Expédition Volcabasin, deuxième partie

  • Au coeur du Svartenhuk

Swell is still big when Vagabond is dropping anchor, Saturday noon, in front of the old Tartussaq hut. Priscilla, François and Bernard worked and camped there since Tuesday night. They disembarked using dry suits, at midnight, under the rain... but they had three days of nice weather and are coming back very happy about their stay on land. During that time, Vagabond sailed to Qaarsut, about 100 kilometres South of the working area; it is the closest airport. Laurent, the expedition leader, and the four geophysicists left Thursday morning, while a new team with three geologists arrived the following day (René, Arnaud and Philippe). Straight after, Vagabond was heading back to Svartenhuk to pick up the campers and carry on the study of this exceptional area. The numerous helicopter flights done the week before had allow to make endless observations and measures, sometimes in very remote places with difficult access. Everyone could fly, even Aurore et Léonie, to enjoy this basaltic massif and its glaciers. Myself I was requested to do some long pan films from the helicopter, to see and see again later the area.

Between the two teams, Vagabond could do a short stop in Uummannaq. There was many blueberries around town, for the great pleasure of the whole family!

14 personnes à bord !

  • Deux bateaux et un helico pour mission geologie

South coast of Svartenhuk is not much sheltered, landings are sometimes difficult because of the swell. Fortunately, rain and wind are alternating with sun and high temperatures: up to 20°C! On 2 August, Porsild joined Vagabond. She is a Greenlandic boat from Qeqertarsuaq scientific station (Disko Island). On board, four geophysicists from Brest coming to strengthen Laurent Geoffroy's team. Magnetism measurements and gravimetry done by Pascal Tarits' team are completing observations, core and other samplings done by Vagabond's four geologists, to understand the Svartenhuk volcanic margin. On 6 August in the evening, Jim and Svein are landing on the shore nearby with the Air Greenland helicopter, chartered until 14 August. The two pilots set up on board Vagabond. When Porsild has to leave the area on 9th August, we are then fourteen people around the table, for five days! Luckily, in Arfertuarssuk, there is a good shelter for the boat, and a good landing place for the helicopter. Part of the geophysicists equipment can stay on shore (phew!), near the fuel drums brought by and for the helicopter, and six people are sleeping in a nice hut and in a tent. Volcabasin 2012 mission is in full swing!

Svartenhuk via Uummannaq

  • Carottage d un filon de basalte

On 31st July at 6am, France and I are dropping anchor in the little bay Akunerit, south of Svartenhuk Peninsula. Near the beach, shallow water is protecting us from numerous icebergs. Aurore and Léonie have been sleeping for long in their cabin, as well as the four geologists that we took on board at Qaarsut last night, with about twenty boxes, barrels and bags, for one month field work. Together, under a beautiful sunset, we could watch humpback whales, imperturbable, very busy feeding. Every day since 26 July, here at 71°N, sun is setting again, shortly.

Vagabond just had time to do a short stop in Uummannaq before the start of the mission. We were very warmly welcomed by Pierre Auzias, who has been looking after us since he knows that we intend to spend here winter 2013-2014. Pierre's neighbour is the great traveller Ole Jorgen, and we are very happy to see him again, just before his departure on an expedition to North Greenland. Our stop is also a chance to meet Gambo's crew, sail boat working for a one year oceanographic project in Uummannaq fjord.

Rocks studied by the team of Laurent Geoffroy, who is on board for his fourth time, are about 55 millions years old. Earth is 4,5 billions years old. If the Earth would be one year old on 1st January, man would have arrived on 31st December at 10pm. With the geologists, it is fascinating to learn more about the story of our planet, while trying to protect it.

Upernavik Yacht Club

  • Upernavik

Little by little we can feel the swell, Vagabond is back to the sea, free of ice, and the crew is slowly accustoming to life at sea while crossing Baffin Bay. Our friend Christian is watching our route and suggest us to follow Canadian coast before heading for Upernavik, this is allowing us to avoid strong head winds. Not a boat is seen during these four days at sea, but many icebergs, each more majestic than the one before. Friday noon, we enter Upernavik harbour, and soon we meet with our friend Bodil: she is watching over a few boxes of supplies that came for us from Quebec on board yacht Arctic Tern 1 chartered by WWF! Other boats are in the harbour, suddenly looking like a marina: Dodo's delight (her skipper Bob Shepton set up in 2009 the Littleton weather station which we repaired in August 2011), [lived on board Vagabond for two months in Svalbard](>Jonathan (Mark, her skipper, <a

href=)), Billy Budd (her owner Cristina invites us Saturday night for a great evening), Belzebub II (Rana, their film maker, is going aboard Vagabond as passenger all the way to Uummannaq), Arctic Tern... More boats recently passed here, or are sailing in the area: Kotick, Balthazar, Marguerite, La Louise, Polaris... How crowded! Since Vagabond left Upernavik (1200 people, ten times more than Grise Fiord) on 17th July 2011, she didn't see any other yacht, neither any harbour.

