The purpose of the mission done in East Greenland with Vagabond, between August 8th and 18th, 2014, was to reach an exceptional site of the volcanic margin, at 200 kilometres north of Kulusuk, where basaltic flows of the margin are lying on the Precambrian platform. The study of the geometry of this contact is basic because it allows to understand the mechanisms at the origin of this type of transition continent-ocean. The mission, although short, was successful, thanks to Vagabond... and her crew!
Two things sailors dread in high latitudes: to touch an unmapped rock, to hit an iceberg. Done for Vagabond! First the hull, in Canada, not long after having left our wintering site. Then the nose, in Greenland, after our stop in Nuuk. Those responsible: heavy fog and lack of vigilance at the end of a night watch. To keep looking at the sounder and at the radar... Vagabond is strong and take it, nothing can stop her, she continues her route with only nice bumps.
Careful, we enjoy the inside route, protected from the swell and funnier than the offshore route. There are beacons along most of the West coast of Greenland, for small boats, and we meet a lot of them. Despite only a few stops, we are inside the landscape and we mix with Greenlanders. Here a caribou on top of a rock, there a fox looking for food on a beach. Great coastal sailing. Near Paamiut, a wreck, a big fishing boat, is calling for caution! All the more so as the night, the real one, dark, is showing up again, in the south of Greenland (60°N). Temperatures and vegetation are increasing.
On July 31st, we arrive at Ipiutaq, a very much expected stop! We meet again with our friends Ina (7), Agathe and Kalista. This little French-Greenlandic family is breeding sheeps and hosting guests in a magnificent environment. Life at the farm, great French-Greenlandic cuisine by Agathe, char fishing... the day is too short, we will come back!
We avoid the formidable Cape Farvel. About 100 km of fjords are allowing boats to sail from the West coast to the East coast of Greenland, between 1500 meters high mountains. We didn't know that route in 2003 (journey around the Arctic), and it was blocked by ice in 2011 (Brest - Grise Fiord), also we were looking forward to discover it. On August 3rd, we drop anchor for a few hours, then we exit the fjords when daylight is back.
Excesses and contrasts of the East coast, so wild: many glaciers and icebergs, a lot of snow (early August!), maps ten times less detailed and not accurate (up to one kilometre offset), strong contrary current (from the Arctic Ocean), numerous shallows demanding to slow down, no beacon, no village, nobody along more than 700 kilometres of coast... Only one boat seen, a tall ship, like coming from another time!
Six meters of swell is against us, stops are needed. Twice we find a fine enough shelter, time to stretch our legs waiting for better weather. Aurore and Leonie, well sea adapted, are enjoying the cruise: playing, listening to music or to stories, watching a cartoon (if not too much swell), reading, eating (often!), sleeping, watching the landscape and the animals. In the end, a long but nice 17 days voyage, more than 1400 milles (2600km) from Qikiqtarjuaq to Tasiilaq. On our arrival, the sea is calm (at last!), full moon and less dark night, right under the arctic circle.
On August 9th, we stop at 3 places heavy with memories. At Tasiilaq, at Peroni's, we get a rifle and the equipment for the geologists. Showers and store too. 3 hours later, at Kulusuk, Laurent Geoffroy and his team are boarding. At Sermiligaaq, we drop anchor for the night, and go ashore to find another rifle, this time a working one. We have not been here for 13 years, this region was our first destination in 2000 an 2001, already for Laurent Geoffroy's geological missions.
Follow Vagabond's track here.
After having drifted back and forth in the middle of her ice floe, Vagabond is happy to sail free again. First stop, Tassialuit. We drop the anchor at the same place where was set up our tent last winter on the sea ice. Time to visit friends spending here the week end, time also to finish packing everything on board, and to watch from very close a bear swiming along our red hull!
