During a recent short trip, Enora and Yann met very close a polar bear, hidden by some relief. Strong emotion, but the dogs were there to dissuade the plantigrade from approaching.
It was 7:30 yesterday morning when I said bye to my substitutes. It is the second time since Vagabond is in Spitsbergen (August 2004) that I am leaving her to go back to France for few weeks. The old snowmobile went across all tricky passages to bring me in less than 3 hours to Svea. Few reindeers were sometimes watching me during long skids on ice, the river was fortunately well frozen again. Nicely welcomed by the coal company, I only had to sit in the little plane flying to Longyearbyen, the day before the national day.
The many polar bear visits, day and night (22 within 5 days), are giving chance to Enora and Yann to apply at once everything I am explaining to them about safety, dogs, use of bangers, alarm pistol and rifle. While giving instructions to my substitutes, I am also getting ready to drive to Svea, the closest inhabited place, at 46 km, with the snowmobile that could be repaired. I will nevertheless bring with me all equipment needed to finish the trip on skis, in case of another breakdown. The temperature is still below zero, conditions are excellent to travel around.
My substitutes Enora and Yann are now on board, until end of June. Hervé and all scientific equipment could at least be picked up yesterday, by 6 snowmobiles. While loading the sledges before going back, a polar bear cub and the mother were passing in front of the glacier. Not long before, when we were finishing a trip with the dogs, I could see them, from the top of the moraine, looking around the boat... I fired in the air to scare them away, without success, but they left quite quickly, taking another piece of snowmobile seat. A total of 6 polar bears seen yesterday.
After a good reconnaissance yesterday, Stefano will try one last time to come from Longyearbyen with my 2 substitutes, and to pick up Hervé and all the scientific equipment. For my part, I'm getting ready to ski back to town, after giving instructions for 2 or 3 days, because my snowmobile's suspension is broken. The machine will stay here over the summer, hoping that it will resist to unavoidable polar bear visits... While waiting, we enjoy fantastic weather and hard snow thanks to the below zero temperatures for the last 3 days. Best conditions for skiing with the dogs. Hervé organised as much as he could the shipping of every instruments, and I also could do a CTD from the ice edge, watching a magnificent eider ducks flight. Being now close to open water, as we expected it, brought us some more visitors yesterday. A young determined polar bear, then a big male more careful, and few hours later, the young followed by the big male. 4 bangers were enough to delimit our te rritory, but my snowmobile seat has again been damaged!
The westerly wind has blown away the fast ice that was attached to the coast. 2 month earlier than last year, ice breaking-up has started in front of our protected bay, in the great Storfjord. Few days more and we would have lost an important instrument (IMB), and we would have not been able to do the last series of CTD casts, 5 km from the coast.
The 3 skiers left today on skis with their dogs and pulkas. The weather forecast are announcing below zero temperatures, Stefano will try by snowmobile tomorrow Tuesday 9th, before a last attempt to reach Vagabond on Wednesday 10th. If no success, Hervé will have to call a helicopter to pick him up, and to also drop Enora and Yann. Strange feeling to be stuck when the weather is so nice.
While a snow storm is blowing around Vagabond, the guide Stefano just called me by phone to tell us that he had to give up during his second attempt to reach us. Too soft, wet, and not enough snow for snowmobiles. Enora and Yann, the 2 crew members expected to replace me, are back to Longyearbyen; Hervé and all the scientific equipment are stuck on board Vagabond, as well as the 3 skiers that Stefano was also suppose to pick up. I invited them to wait inside. Nobody knows how long this will last, Stefano has appointment with the Governor tomorrow to speak about helicopter, unless we get cold temperatures again...
Stefano and his group of tourists came with Hervé on 1st May, and also dropped 60 kg of dog food. Not long after they left, we managed to recover the IMB from its ice vice, not without difficulty. A light easterly wind in the morning fortunately closed up the lead. The next day, we set up for about 15 hours on sea ice, to do another series of measurements with the CTD and the current meter. On our way, it was not easy to call back the dogs, very interested in a female seal protecting her young seal. Extraordinary atmosphere at midnight sun. When coming back to the boat, very early in the morning, we saw 3 dog teams and few tents about 200m from Vagabond. You could imagine how excited were our 3 dogs when they met up with the dogs they grew up with at Arctic Adventure dog yard! Herve and I were then invited to share the breakfast of a dozen of Americans, it was very nice meeting them. I was also happy to see Lisa again, in charge of the dogs, and to get some news from Long yearbyen. Yesterday, about ten skiers from British School of Explorers Society (bses.org.uk) came to visit us, wondering what Hervé and I were trying to get from under the ice. They are all together about 30 young graduates skiing around for 3 months. While visits are linked together, we finished taking down the weather mast, and we only have to put everything in boxes and carry them to Longyearbyen with snowmobiles this week-end.
Great day yesterday, I saw a mother polar bear with her cub close to 5 reindeers, a lot of seals, birds... but last gale created a fracture in fast ice, not far from the coast, and one of our instruments, the IMB, is about 3km away on the other side of this open water lead. Hervé is coming today, then 2 of us will try to rescue this equipment.