Grise Fiord

  • Jeffrey et sa famille accueillent Vagabond a Grise Fiord

Sunday morning, pushed reluctantly by drifting ice, Vagabond is getting close to Fram's wintering site (1899-1900), in Harbour Fiord. Not far from us, about fifteen muskox, more Arctic hares, and many birds breeding in the cliffs. On board, we are playing cards... All of a sudden, around midday, pressure is decreasing. So much that later in the day, we can drop anchor in front of Grise Fiord ! Villagers are happy to be able to sail, since this afternoon too, and several boats come to greet us, starting with Jeffrey and his family. Dogs and kamutik (sleigh) are going back to them. They will also keep some of the scientific equipment, as we will use it next winter, since we decided to come back to Grise Fiord for another winter. And Léonie is staying in their house for one night, happy to meet more children! Before heading for Greenland, we collect a few boxes of food, we send the last philatelic envelops, we post the rest of the scientific equipment, and comply with formalities to exit Canada. A refuelling is not necessary as we still have more than 25% of the 4000 litres taken on board last September. The stop is short, we just have time to see our friends, briefly, and talk about Vagabond's next winter location. Monday evening, while France is steering between ice, looking for a way out of Jones Sound to Baffin Bay, I spend three hours on the deck to pack and tie everything. Heading for Upernavik! Follow our route here.

Si proche de Grise Fiord

  • La banquise se compacte contre la cote

Surrounded with icebergs but protected by shallow water, Vagabond stayed eight days at anchor, at a foot of a glacier, on the other side of South Cape Fiord, seven kilometres from the wintering location. The programme was maintenance, alterations and tidying up on board, and picnics on land.

On 17 July, at the end of the day, we decide to sail towards Grise Fiord, while doing some bathymetry, looking for the sill of the fjord, with the deep water echo sounder freshly installed. Remaining pack ice stop us halfway. We spend the night moored to the ice. While the dogs are eating their seal meat portion, a polar bear is approaching on pack ice, then swimming away. Big bearded seals alone, large groups of harp seals, petrels... this non stop show makes up for our slow progress. On 19, wind starts and ice is pushed against shore. Vagabond is listing and lifted up under pressure, a little too close to East Cape, about ten nautical miles from the village. The net slightly relaxed last night, and Vagabond could move away from the rocks. She is still drifting with ice, waiting for a way to open to the East...

Chronique d'une débâcle

  • Vagabond vu du ciel 2 juillet 22h
  • Bathysonde retrouvee

2 July: launching the solar balloon at the end of the day, but unexpected clouds engender a quick drop of the balloon and the camera!

3 July: wind is too strong to go to the middle of the fjord. But we are still cooking outside, at the back of the boat, which is very nice. The stove, that we use most of the time for cooking, is off during "warm" days in summer.

4 July: with a dog, a dry suit and a kayak, I reach the position of the probe, launched at the end of April in the middle of the fjord. But the strong wind from the day before changed the scenery, ice break-up started. I look for the instrument, drifting with ice, with all data since end of April... I stop searching after a few hours, disappointed.

5 July: a big piece of pack ice, which has been hosting Vagabond since October 2011, come off the coast and is drifting on 500 meters. The anchor is slipping, so we try to get some of the chain back, whenever tension decreases. 25 meters out of 60 are progressively got back. Deck becomes suddenly very cluttered up with all our equipment that was still on the ice.

6 July: first trip to shore with the dinghy. We can pull it easily on the ice up to open water. Most of the huge South Cape Fiord is now navigable. A big bearded seal is setting up near Vagabond. Late in the day, for about four hours, I search for the drifting probe with the dinghy. In vain.

7 July: at 8pm, the anchor is finally up, intact.

8 July: drifting with winds and tidal currents, we are still held prisoner by our winter pack ice which is provisionally getting back to its initial position!

9 July: turn to pack ice around the boat to melt enough to break up, Vagabond is in open water at 11am! But shortly later, drifting ice is pushing her on shallow water, hull is scraping on the seabed, the list is more than twenty degrees. France and I are worried, but the girls are laughing and sliding on the very sloping floor! The boat is up again, at least, time to tidy all up on board, and to turn our winter hut into a ship. We take the two dogs on board, quite scared but happy to be in a dry place. Search for the probe is carried out with Vagabond now.

