Wind is gusting up to 40 knots in Prince Regent Inlet, Vagabond is going at 9 knots before sheltering in a corner of Sommerset Island. L'Austral is there later in the afternoon, and our friend Patrick Marchesseau, the master, is giving us a warm welcome on board, with all his crew. Showers, delicious diner, supplies, talk and meeting a lot of nice people on board the beautiful cruise ship. Two different worlds met at the tend of the world!
August 15: amazing, unexpected collection, at Beechey Island. The few rocks are covered with coralline, sometimes quite thick, and our nets are full at the end of our dive! Jochen is delighted, he will be able to describe the ocean and the climate of past centuries, at Beechey Island, when analysing the samples.
In particular, we might be able to learn more about the conditions endured by the British expedition that looked for the Northwest Passage in 1845. Franklin and his 129 men had spent a first winter here at Beechey Island. Three of them are buried on the beach. Their two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, were abandoned in 1848, a little further in the passage. There was no survivor. For ten years, 40 ships have been seeking their footsteps. It was not until September 2014 that the wreck of the Erebus was found.
This year, about twenty sail boats and a few cruise ships are going through the Northwest Passage, completely free of ice. And even a liner of 1,700 people, a record! While visiting the graves, cairns and remains left on Beechey Island, we found a drone lost the day before by a cameraman from the Ocean Endeavour! Our friend David Reid is guide on board this passenger ship, we will ski together around Bylot island in April (a nice trip ahead!).
Our mission continues in the islands near Resolute Bay. Disappointment, Yves and I cannot find more than very thin fragments of coralline algae. For Jochen, the area around Cornwallis Island was a priority, because we have data on winter sea ice thickness, and he wants to use it when working on the algae samples. After consideration of the geological map of the region, it appears that areas of glaciomarine and marine sediments are not favourable to the development of coralline. Finally, Jochen widely changes our route and the sites to explore.
A little storm is coming, we take refuge in Allen Bay, near Resolute Bay, where Jochen, Pia and Dirk are taking a plane, as expected. While waiting for Alicia, Jochen's student who is joining us to manage the next coralline samples, we spend the day ashore. Besides the Canadian immigration procedure, it is an opportunity to see again the scientific station, the village, and first of all some friends. We are hosted by our friend Joyce, social worker; we met when we lived in Grise Fiord 3 years ago. Fortunately, friends of this remote little village are also in transit in Resolute, we're happy gathering and sharing news with Liza, Geela, Suzie, Eva, Jaypeetee, Mark!
Sailing back from Resolute to Beechey Island is tough, sea is rough. Then we need a full day to rest and repair the staysail which has been damaged by gusty winds. Again, the dives are successful, and Alicia is busy after our dives to sort and inventory all the samples. This is why we came back to Beechey, to make sure we have good samples of coralline. Yves also found a plate, he left it under the sea, following the rules... Maybe Franklin used it 170 years ago?
Each day, we see a different ship stopping at Beechey Island. The Akademik Ioffe, the National Geographic Explorer, the icebreaker Des Groseillers. This one is a Coast Guard ship, we are welcomed on board by the 40 sailors who ensure safety in the Canadian Arctic waters. Vagabond is invited to come along to get some fresh water, to discuss the latest ice charts, to enjoy a meal, and to do a complete tour of the vessel! When leaving the Erebus and Terror Bay, we meet L'Austral. The captain is a friend and sounds the horn, we have an appointment the next day for diner and to give a talk to the 230 passengers.
On the other side of Lancaster, our search for coralline continues at Port Leopold, where Caledonia, a beautiful yacht of a German couple came to anchor next to Vagabond. The opportunity for Celine and France to drink a glass of wine while listening to the story of their Northwest Passage: no wind, no ice, they seem disappointed!
This morning, thermometers are showing +2°C, both air and water temperatures. After another search with the underwater camera, we are leaving for one and a half day of sailing. Jochen is getting nervous. But the little bay he picked up appears to be a good spot. Before diving, the entire crew is happy to walk on the small and arid island laying in the middle of the bay. We feel like being on Mars. And alone! Pile of sharp limestones, barren ground at a first look. Then a few skuas, pretending to be injured to attract us away from their chicks. Some muskox shit, witness of their stay in winter when the bay is frozen. A big and old whale head bone. Large rocky slabs are promising nice sea floor and are offering an exotic playground to Leonie and Aurore.
In the evening, at last, all is ready for diving. There will be three dives in a row, there is so much to sample! Leonie is back in the water, Celine is also collecting her first samples with Yves, and I'm very happy to try my free dive suit under the 10pm sun... We believe again in Devon Island, and we are dilighted with Jochen's smile!
The mild Greenlandic summer is already behind us. Six dives, six different sites. At the last one, close to Upernavik, Leonie and Aurore went in the water too. I'm standing on a little island and watching for Yves and Eric's safety, this time they are using dive tanks. And I cannot believe my eyes looking at Leonie from a distance, small dark spot swimming away from Vagabond! Aurore, less reckless due to some holes in her old diving suit, is happy paddling at the bottom of the ladder.
Hello Nunavut! Since we arrive, no coraline. After three days to cross Baffin Bay, a nice passage between Pond Inlet and Bylot Island, we are following Devon Island enjoying, at last, fair winds. Life on board is easy and pleasant again, we can even all sit together around the table for diner while sailing.
Jochen has been dropping his dedicated camera at many locations, hoping to see some of this much talked-about pink coraline, but he is always finding sand or gravel. We are all looking forward to get to a good sampling site.
