A little further North, we come to Etah. Historical shelter for Inuits coming from Canada (40 km away, on the other side of Smith Sound), the end of Foulke Fjord, beautiful glaciated valley with luxuriant tundra, is still visited by hunters and expeditions. After watching three muskox on the northern side of the fjord, we find two motor boats at anchor. Six Greenlandics from Qaanaaq are staying in the best hut, two older cabins are in ruins. While walking towards the glacier, we see fifteen more muskox, and a skin left by hunters not long ago. Many hares, birds, and a fox looking at us from a distance. In the evening, after a last hunt, the Greenlandics are taking advantage of the better weather and sail away. The next morning, France is picking up the muskox skin, pretty well cleaned already, and set it up to dry at the back of Vagabond. It will improve our comfort in the sleigh next winter! I dive to put back the probe of the sonar, and to check and film the marks under the hull, from the groundings and from last winter on land in Grise Fiord. The hull is solid, only paint is missing in places!
A short stop in Siorapaluk is allowing us to give the parcel we brought from Grise Fiord (special mail service!). Most of little auks are already gone South, the village is quiet, kids are playing on the beach. The sea is calm and a few hunters are welcomed by their families on their return at the end of the day. But bad weather is coming, and we decide to sail further North. Vagabond is rounding Cape Alexander early the next morning, swell is big and wind up to 35 knots from the North, sailing is difficult. Not long after, everyone is happy to enter a small bay, very well sheltered by Cape Kenrick. Eiders are welcoming us, and on land, we find a cairn hiding a bottle with a message inside, from Dagmar Aaen, Arved Fuch's boat. He sailed the North-East Passage the same summer than Vagabond. So the great German sail boat came here in 2009! On the pebble shore, pieces of sledge, walrus skulls lined up, meat caches and stone walls are telling us that this bay has been used for centuries by Greenlandic hunters and other expeditions.
Vagabond is in "Partir", a documentary film by Lionel Langlade (110 minutes), at 20:45 in Thalassa on France 3 TV.
Behind an icebergs barrier appears Qaanaaq. Only the orange sail from the boat Arktika, at anchor in front of town, can be seen in the distance. We arrive just on time to meet Gilles Elkaim, he bought his boat two years ago, with the idea of having his dog team on board one day. After his four years journey in Siberia (we just missed him when we sailed the North-East Passage in 2002), he set up the Camp Arktika in Finland, to breed sled dogs. Gilles is a hunter, bearded seal meat is drying a bit of everywhere in the mast, and a muskox head has pride of place at the stem. They are nine on board to attempt the North-West Passage this summer. Jacques Ducoin is part of the crew, with his camera; he was on board Vagabond in Greenland in 2001, with his son Samuel, to shoot the film Mission au Groenland (included in the DVD Vagabond around the Arctic), we are happy to see him again as well! Made by the same shipyard than Ecotroll, Arktika is a strong work boat, ready for adventure. We have some good times all together.
In Qaanaaq, first of all, we have appointment with Bénédicte, Catherine and Emmanuel. They have been warmly welcomed by Hans, owning the only hotel up here, we are happy to see him again. He is also accommodating Alex Hibbert, preparing a long skiing expedition for next winter, the Dark Ice Project. As agreed, we are bring some food and fuel depot for him further North... We are getting about 400kg cargo more on the deck!
With the new enthusiastic team, we start our journey towards the North, to meet ices and history, looking for cairns and other remains from past expeditions and migrations. Emmanuel Hussenet is particularly in fascination with Octave Pavy's life, we will pay tribute to him on our way. But today, he mainly wants to witness and inform; his dream is to reach Hans Island, but ice conditions don't look very good...
After a short stop at Thule Air Base, with Anders, David and Allan, we can watch them working at Saunders Island. Allan is a climber: using ropes, he is very quietly going down the cliff and manage to recapture Thick-billed Murres equipped with geolocators since last year or the year before (to follow migration and dives). Back to the main study site, a huge little auk colony (hundred of thousands of birds, not even disturbing two dozens of neighbouring muskox), we begin a 120 Nautical Miles transect, with 12 stations for plankton sampling (down to 50m) and CTD cast (down to 500m). Operations are working well on the rear platform of the boat, everyone is needed because of the swell.
Just before these two days at sea, the starboard engine broke down... Happily, Vagabond is having two engines and the survey can go on with one engine, at a little slower speed. Luckily the weather is fine.
The following week, only David stays on board to survey the numerous sea bird colonies in Savissivik and Melville Reserve regions. Wonderful trip, from glassy sea to 40 knots of wind, sailing in fjords with a lot of icebergs and past winter large ice floes. It is sometimes hard to find a way through! More than a hundred of Harbour seals are lying in the sun on such a floe... while two bears are slowly getting closer. We find anchorage late in the evenings, but we are happy to go ashore in the morning before sailing again. When crossing an area with a lot of birds, we get a very good sample of Calanus copepods, the best prey for little auks. Our stop in Savissivik is cold, fog is heavy, strong wind... sailing for one night in pretty rough conditions is needed to meet with the rest of the team, coming on board quickly because some more bad weather is coming.
