At first, I have to check the state of the sea ice in the vicinity of the ship. What a great surprise then, to see Gérard Guérin arriving, by helicopter from Dumont d'Urville station where he arrived by plane a few days ago. Chainsaw expert, he comes to assist the mooring of the icebreaker. And here we are both mandated by the French Polar Institute (IPEV) to contribute to the good set-up of the big red boat against the pack ice: a nice nod to our long journey around the Arctic aboard Vagabond in 2002-2003. I explore the region for 8 days, from the ice edge, where L'Astrolabe is moored, up to Dumont d'Urville station, 50 km away. The proximity with penguins and seals is incredible. Here, no bear, no fox. No predator. The pack ice is perfect, solid, thick, well snowy, and flat (neither hummock nor sastrugi). Nothing like arriving by snowmobile at DDU to get a good idea of the immensity. I carry on the measurements in the neighbourhood of the base, until the Rocher du Débarquement, where Jules Dumont d'Urville took possession of Adélie Land, in 1840. On November 24, the fuels convoys and helicopters slings are completed, everything has been landed, L'Astrolabe is heading North. The arrival in Hobart on December 1st marks the end of R0 (first rotation). I meet again with my family in Ambato (Ecuador), just in time to feel the earthquake of Sunday, December 3rd at 6:19 am, magnitude 6.2, whose epicentre is a few hundred kilometres only from home!
Story by Serge Fuster, district leader (mission TA67), to read from the official blog: Un transfert d'enfer.
Special stamp collection, by Eric Sengler, the postal manager of the French base (TA67).
Aventures sur la banquise (Adventures on sea ice), a 58 minutes documentary film by Katia Chapoutier, at 2:45pm on TF1 TV on Saturday, December 2nd (Reportages Decouverte magazine).
Article "Leonie in the Arctic", by Claudia Morissette and Sarah Perreault, in the December issue of the magazine Les Explorateurs.
Eric at DDU, by Serge Fuster, Dumont d'Urville base leader.
Here I am back on sea ice, this time in Antarctica. The red boat is moored to the ice edge. First we make a helicopter reconnaissance flight with the expedition leader. Then I get everything ready, the snowmobile, the sled, and the "icemeter" (EM31), needed to measure the thickness of the ice. My mission is to validate the route to the base of Dumont D'Urville, like in 2014. 50km to go on the frozen sea. Objective: 4 to 500 cubic meters of fuel oil to be unloaded, half of what is necessary to run French programs in Antarctica. The rest will be delivered during the next rotation of the ship, before March 2018 (early winter). There is emergency, the stocks of the bases are exhausted at the end of wintering, and last summer conditions have only allowed a minimum resupply.
On September 14th, 2017, the new Astrolabe was delivered to the French Navy. The red icebreaker will now be based in Reunion Island to resupply the French Antarctic bases in the summer (Dumont D'Urville and Concordia), and patrol the waters of the southern lands in winter (Kerguelen, Crozet, Saint-Paul and Amsterdam, Eparses). He thus replaces the old Astrolabe and the Albatross (on which I returned from Kerguelen in January 1995).
November 3rd: heavily loaded with oil and equipment, the polar patrol boat leaves Hobart, Tasmania, towards Adelie Land. Weight of the ship when loaded: more than 4000 tons. On board, 21 sailors and 43 passengers, embarked for the very first rotation. A first for the Navy as well, whose boats have not been south of the 60th parallel for 65 years.
November 7th: stop at Macquarie Island to drop about ten Australian scientists. The sea was rough, crew and passengers were well shaken, so we enjoy the opportunity to relax a few hours, sheltered by the island. A big male elephant seal approaches, 3 killer whales come nearby, and the albatrosses are faithful.
November 9th: arrival in the drifting pack ice, first contact with sea ice for the new Astrolabe, designed to break 80cm (class IB5). 4 engines for 9200CV in total.
November 13th: The Astrolabe reaches the ice edge, 60km from the base. We are welcomed by more killer whales and penguins! Bad weather suspends operations.
November 14th: One of the helicopters is taken out, test flight, mini reconnaissance, aerial photos, nothing more while waiting for a better weather window... we all look forward to disembark and do something!
November 16th: favourable weather! A dozen flights allow the helicopters to bring the mail (54 bags!) and some fresh food to the base (isolated since March 2017), then to transport eleven new winterers and summer scientists and technicians. Vessel side, refuelling operations are starting (R0, first rotation of the 2017-2018 season). The experienced IPEV team (French Polar Institute) is learning little by little to work with the Navy, watched by many curious penguins. And here we go for the seaice mission!
Read about the old Astrolabe: L'Astrolabe, le passeur de l'Antarctique, by Daphnée Buiron and Stéphane Dugast at E/P/A.
France keeps the marvellous memory of the energetic woman, in love with the Arctic like us, going so far as to brave with her daughter Sabrina and her cat Pungo her dreams of freedom. She was an amazing mom!
I like to tell the story when she met in the Northwest Passage with our Russian friends, the crew of Apostle Andrey, for whom women and black cats are unlucky on board a boat. She bluffed more than one!
We are sad with everyone who has admired Mic's audacity and enthusiasm to live her dreams, and to share them. Godmother Mic, that's how she was coming to us, I was proud! She took her role very seriously!
I will never forget her welcoming in Saint-Quay-Portrieux on October 13th, 2003, when we were returning from circumnavigating the Arctic. She was coming towards us aboard her sailing ship Nuage, what an emotion.
Later, I enjoyed playing for our girls the songs she wrote for her family embarked on a sailboat, "To go to America, it is necessary to cross the ocean...".
Her book Alaska Dream is still aboard Vagabond, indispensable.
Before sailing away at 42, Michèle Demai was a famous television announcer.