Les oies sont de retour

  • Mesure profondeur dans trou de phoque

When crossing the fjord with the icemeter, I meet about twenty geese, flying in formation at low altitude. They pass very close and seem watching me, I can see their eyes very well. They are finishing their long migration. Couples, joined for life, are coming here to find again their best nesting place.

On land, flowers start to bloom, beautiful. Rivers have been running for a few days, we don't need to go and get ice anymore to have fresh water. Flies are amusing Aurore and Léonie, who are collecting them!

On board, France finished taking the inventory, she is ordering food for summer, and already for next winter. When fog is clearing, and when sun is warming up, even if the stove is off, temperature can be more than 25°C inside the boat. With thaw, remains of seal fat are appearing, and dogs have to be moved a little bit not to get dirtier. Each one gets a wide plank to lie down dry.

In the fjord, I keep doing hydrographic and ice thickness measurements every three days. The icemeter already did more than 2000km. With thaw, old tracks can be seen, from last November and December. Another track is amazing, from a lost seal: I can follow it for about four kilometers, until I loose it... what happened to this seal?

With the portable sounder, by going from seal to seal, and by plunging every time the sensor inside the hole through which the seal just disappeared, we can get depth data without having to make hole in the ice. Marine charts are not precise here, and it could be interesting to [locate the sill of the fjord. The underwater video, plunged in several holes, shows cloudier and greener water from a few weeks ago.

De passage au village les 5 et 6 juin

  • Fracture a franchir

It might be the last family trip, by snowmobile, to Grise Fiord. Cracks are opening, and it is sometimes necessary to make a detour to find a thinner passage. A few Arctic cods are swimming under the surface, following these icy corridors. There is no more snow in town, snowmobiles must stay on the shore, near packice. The dogs Elvis and Marly came with us, only Bella and Unnuaq will stay at Vagabond until ice breakup. Léonie, and even Aurore, got nice presents at the school, to celebrate the end of school year. A big brunch is organized for everyone in town, in the class rooms. At the shop-bank-post-office, a gift parcel is expecting us: cheese (thanks Ariane)! Also a big sounder, sent by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Nasa), to set up for next summer bathymetric and hydrographic cruise in Melville Bay. Time to answer a phone interview and to fix the icemeter connections, we leave town late in the evening. Lights are beautiful, it is cooler (better for the snowmobile), and snow is not as soft. We arrived at the boat at 1:30am.

Vent et pluie !

  • Atelier inukshuks
  • Reparations soudures bouee Ukiuq
  • Enfin assez de vent pour le kite

Rain! What a surprise to hear drops on the deck, to see them splashing on the windows, to feel water on the face... For the last nine months, we had only snow. The girls are very happy to play outside, and France takes advantage of it to wash the deck and the roof.

Mean temperatures have been positives for the past few days, and snow is melting fast, especially on land. It is hardly possible to make inukshuks, but it is possible to work bare hands outside without having fingers numb with cold, which is quite enjoyable to try to repair the oceanographic buoy Ukiuq (project Ice Sentries), or to set up the new icemeter (EM31) in the blue pulka (the previous one was send to the manufacturer for maintenance).

Season change is also marked by the arrival of wind: our loyal kite (made by France in Svalbard in 2006 with the remains of a tent destroyed by polar bears) could at least get some fresh air! Nothing better to let off steam, while preparing the coming sailing season.

Pour la chair de l'omble

  • Bonne peche pour France
  • La majorite des habitants de Grise Fiord participent au Fishing Derby
  • Mesure des prises

Every year, most Grise Fiord inhabitants are going to a frozen lake for an Arctic charr fishing competition, the Fishing Derby. We are invited to join them for four days of camping, north of Devon Island, on the other side of Jones Sound. Twenty tents for about sixty people, festive and friendly atmosphere under a splendid sun. Holes in the ice are sometimes done inside the tents, to allow fishing under cover and in the warm! People are trying other holes, tasting raw and frozen fish... Some fishermen can show great talent. First prizes this year are for the same person: the biggest catch, 80.5cm, and the biggest number, 28 fishes.

We also learn how to deploy a net, using an amazing device, from Greenland, which can set up a rope under the ice between two holes. But no luck, Larry's net and ours remain empty!

It's a long trip but pleasant, snowmobiles and sleighs caravan is stopping now and then for tea and snacks, to watch wildlife or to search for the best route through broken ice. On the way back, we meet a polar bear quite close, almost not afraid by our machines. Not long after, we find a harpoon head, and then a seal recently killed, both lost by some unlucky hunters. I leave France, Aurore and Léonie at the village, then I keep on my way up to Vagabond. At 10 o'clock this morning, tired after a night (permanent daylight) and 180km of snowmobile driving, I'm almost surprised to see that all is fine on board: the freezer is working fine and boat batteries are correctly charged thanks to the solar panels, dogs are happily welcoming me, the stove is off but it is 15°C inside the boat thanks to the sunroof, generator pipes are not frozen, neither fresh vegetables and fruits. Time to do the weather report and eat something, then I fall asleep for a few hours. What a trip!