Back to Saunders Island, Vagabond is standing by near a hunter cabin, while Anders and Allan are successfully recapturing geolocators from science selected Thick-billed Murres.
The last station for water and plankton sampling is not easy because the wind is gusting to 30 knots. Impossible to collect copepods that the team wish to bring back alive to Denmark! Vagabond then drops anchor in front of the village of Dundas (abandoned when Thule Air Base was built), a better shelter than Thule Port. The mission is finished, scientists are happy, it was a great experience for all of us.
David Boertmann is signing the book he wrote on seabirds of Greenland, given by David Gremillet in 2005 when doing a similar survey on the East coast of Greenland.
During our stop, we are getting a great help from friendly and kind Danish and Greenlandic people working for Thule Air Base (little contact with Americans). Supplies of all kind, and above all, repair of our starboard engine (thanks to a spare injection pump given by Yanmar in Japan during our stay in 2003!!).
Léonie and Aurore cannot stop going to the "Fitness center" and to the "Community center" (games!), and they enjoy a lot the restaurant of the base... What a change from our daily life!
Strong winds (and snow falls!) are keeping us in Thule for a few more days, time to check the anchor that has just been fixed! In the end, we reach Qaanaaq in one day late, ready to take on board Emmanuel Hussenet and his little team.
Beginning of the expedition organized by Emmanuel Hussenet and Arnaud Chassery: Futur is at the Poles.
The 2013 studies in Thule, Greenland.
We have used the Vagabond for two different projects in 2013:
Studies on the breeding biology of Little Auks (Allealle) and
a survey of seabird breeding colonies in the northern part of Melville Bay.
Land based studies on the Little Auks takes place at the coast just north of Pituffik Glacier, 30 km south of Thule Air Base. The studies include tracking birds from the breeding site to feeding areas off the coast, measuring diving depth (by Time-Depth Recorders) and sampling of food. We used Vagabond for transect from the coast and 100 km offshore to supposed feeding sites: densities of Little Auks on the water were recorded and for every 10 km CTD-data and plankton in the upper 50 m were sampled. Tracking of migration routes to winter quarters and density of breeding pairs in the colonies were also included in the studies.
Recapture of Thick-Billed Murres (Brünnichs Guillemot, Urialomvia) to retrieve dataloggers deployed in previous years in the colony at Saunders Island was also a part of the studies.
The seabird breeding colony survey was a continuation of a survey initiated in 2012. It then started in Upernavik and ended at Fisher Islands in innermost Melville Bay. In 2013 we started at Thule Air Base and surveyed the coasts eastwards to Fisher Islands. On the way CTD-data and plankton was sampled in a high density Little Auk feeding area.
The two studies are part of a study program Eastern Baffin Bay Strategic Environmental Studies Plan 2011-2014 financed by the Greenland authorities in order to collect background knowledge for identifying oil spill sensitive areas and for regulating oil exploration activities in the Greenland part of Baffin Bay and carried out by Aarhus University and Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.
David Boertmann and Anders Mosbech
Dep. Bioscience, Sect. Arctic Environment
DCE- Danish Centre for Environment and Energy
Finally, on 29 July, ice is drifting away from Grise Fiord. But the tide is not enough anymore! And Vagabond needs one more good push from the local loader to leave the beach for good. Time to comply with immigration formalities, with the local policeman (Patrice, speaking French), and we are heading towards Greenland. Tom and Michael were also looking forward to go boating, they come alongside Vagabond with their little motor boat, and join us on board for coffee, while we keep sailing towards the exit of Jones Sound. Jeffrey and his family also launched their boat and are waving to us.
Later in the night, now by ourselves, we get stuck in the ice. We are drifting slowly, looking carefully for any option to move forward. Magic silence, beautiful sun, many seals around us, and even a female bear with two cubs standing up on their hind legs and coming closer when, at least, we find a way to the East, on 31 July. Apparently just on time, as one of our colleague is telling us that "perhaps it was in the very last moment you escaped since the ice has been push towards the south coast of Ellesmere Island forming a near continuum of ice."
Swell is welcoming us in Baffin Bay, and we need some time to get use to the sea again, as we were on land since 20 September 2012! But conditions are good and on 1st August, we meet with the Danish scientists near a huge little auk colony, not far from Cape Atholl. Two muskox are grazing quietly near the tents...
The two weeks project can start. Not long before midnight, with David Boertman, Anders Mosbech and Allan Kristensen, we are first heading towards Thule Air Base, where we have to pick some equipment. A big wave fills up our dinghy when leaving the beach, the girls find the bath a little cold!
1st - 15th August: studies on the breeding biology of Little Auks (Allealle) and survey of seabird breeding colonies in the northern part of Melville Bay (read more). Expedition leaders: David Boertmann and Anders Mosbech, Dep. Bioscience, Sect. Arctic Environment, DCE- Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Aarhus University.
Taking advantage of the spring tides (full moon) and looking at a small pool of open water in front of the beach, Vagabond has moved twenty meters towards the sea. The biggest mechanical shovel available in the area was necessary, impressive operation but perfectly controlled by the driver and his assistant. A few hours later, Vagabond was floating! France and I can now check the watertightness of the thru-hull fittings and run the engines (cooled with seawater).