Our access to the sea is ready! We were hoping to dive at once under the hull, it would have been a way to participate to the Nautical Festival in France last week-end, but a storm has been blowing for the last 3 days. Will the helicopter come today, supposed to bring the spare parts needed for the snowmobile? Once repaired, I must drive it and let it in Svea, 40 km west of Vagabond, on the West coast. It is really time to do it, because if we have many new snow drifts here, snow may start missing to reach Svea. Then I must meet my friends Fred, Jean and Lucas, and come back with them on skis to the boat. All is depending on the weather...
New fresh snow, immaculate landscape, -14°C, no wind, great midnight sun warming up enough to keep the temperature inside over 12°C, thanks to all the windows... it is hard to go to sleep so wonderful is the scenery. The heater has been off for the last 3 days, and we even forget about Vagabond listing 4 degrees, which seems not to increase anymore. As a matter of fact, the pack ice is slightly moving around us, with the tides, as we are so close to the shore. But no rush, about 2m thick ice is still trapping us, as we just checked when drilling a large hole to dive under the hull. Not finished yet, to be continued...
A polar bear, the female with the collar, was back last Tuesday, interested with what is left from the destroyed tent. Not really willing to go away, she played for a long time with one of our bamboo sticks, before sleeping few hours near our 'fresh water reserve' iceberg. At the end of the day, she was starting again tearing up the green cloth, and I decided to use the snowmobile to push her away from our little territory. This morning again, around 3 o'clock, our dog Frost was barking after the polar bear, and we sent her 2 alarm flares. The snowmobile had a break down yesterday (broken bearing), also I had to do a nice 7 hours ski trip to do only half of the CTD measurements we were usually doing in 3 hours. But it is a great pleasure to be alone with the dogs on the wonderful pack ice, especially that we met 2 polar bears on our way, not aggressive at all.
Yesterday afternoon, few kilometres away from Vagabond, I could follow a reindeer for some time. It was not in so good shape, and I had to hold the dogs very well! As soon as I was back to the boat, we had the happy unexpected visit from Berit and Karl, with their 2 dog teams. They decided to spend the night with us, could you only imagine how excited were our dogs with suddenly 15 more neighbours! Berit and Karl have been living in Svalbard since the seventies, and with their 80 dogs, they organise short and long trips for visitors (www.svalbard-adventure.com). Their season is finishing, they took 10 days holidays... to go together on a dog sledge trip! Short daily distance they say, 50 to 60 km, this show how much they love it. We were really glad to see them again, since Karl suggested us last September to come to Inglefieldbukta for wintering, and it was great to join them this morning, on skis with our 2 dogs.
France had as many SMS as candles (thanks a lot for all your messages), and almost as many visitors! Geir and Peter didn't think about finding here, on this wild and inhabited coast of Spitsbergen, a dinner with basil and cod bread, lemon pie, chestnut bread and good wine ! After one week of bad weather, sun appeared again, around midnight, allowing our two guests to film and interview us as planned, just before going back to Longyearbyen. Few hours later, we woke up when the dogs barked after 3 dog sledges coming to Vagabond. Great sunshine, fresh snow, dogs were very excited and they didn't stop long; it was really nice to see them running. Then we went on the icepack in Storfjord (France and me are doing CTD casts until the ice breaking up), we were happy to see so many seals. And of course, many new polar bears tracks, more or less large prints, sometime with some cub's one, going from one breathing hole to the other.
Our dear oceanographers left this morning, after a 24 hours experiment: a base camp was set up on pack ice, 10 km from Vagabond, close to the flow lead which is showing the great activity of the Storfjord. A current meter was then measuring every displacements of the water, very different from the surface to the bottom (-105m), and the CTD was used for hydrographical casts every 30 minutes. 12500 turns with the hand winch for 52 casts total! There was a crew shift every 6 hours, and we had to watch out for polar bears. 3 were seen, far enough. France and me are now keeping the only minimum scientific equipment to carry on the measurements, like during the polar night. With the help of the crew yesterday, the dinghy was taken out from the pack ice, where she was trapped since February: half a day of work!
Perfect weather today to try to reach the centre of the fjord by helicopter, what is still not possible by snowmobile because of hummocks and leads. So Jean-Claude, Hervé, France and me went with all the equipment with Air Lift's Ecureuil to know more about brines in the Storfjord. Fantastic day, very nice ice pack, but very broken, many polynias and a lot of open water. Ice in this area is working a lot, and it was not easy for the 2 pilots to find thick enough ice to land safely at each of the 5 stations we did. We even first landed on an iceberg, to better look at the delicate situation! Excellent results, and unforgettable trip back to Vagabond.
Adventure Film Festival of Val d'Isere, «The North-West Passage with Vagabond» (52 minutes, Jacques Laine)
I'm in Longyearbyen since Friday. 3 hours by snowmobile with the last team, I'm now briefly back to civilization (left on 3rd October last year...), appointment with the dentist tomorrow. I'm looking forward to meet again with France, Yin, Frost, and Vagabond, tomorrow evening, with the next scientific team. Here is the busy tourist season, hundreds of snowmobiles everywhere! I wanted to escape a bit from so much activity and I went to the dog yard, to greet brothers and cousins of our 2 dogs, some were about to go for a 5 days trip.