The next day, I meet again the girls in Grise Fiord. We watch the prize giving together, where we meet Mike Beedell, and Hubert and Luc Sagnières, they just did a ski trip on Devon Island. Mike, photographer, sailed most of the North-West Passage on a small catamaran with Jeff MasInnis between 1986 and 1988. He remembers well Vagabond'eux, and her Polish crew, then wintering on Gjoa Haven beach.

Sous la banquise

  • Trou vu de dessous
  • Plongee dans trou de phoque agrandi

I was looking forward to put my head under the ice, especially since temperatures are getting milder, which is quite enjoyable when getting ready and when getting out of the water. Through an enlarged seal hole (with the equipment, I have a larger waist than a big ring seal!), I dived under the ice. Despite ice and snow thickness's, my high-intensity light turns out to be useless, sun light going through the ice is enough to get around. Also for microscopic algae to grow, the bottom of the ice is now all brown. Here and there, and more near the hole, large scratches done by the seals. I can't see the seabed, about 100m under my fins, but a lot of plancton, varied and all sizes. At the surface, I can see Léonie and Aurore with their hoods well pulled up, sitting in the snow near the hole. The contrast between the two worlds is fascinating, only separated by a uniform layer of ice.

The following day, I take by snowmobile the cameramen Hugues and Adrien to Grise Fiord, from where their return journey to France will continue by plane, after six weeks of shooting.

Un an

  • Brume de printemps

It's one year today since Vagabond left her home port, Brest, in France (see pictures of departure). She should be back in a bit more than two years. Main goals so far were reached: work for scientific programs and spend a winter with the family in Nunavut near an Inuit community. I will tell you soon more about the little scientific expedition of this week, from Resolute Bay to Grise Fiord, by snowmobile, organized by Christian Haas (read more about the scientific program). On this spring Sunday (-15°C at night, -4°C during the day), birthday of our departure, some friends from Grise Fiord came to visit us, alone or with their family. Teacher, police officers, hunters... a real pleasure to welcome our neighbours on board Vagabond. All are happy to live in Grise Fiord and to share their stories. Among them, two great grand-children of Robert Flaherty, who made the Inuit famous, in 1922, with his film "Nanook of the North". Our friends don't have a copy of their great grand-father's film, but luckily, we can offer them one! Festive atmosphere on board, everyone is laughing loud when brothers Tom and Jopee are telling how, each one by himself, they once managed to get close and shoot precisely at a seal, ran to the animal and found out that, in both case, it was a garbage bag! Last night, Tom helped his brother Kavavow to bring back two walruses to town, the best food for their dogs, getting ready for another long polar bear hunt.

640km with the icemeter

  • SAR Track Resolute Grise May 2012 legendes web

Tom Kiguktak and I are flying to Grise Fiord with Kenn Borek's Twin Otter. Beautiful flight over Jones Sound, which we will soon survey with the electro- magnetic sensor (EM31) to learn more about the ice thickness. Christian Haas is welcoming us at Resolute Bay airport, and we use the Polar Continental Shelf Program facility to prepare our snowmobiles and our equipment.

Resolute Bay is the nearby village of Grise Fiord (400km as the crow flies!), it is twice as populated (about 240 inhabitants), it was also founded during the High Arctic relocation. Scientific and military bases are here generating an important air traffic, which also benefits tourists and adventurers. We have enthusiastic discussions with Wayne Davidson, passionate French meteorologist, with Kenn Borek leader to whom I send daily weather reports, with a scientist who just set up 45 collars to track polar bear local population... We also look at the brand new arena in the village!

  • Mise au point glaciometre2
  • Campement au milieu du canal de Wellington

After two days of preparation, we are ready to make our way to Grise Fiord. The objective is to follow part of the track that Christian did by plane last month, in Wellington Channel, to validate measurements of the airborne (DC3) electro-magnetic sensor (EM bird). Then we should cross Jones Sound in its length to Grise Fiord.

A five days expedition, sustained pace, we use our tent only three times. Thick fog, strong wind, very rough ice... but great weather and great snow at times! We are often following Rangers tracks (from end of April trip). Conditions are hard for the EM31, we have to do repair and maintenance once in a while, fortunately the data are good. Many bears on our way, but only one will be observed really close. It is a treat to share this mission with Tom, he loves his region and is an experienced hunter.

  • Eric Christian et Tom

France, Leonie and Aurore, as well as Hugues and Adrien are welcoming us aboard Vagabond. The last leg was more than 24 hours. We just have time to sleep and eat a little bit, then get ice cores in the vicinity of the boat. Christian must fly within a few hours, Tom and I are accompanying him to Grise Fiord for the last 50km of our journey, still towing the valiant icemeter. We will long remember this trip!

See all pictures.

Read On thin ice, article by Christian Haas (January 2014).