Every day, a weather report is sent to the local airline (Kenn Borek), to our neighbours in Grise Fiord, to the Meteorological Service of Canada, to some scientists, and to few people interested. These observations will be also used to process oceanographic data collected all along the winter. In addition, a Minos weather station was set up on board Vagabond by Météo France in Brest. Minos data are mainly used by weather forecast models (French, English, European (ECMWF), American, Japanese...). They are assimilated with thousands of observations (surface in situ, radiosonde investigations (balloons), satellites...), to represent atmosphere state, essential to predict its evolution. The closest weather station is in Grise Fiord, fifty kilometres from Vagabond.
Winter solstice is in five weeks, but already our head lamps are useful at midday, outside, even when the sky is clear. Inside, a candle or the kerosene lamp is lighted at lunchtime. Our fjord is huge, but space becomes more intimate, more friendly, in the circle of these lights. Polar night is arousing imagination. When the weather is fine, we can still distinguish cliffs and mountains, ten or fifteen kilometres around, standing out against white and uniform pack ice. The little light on top of the mast, visible from the middle of the fjord, where I go two or three times a week for scientific work, looks small but reassuring and welcoming. It can stay on all day because it is LED bulb, using very little electricity. Unfortunately, our friends from Grise Fiord didn't see it yesterday: once more, they could not find a safe way across pack ice, too thin, separating us from the village. They should try again next Saturday or Sunday. We are looking forward to welcome them on board, and to get back in touch with our neighbours, not seen since 6 October!
I was wondering why I woke up at 4 in the morning, and why the camera tripod fall down on the ice... But tracks in the snow can tell: a polar bear came up to Vagabond, cautiously. Some noise might have scared him because he turned back suddenly, then came up again doing a large curve. Then he explored the girls game's track, then took on the camera tripod, then had a look at a kind of long rope tight between the boat and a big tripod. He freed a shovel, hooked on to a pulley that started rolling fast towards him on the tighten rope! Tracks of jumps and piss show his fear and escape. I didn't think that a game would become an alarm! Soon dogs will be here to watch over our refuge. In the meantime, things are happening here, full moon nights.
Every three days, I carry the CTD to the middle of the fjord to measure water temperature and salinity, according to depth. Along the way, the icemeter is recording pack ice thickness, on the return trip as well. Temperatures dropped the last few days, and batteries were getting too low before I was back to the boat. So I connected the icemeter, the little computer and the GPS to a big 12 volts battery (similar to a car battery). And to be able to get the CTD down to the seabed, what was not possible with the longest rope available, I set up the winch, with its 600 meters line, on the big sledge. So yesterday, I had more than 100 kg to pull, when we just had twenty centimetres of new snow, and temperature was close to -35°C! It took me more than five hours, the CTD and the GPS were frozen, I didn't get any data. Today, less ambitious, I took the small pulka and the rope again, and I kept the CTD in my overall until I was ready to plunge it in the water. It was not very comfortable but efficient: results are looking good, although temperature was almost -40°C. Each field work is a little adventure!
In France, summer time ended on 30 October. On board Vagabond (and in all North America), summer time will end on 6 November. Then we will have again six hours difference with Brest, our home port.
From our pack ice, summer seems to be far behind! Also after a so easy and so quick freezing in period (ice is over 40 cm thick already), it needs some imagination to subscribe to some documentaries about global warming. Yes, our planning is now letting us more time to look at the little on board film collection. This is not like attending a good film festival, like Adventure Screens in Dijon, with which we had a live phone link today.
For now, tracks around the boat are only from polar bears, foxes, hares, lemmings, common ravens... and ours. In a few days, tracks from first visitors should be added, from Grise Fiord. The 48 km of pack ice are almost passable by skidoos and dog sleds.
We did not see the sun today, there was a clear sky though! We should have seen it yesterday briefly, but it was snowing and the sky was cloudy. We have now to wait until 15th February 2012 before seeing it again...
Solar panels were pretty useful since we arrived at South Cape Fiord (amazingly, Vagabond's stem is pointing North accurately), but now we can store them for four months!
Gradually, Vagabond is getting back to winter organization. Survival suits and other sailing equipments have been put away until next summer. Fresh water tanks are now empty, and iceberg collected ice is melting in barrels inside the boat. Safety camp is ready, in case of fire for instance. Ladder is in place to go down easily on pack ice, already forty centimetres thick. The swing too is installed! Warm clothes are replacing sailing clothes, temperature is down to -22°C today. And two days ago, we emptied out the deep freezer, contents are now in boxes outside. There should be less mild spells here, south of Ellesmere Island, than in Svalbard, and our deep freezer will be off probably until next May. Like if Vagabond settled in a huge deep freezer...
Alone in the middle of the fjord, on thirty centimetres thick pack ice, while I'm taking up the CTD to the surface, I suddenly hear a breath, powerful, very close. I look around in vain, ice is very smooth all over many square kilometres, not a bump to hide an animal. Then I see a little dome, with a small home on top of it: a seal came to catch his breath, using that hole he is maintaining, and that he is able to find again under the ice I'm not sure how. These holes are many in Vagabond's surroundings. Despite a frozen scenery, there is a lot of life under the ice! A seal even came to breath at the back of the boat, in the hole made by rejected water from the engine. When the weather is calm, anywhere on pack ice, we only have to wait for a few minutes to hear breathing. Then we don't feel alone so much, almost being watched.
Finished the huge ice rink. Pack ice is covered with a thin blanket of snow. Visitors are now leaving foot prints behind! Already three times in two days we had polar bear visits, probably the same young one each time. He only chew a little bit a buoy. We'll be more relax when the dogs will be here to announce visits. They should have been coming by boat, but conditions were too bad. Boating season is ending. The fiord seems to be frozen as far as we can see now, soon the hunters from Grise Fiord should be able to travel on ice. And the dogs should come.