Around midnight we start our journey again, while Léonie and Aurore fall asleep, rocked by the swell for the first time in ten months. Like every year, we have to sea adapt again, which is not so pleasant in heavy fog! The next day, we try to stop in a fjord but there is too much ice to drop the anchor. However, we enjoy a piece of ice accommodating some heavy and brown bulks: nine walruses nonchalant let us approach them, making worth the detour.
For our technical and resting stop, the last shelter before Greenland is near Cape Dyer. Here some people are welcoming us. Late visit of the Cape Dyer radar station (DEW Line). From a cliff we can see the heavy clouds running fast off the Cape. In order to wait for better weather we decide to go to the very end of the Sunneshine fjord, 18 nautical miles long!
The following day, we are heading East. Pilot whales and other whales are crossing our route. When reaching Greenland, full sail ahead, in the early morning, some whales are welcoming us, and we watch more of them all day long! We enjoy the quiet waters in between the many islands, all the way to Nuuk, the capital.
We stay 24 hours in Nuuk, efficient and nice stop, thanks to the coast-guards, our neighbours, and to Jean-François Pagès, French cook for 32 years in Greenland, very enthusiastic and happy!
Follow our trip here.
For the last six days, our packice has been free. When waking up in the morning, we first wonder how far we have been drifting... Sometimes very close to town, or near an iceberg. Sometimes 6km further south. Sometimes back in Aningaatalik Bay. Still frozen in the middle of our big winter ice floe, we are drifting depending on currents and winds since the floe left her bay of origin.
A few visitors are coming alongside the ice edge, with their boats. And thanks to our dinghy, by pulling it on the ice up to the water, it is still possible for us to reach land.
On Saturday, Yves is coming to help me to realign the starboard engine (which was shaking terribly), and to change the fuel injection pump on the port engine. Here we go, Vagabond's both engines are running!
A lot of seals around, hunters are sharing their catch with us, dogs are enjoying it too. Those ones have been free since our ice floe started drifting. They are running around the huge ice raft, spotted with melt ponds.
This Tuesday, July 22nd, at 9am, we left our ice floe for good. Vagabond managed to break a channel in the melting ice, by going backward first, to get some speed, and little by little break the ice all the way to the open water.
After a diesel-gas-food-showers-laundry stop in Qikiqtarjuaq, we drop anchor for the night in the bay where we just spent nine and a half months. Time to pick up a camera that took a picture every hour since October 5th, then dive under the hull to check a probe and set up new propeller anodes (free diving because the regulator froze!), and we set sails to Greenland.
You can follow us here: http://www.sailwx.info/shiptrack/shipposition.phtml?call=FLAO
On French National Day, the fruits of our work for Takuvik took off! All samples prepared in the lab and by diving since March have been entrusted to the Amundsen's helicopter, as well as main scientific instruments that must be checked (CTD, ADCP, SPAR). While the icebreaker was heading north, 50 nautical miles from the coast, the helicopter made a return trip to Qikiqtarjuaq, to maintain the cold chain (-80°C and -20°C). It was also an opportunity for us to get some spare parts and a few groceries which cannot be found in Qikiqtarjuaq!
Then all the remaining scientific equipment was dried out, sorted and stored in a container until next winter. Under the sun and hordes of mosquitoes! Skidoo covered with tarpaulin, qamutiks (sleds) pulled up on dry land, the Vagabond-Takuvik 2014 mission is over for us.
The ice breaking up is progressing slowly, it is very late this year. Not seen since 1981, according to the elders. Our neighboring campers at Aningaatalik are patiently watching the ice melting, they hunt seals before going sailing in the fjords. During a wonderful evening birthday with them, I won a knife at a shooting contest!
Last Saturday, the anchor was lifted up, after 9 months of stillness among clams at 15m depth. Lifted with a 60 liters container filled with air, I was able to bring it back under the hull of Vagabond. France then could bring up 60 meters of chain lying on the bottom since October. While diving, I inspected the hull, despite very poor visibility: nothing to report, except the two propeller anodes to change and the deep sounder probe to better fix. Meanwhile, Aurore and Leonie, more and more capable by themselves, are visiting melt ponds by kayak!
