ocean and Baffin bay. At each station, Mary is plunging the CTD down to the seabed (300 to 500m), while Christian is measuring, with an icedrill and an electromagnetic icemeter, thickness of the ice floe to which Vagabond is moored.

Then, on Canadian side, on the small Brevoort Island, not far from Cape Sabine and Ellesmere Island, we must inspect the second weather station. This one, set up in 2009 with Henry Larsen ice-breaker, is intact. Data are downloaded, important complement to those from the station on the other side of the strait.

Tonight, blue sky, wind is increasing, gust up to 45 knots, ice floes are drifting fast. An Arctic hare and his young looking at us, we found a little shelter in Alexandra Fjord, not far from the scientific station.


  • Ravito gasoil Qaanaaq

It is on Siorapaluk's beach that Vagabond has been thought up, almost thirty five years ago. A boat able to sail in icy waters, and if no good shelter, able to beach for overwinter...

Siorapaluk is the northernmost village in Greenland. Hunting and fishing are regulating the fifty three inhabitants' life, and giving them most of their food needs. In addition, a supply ship is coming only once a year.

We are happy to meet again with Jocelyne Ollivier-Henry, a friend from Brittany, she has been living here part time for the last thirteen years. She showed us her village, and we invited her on board with her friends, and a flock of children! After two days stop, Greenlandic that came with us from Qaanaaq to visit their cousins at Siorapaluk, are coming back home with us.

Coincidence: Siorapaluk is at the same latitude than Inglefield Bay, in Svalbard, where Vagabond spent five winters (2004-2009). About Inglefield Land, here in Greenland, we will approach it next week.

Back to Qaanaaq, Vagabond beaching capacity is used to enter the lagoon, at high tide, and to beach to get diesel.


  • Mouillage devant Qaanaaq

Built sixty years ago, Qaanaaq (Thule in Danish) has today about six hundred inhabitants. Only small boats can enter the lagoon, in front of the village, however not so well protected from westerly and south-easterly winds. Vagabond dropped anchor in three meters of water, outside the lagoon, and is ready to set sail in case the wind is picking up. The next scientific team will board on August 6th, for two weeks, and part of the equipment was already waiting for us here in Qaanaaq. Hans is giving me the parcels. He is holding the local hotel ans is showing me proudly pictures from explorers and adventurers that stayed here before. Hans was two years old when his village was moved here, when the American Thule Air Base was built, in 1951.

As well as watching for missiles and communicating with satellites in orbit, the huge military base is supporting Arctic scientific research projects. So Vagabond is allowed to stop, and we could get some supplies and unexpected ways of entertainment! About a hundred and fifty Americans from US Air Force are working at Thule Air Base, which is mainly running with three hundred and fifty Danish and sixty Greenlandic. This stop was also a chance for a very good first contact with Canadian Coast Guards, escorting a supply ship with their ice-breaker Henry Larsen.

Before reaching Qaanaaq, a hundred kilometers further north, Vagabond stopped in front of two more abandonned villages, Moriussaq and Qeqertarssuaq. Strange feeling to enter a school-church, while everything is inside, except teacher, pupil or faithful.

No walrus seen on our way, but still many seals and birds.


  • Brume Savissivik

Little village of about 60 inhabitants, including 48 adults, north of Melville Bay. Sumptuous scenery. On the other side of the fjord, the inlandsis is slowly flowing by a few glaciers, generous suppliers of icebergs which are protecting the village from swell. Good anchorage. Behind the houses, the mountain is home for hundreds of thousands of little auks, flying relentlessly to and fro across the sky. Naja and Mario are speaking good English, they welcome us at home. They are in charge of the school, which will open in three weeks for five children. Léonie and Aurore find new games there, among mattresses of an international team of geologists, who is renting the place for five days. They are working for an oil company, to map the region. Life could change very much if exploitation starts...

Mario tells us about walrus hunting, in spring. Naja offers earrings to Léonie, delighted. After muskox and coffee, our little family is taking her turn at the public bath, the only place with running water.

Since Upernavik, stops followed on, depending on weather, needs and wishes. On the very little Island of Kipako, we met again with the three birdwatchers. They explained how they can estimate variation of quantities of fishes and plankton, by studying chicks every year. After the guided tour, two of the scientists came to get fresh water on board. Vagabond then dropped anchor at Nuussuaq, then at Kullorsuaq, the two last villages of the West Coast which we could not reach last month because of late ice breaking up. At Savissivik, we enter Greenland's Great North district.


  • Upernavik

Overhaul for Vagabond, who is having some scars of the long fight against Melville Bay ices. Scientists and cameramen left yesterday for France, with less data and pictures than expected; young walruses and their mothers will keep part of the mystery on their communication mode. Bearded seals rutting melody was easier to record, as well as narwhal song. New pictures.

When arriving in Upernavik, July 12th, we saw the ship of Danemark's Queen, who we already met a year ago in Faroes. Very much expected in the village, she was suppose to come by plane, which had to turn back due to fog. Her boat, with VIP and journalists, started again without her!

Yesterday we met three colleagues of the little auk team, for who we worked in 2005 and 2010 on the East Coast of Greenland. They are about to spend two weeks on a little island to study guillemots and kittiwakes.

News of Piem: he left Iceland this morning, heading for North-West Passage on board Eshamy, Jeffrey's sail boat. We met him in Murmansk two years ago. He was attempting the North-East Passage without permission, but he turned back because of ice and fog.

No more ice ahead of us now, up to Qaanaaq (Thule). Ices didn't hold last gale (July 9th and 10th), as shown by, among others, radar images sent by Brest team of CLS (collaboration on SIDARUS project). Our stop in Upernavik will be as short as possible, we are looking forward to see the other side of Melville Bay, and maybe, watch some walruses!