Here we are, ready to start the coraline expedition: this diving project will keep us busy for two months. On board, Jochen Halfar, German scientist expert on coraline algae and leader of the project, Pia and Dirk, film director and cameraman making a documentary for Arte TV, joined our crew.
First dive on a small island near Aasiaat. Jochen has defined about fifty diving sites carefully located thanks to his knowledge about the algae habitat. Our new surface supply system is ready for a trial, it is a backup solution in case of a breakdown of the air compressor. Eric and Yves, each of them at the end of a hose, can explore the sea floor with air for as long as they want. A success! Beautiful collection of stratified pink domes using hammers and scissors. "As much as I could collect during my entire last cruise in Spitsbergen in June" tells Jochen.
Yves and Eric are warm in their dry suits: water temperature is at +7°C! Using the same equipment, they are use to dive in winter under the ice in -2°C water...
The seabed is covered with pink. There is coraline algae, also huge star fishes, sea anemones, sea urchins, clams, other fishes... Where coraline is thicker, it means icebergs didn't churned up the sea floor.
From the surface, we can watch two whales blowing nearby, and we wonder if the divers can hear or see them underwater!
Our surface supply works well: quick to deploy, no need to fill up tanks down in the engine room after each dive. "I feel light" says Eric, smiling, without his 18 litres tank on his back!
Those willing to free dive are waiting a little bit longer, until work will be running smoothly...
Nous embarquons Yves et Céline, et cet été les deux mois de navigation seront pour rechercher de la coralline.
Dans la coralline on trouve plein de choses: d'abord il y a des petites bêtes, et quand on la coupe en deux, c'est un peu comme quand on coupe un arbre: il y a des lignes qui peuvent remonter à 1000 ans et ces lignes expliquent la salinité d'auparavant et d'autres trucs.
Dans l'équipage, il y a Jochen le scientifique, Yves et Céline nos amis, et Pia et Dirk les caméramen qui font un film sur tout ça.
This year, the big transition went very smoothly: in 7 days we went from frozen ocean - end of mission to Greenland! In the meantime, the anchor came up effortlessly right before our ice span began its usual drift. The Green Edge mission ended beautifully with the final data collection and the instruments recovered with the airboat. Once in the harbour, Yves managed to re-shape and weld Vagabond's new bow: a hard day of work for him and a memorable day for Vagabond who got her noze back! The very next evening we were sailing, our family crew along with our friends Celine and Yves.
After some 24 hours of making our way through big ice chunks without ever getting stocked and an additional day of navigation in free-of-ice water we've reached Aasiaat in a total of 48 hours. The whales were there, blowing to welcome us.
The watches in the ice kept their magical touch. Yves and Celine learned about this kind of navigation, sensitive as we are to all this beauty. Slowly getting used to the open sea again, Léonie is still amazed not to have been sick!
There is "before" and "after" July 11th. For about 15 days, to go to work, Eric used successively his feet on the first kilometre, our dinghy to cross another two kilometres of open water, the Green Edge pick up loaded with equipment and scientists from town to the "DEW Line beach" where are parked the skidoos, and finally snowmobile for 18 km on sea ice until the ice camp. On July 11 came the airboat, unique mean of transport able to go in all conditions from uniform ice to open water. Little revolution, noisy but funny to watch!
20 minutes à pied sur la banquise depuis Vagabond jusqu'à l'eau libre, puis 20 minutes en annexe pour traverser le chenal entre l'île Baffin et l'île Broughton (parfois avec l'aide du GPS pour se repérer dans la brume), puis 20 minutes de piste en pickup depuis le village de Qikiqtarjuaq jusqu'à la plage la plus proche d'une bonne banquise, et enfin 45 minutes en motoneige jusqu'au camp de glace de la mission GreenEdge. C'est le parcours que je fais chaque jour depuis que la banquise n'est plus praticable entre le bateau et le village !
Aujourd'hui, le brise-glace Amundsen (en mission pour GreenEdge également) s'est approché à environ 30 km du camp de glace, où l'hydroglisseur attendu a été héliporté ! J'en suis le pilote principal, et voilà que je peux aller directement du camp de glace à Vagabond sans me soucier de l'état de la banquise... Ca secoue pas mal lorsque la glace est accidentée, ça plane sur l'eau, quel engin !
Nous sommes en plein bloom phytoplanctonique, et toute l'équipe espère pouvoir prolonger les mesures et prélèvements jusqu'à la fin du mois, grâce à l'hydroglisseur, en sécurité sur une banquise qui fond à vue d'oeil.
Yesterday we dismantled the ice camp, I mean the largest, the big Polar Heaven tent. Only few instruments and the weather mast are still in place.
The cabin-laboratory on sled has been removed since 8 days. The ice is getting fragile, it is now scattered with black holes more than blue melt ponds. A new and very long crack has also opened across our road, between the morning and the evening!
With 9 people, including Jay our guide and Inuit friend, we needed only one day to pack the equipment and bring the tent to our landing beach. Jay used his quad this time on the ice: at least with 4 wheels he said, it will not sink!...
At the end of the afternoon all this equipment and two skidoos were back and stored in town. The day ended with a barbecue, all together, with the girls who stayed in town. Later in the evening we came back by dinghy using the GPS in a heavy fog. We had to leave our small boat outside of our bay due to the drifting ice, almost invisible, then we walked the last kilometer on the ice: Vagabond was just guessable at 200m!