July 1st: Canada Day. The ice is getting very thin in places, fractures widen... but we are still snowmobiling to town, with some detours. The whole family went to the village for the festivities!
July 9: Nunavut Day. This time it is by boat that we reach the village. First with our dinghy, necessary to land on the ice from Vagabond, because our pond is quite large now. Then we have to walk to the ice edge, pulling our dinghy. From Aningaatalik tip, where half a dozen tents are set up, the water is open all the way to town. Some adventurous hunters are still using their snowmobiles.
These events are opportunities to share real feasts (frozen caribou and Arctic char, seal, sea weeds ...), fishing competitions (sculpin), bike races (children), scavenger hunts, dice or skill games...
Meanwhile, in the village, I left the sleds as close as possible to the shore (where they will soon be taken up on land) and I brought the snowmobile to a garage (where it will stay until snow is back). July 2nd, I started to walk back, but I was soon caught up by a skidoo which dropped me near Vagabond!
Visiting our neighboring campers, sharing a tea prepared on a heather fire, getting fresh water from the nearest river, enjoying the wind for some last snowkiting sessions, building up the big kayak and circumnavigating Vagabond (4 of us in the kayak!)... alternately with maintenance and other jobs on board.
Summer? We just had two weeks of snow, snow, snow and the sun finally seems to be back for some time. So the ice that was blue with large melt ponds is white again, deceptive; now appear real lakes, open on the bottom. This is a superb yet amazing season, which doesn't tell us much about what is going to happen next: when will the ice break-up? How fascinating material is ice, and all its metamorphoses during melting process. Time to do all kinds of work on board, maintenance, storage, time for snowkiting on ice and large puddles, and we already think in the "sailing dimension" (Vagabond is listing now when it is windy!) while Leonie and Aurore play princesses, cards, school or camping inside and outside. And we swoon over the buds of tiny pink flowers that are slow to hatch!
Soon to go to the village it will take almost an hour walking, avoiding crakcs and too thin ice, since it is time to store the snowmobile. And soon, it will be walking and sailing (dinghy). In short, it means adapting to ever changing ground!
To celebrate summer, no midnight sun due to more bad weather! This does not stop our local friends to go camping and fishing, especially since Arctic Chars just left the lakes to reach the sea. Fishing trips are followed by drying and smoking sessions.
Yesterday, between two heavy snowfalls (!), France and I went to recover the weather station set up on the ice last March for Takuvik. We were surrounded by seals lying on the ice beside their holes. All scientific equipment was finally brought back to Qikiqtarjuaq.
While I was sending the latest weather and current data, Marcel Babin, director of Takuvik, asked me this morning to "think about the feasibility of pursuing a re-sized sampling of the bloom... With a zodiac? Other?". Ideally a hovercraft!
The ice condition now requires detours, especially to go from the boat to the village by snowmobile. Surprisingly, the ice is white again, and fresh snow is hiding melt ponds. Hoping that it does not hide real holes, such as those near the village, where the ice has been fully eroded by currents.
Time for clean up, maintenance, preparing Vagabond for the boating season, and getting supplies. We are ordering for the summer and even next winter: the two ships supplying Qikiqtarjuaq once a year will leave Québec soon (Desgagnés and NEAS). Smaller packages sometimes arrive in the mail, from southern Canada or from Europe. Mid-July, while the ice-breaker Amundsen will sail off Broughton Island, her helicopter will come to pick up all samples and some equipment. In the same time, we will get parts for Vagabond's engines. As for Aurore, she just received, from an Iqaluit (Nunavut's capital) priest, a pair of the right size rubber boots, impossible to find in Qikiqtarjuaq!