10 July, 1am: from the crow's nest, between many small icebergs, I see with the binoculars the red and the white buoys supporting the valuable instrument. We can recover it intact at five kilometres from its initial position. What luck!

Bottes en plastique

  • Eau libre entre la plage et le bateau

No way to be in Grise Fiord for today's celebration of Canada Day: pack ice is getting too thin to travel by snowmobile, but still too hard to break with Vagabond! I left our vehicle there ten days ago, for summer. It was snowing, on solstice day, when I did the last trip. Pack ice was so flooded that I was soaked! But the engine didn't stop, ice didn't break, and it was still possible to drive around wide cracks. Phew! The next day, Jeffrey offered me a lift back. France and I were happy to have him on board for a couple of hours, we were in touch with him before we came to Grise Fiord, almost one year ago, and he gave us dogs and sledges for the whole winter.

Water drained by seal holes and cracks, ice dried up. Then, in the sun, melt ponds became deeper, and larger. Now, they are connecting together, and only remain white isolated patches surrounded by thin submerged ice. Rubber boots needed! Especially to reach the middle of the fjord, for scientific measurements, every three days. Ice already lost 40% of its thickness. Sun has been shinning non stop for the last eight days, temperature is approaching 10°C, conditions are ideal for small repainting, and for picnics on land or on ice. Going from one to the other is becoming tricky, even with the kayak or the sledge. Fishing shrimps, discovering new flowers, watching ivory gulls, Arctic terns, king eiders, snow geese... Dogs are watching over their piece of seal fat, coveted by many birds, and they are excited by seals, appearing suddenly closer and closer.

During my last stay in town, I could meet Graeme Magor, who spent here winter 1999-2000, further West. I also could see again Evangeline De Pas; she lived for ten years on board V'limeuse, and she worked today on project Iqqaumavara (meaning "I remember"), with Marquise Lepage, film director of a documentary about Martha Flaherty, cousin of Larry. Great evening with all these people together!

Far away, Grise Fiord is attracting rare but amazing people, as this famous hockey player, three days ago, or this rich Mexican family, that came to see polar bears and to fly over Vagabond in a helicopter on 18th of June!


  • Iceberg source pres de Vagabond

A seal is scratching the hull! It is quiet on board when suddenly we hear bubbles, just under our cabin. Then a few scratches, and a breath. A seal is catching his breath at one or two meters from us. Silence again, he dived. A few minutes later, he is back: big bubbles and powerful breathing. We cannot see it from the deck, but he found a gap between ice and the hull to reach the surface. Happily we didn't dissuade him by cutting up his fellow creature. Remains are attracting more and various birds around Vagabond: glaucous gull, raven, barnacle goose, common eider, red-throated diver, black guillemot, Arctic skua, purple sandpiper, snow bunting. On land, Arctic hares, always white, are easy to see since snow melted. A few trips to the nearest river with the dogs were enough to fill up the fresh water tanks, we now have running water on board! From the nearby summit, also from the top of the mast, packice, spotted with melt ponds, is like a patchwork. It took not much more than two weeks for all snow to melt on packice. The icemeter has been set up in our kayak to keep it dry. The snowmobile which is pulling it, is not far from turning to a jetski! A year ago, we were sailing: Vagabond we finding her way through packice in Melville Bay, similar packice that is surrounding us today...

Phoque et ours

  • Bonne chasse

Finally, it is not with the net neither with the blind that France caught a seal, yesterday, but only by surprise, by snowmobile. The foolhardy seal, not like the others, didn't dive when we came to his hole. France just pushed him away from the hole. Then, avoiding scratches from the terrified seal, all the more as the dogs were bitting his tail, she shot at point-blank range. Enough to make mittens for next winter, and to feed the dogs until ice breakup.

Day starts with a quiet picnic and a walk to a big waterfall, then some depth measurements in the fjord. France is driving the snowmobile from hole to hole, the happy girls are in the sleigh, and I'm skiing behind with the dogs following the track. Sometimes I move away to film, while skiing. Besides, I didn't stop filming during the unexpected hunting session (girls were sleeping). When back to the boat, with our blood-stained seal on the sleigh, we discover that a polar bear visited our camp! He brought down a tripod, he opened the dogs box but, strangely, didn't eat their seal meat, then he check the hull very close... a young bear who let many tracks everywhere, but no damage.