Vagabond is getting supplies also thanks to our partners (Celnat, Even, Hénaff) and to our friends sailors. A few boxes are waiting for us in Nuuk (capital of Greenland), they came all the way from Brittany on board WHY. Other supplies are en route to Tasiilaq (Greenland), aboard Algol. At last, in the geologists drums, now getting ready in Brest, there will be more supplies and equipment for Vagabond. These drums will embark with the scientists in August in Greenland, and will be send back to Brest, after the mission, loaded with rock samples!
And the ice is blue! The snow melts and the sea ice is flooded. This fresh water flows slowly through cracks or seal holes. In the meantime, we sometimes wonder what we are doing with a snowmobile with so much water around! Yesterday we had to lift up the front of the snowmobile onto the sled to dry the engine and to be able to move away from a too flooded area.
Since June 11th, the school is over for Léonie; until August 15th. The summer holidays are slightly shifted with our sailing season (late July to late September). On our return from Greenland, Aurore will also go to the Inuksuit school in Qikiqtarjuaq to learn English and Inuktitut. Léonie now loves to sing in Inuktitut, she brings us more Inuit culture.
We are just back from three days camping in the first fjord, northwest of Vagabond. We had our tent on shore, looking at flooded ice, not far from a big torrent. The first flowers appear, as well as many berries form last year, which have been frozen all winter: despite a small characteristic taste, everyone is enjoying them, including our dogs! Leelee and Sarah, came to visit us twice (a good hour by snowmobile from the village), they show us different berries, plants used to make tea, to make fire...
Between two scientific stations (measurements, ice coring and water sampling every two days on the ice for Takuvik), we tried a large net, 100 meters high and 2 meters wide, set up just above the bottom of the fjord (370m) for 24 hours: a total of 8h of work, but nothing, no polar cod in the net! There was one however in the hole four days later, swimming in the strong current generated by the flow of meltwater...
Last week, Mike Beedell and a group of French friends visited us after a challenging ski trip. We were all pleased with these shared moments on board or in town. France and I never had so much company during our scientific work, either on the sea ice or in the lab! Thanks to Billy for all skidoo transfers (Billy is also the local Gospel Church Reverend!).
In order to bring back the anchor before the ice begins to drift, risking to break the chain, I hooked it to a 60 liters plastic drum during my last dive. I filled it with air, but the anchor did not move! I'm going back soon, with another drum.
José and Claudie are working for Takuvik, the research laboratory in Quebec for who we are doing a complete study of the bloom. They came for ten days with a prototype ice detector by laser polarimetry to test under the ice. Eventually, it will be used with ARGO floats in the Arctic. The system will provide the possible presence of surface ice to the float at a depth of 15-20 meters to stop its ascent and avoid contact. This development is part of the NAOS project and strengthens the French contribution to the ARGO mission, deploying 110 floats during the 2012-2019 period.
For now, it is to validate the system, and for that I'm diving and aiming with the laser, from 10m depth, thin ice, or thick ice, or ice free surface. My mask is equipped with laser protection lenses, and I feel like diving with sunglasses! The last dives are taking place near the boat, where thick snow on the ice is filtering most of day light. I do not see much, difficult to aim! José nevertheless seems satisfied with the results, and concluded that "experience in the field has provided important information for the optimization of the system!"
The usual work on the ice and in the lab continue during this time, more than ever: "That's it, the bloom is here!!! The purpose of the mission. Congratulations!", is telling us Marcel Babin, director of Takuvik, who is monitoring our results. Claudie also came to check the use of the CTD, and to learn how to do ice cores. Returning from the last station, we saw a polar bear on the ice near the shore of Broughton Island, on which he then climbed a steep and snowy slope. Fascinating.
Yesterday, my brother Paul (Piem) reached Ushuaia by bike. He left Barcelona 3 years and 2 months ago, he was on board Vagabond during our difficult crossing of the Atlantic in May and June 2011, at the beginning of his long journey. Since then he has lived many adventures and encounters! Never forgetting to look after this website, among others, being the webmaster.