Yesterday, the equivalent chill temperature went down to -60°C : -29°C actual reading, and 25 knots of wind. A good scarf is nice to go and get some ice at the closest iceberg, to make water! This Sunday morning, the stove had stopped during the night and it was only -6°C inside the boat... Thanks to the central heating, we were soon back in the warmth (+15°C). On the whole, the impact of the little base Vagabond on the environment seems to me quite reasonable : we are using only 7 litres of diesel per day, on average during the 9 months wintering period, and half a litre of paraffin per day during the polar night. This is for heating, lighting (+ about a hundred candles), cooking (on the stove, no use of propane), and making electricity (when wind generator and solar panel are not enough).
That's it! The cable eaten by the dogs last November is temporarily fixed, and we can listen to the radio again, when propagation is fine. A way not to be too much disconnected from the world... In French, we get only Radio France Internationale, and by the way, we'll be live by phone on Monday 29 January at 12:40, with Arielle Cassim. The day before, France will answer questions to Sandrine Mercier on France Inter at about 16:45! It is always a pleasure to share our daily life, some are thinking we live on another planet... Did you know vagabond means planet in Greek?
Since October 2004 that Vagabond is set up at Inglefield Bay, her environment became familiar to us. What was an adventure at the beginning is now part of our daily life. So the polar bear visits (2 more yesterday, flare and searchlight were enough), or the storms. Barometer went 45mb down within less than 2 days, temperature increased from -32 to -4°C. Pressure is rising again now, it's -14°C with up to 45 knots of wind, so -44°C equivalent chill temperature! Thanks to low temperatures (about -30°C for one week), pack ice is stronger, let's hope it will withstand to all next storms. Pack ice became also better to move on. On 15 January, we could measure 22cm of ice thickness, with 30cm of snow on top, including 17cm in the water (negative free-board): pack ice was 'sinking' under the weight of the snow, all was soaked. On 19 January, at the same place, ice was 42cm, snow 12cm (positive free-board +2cm): ice was 'dry' under a thin layer of snow, great conditions for dog sled ging! On land, snow is so much that we need skis or snow shoes to go anywhere.
Long sledge trip with the 3 dogs this Sunday, enjoying the great weather (cold and dry) and the dim light at midday, more and more every day but not yet enough to stop using the headlight. Pack ice is good now, and very busy, dogs were spoiled for choice with all polar bear tracks to follow! When I came back to the boat, France told me that some steps got her out of bed, these were not mine, neither the dogs who could not warn her. She could scare the polar bear away quickly with the searchlight, but he had time to put his forelegs on the boat, not far from the dog food box!
Pack ice is getting stronger now, thanks to the low temperatures we have since last week, at least (-28°C yesterday). I could go easily to shore with the dog sledge, and I did my first trip to the little nearby summit, on the moraine. Dogs also were very excited!
The weather mast is all set up, at least. Sensors, cables and guys are decorating usefully our great 7m mast near the hut. Measures are now every hours. Wind, pressure and temperature data are sent to Paris every 12 hours, for the next 18 months at least. The most difficult was not the puzzle to assemble, despite the fingers numb with cold, the ice in every single hole, or the rusty screws from last spring. The hardest is the trip to the hut, only 200m from the boat! When the weather is fine enough for such a trip, I first have to dress up with a dry suit to more or less swim to shore, across the broken up pack ice. Then a good head light to see in the polar night, and things needed to stop a too curious polar bear. Well, yesterday, right after crawling to shore, a polar bear is suddenly coming to Imiaq and me. Standing with my funny suit, tied up to my pulka with all equipment, I try to send a flare but the signal pistol doesn't work. I grab the riffle and shoot above hi s head to watch him running away to the fjord. Then, relieved, I wait for some time, and I tell Imiaq to carry on to the hut. Going to work is sometimes a bit of an expedition!
A big wave thread its way under pack ice yesterday, until the end of our bay. Ice was all broken up around the boat, and all along the shore. I was then in the hut, on land, working on the weather mast, when France called me by radio. It took me more than one hour to find a crossing not too wide, to ram the snow, to throw the snow shoes and the riffle first, to take a run before jumping on a pack ice all soaked because of the weight of the thick layer of snow. Imiaq followed me but didn't avoid a bath! All happened with France giving us light from the boat with a spot light, and under a sky full of stars and northern lights. The day before, more than 5 hours were needed to dig out ice and snow accumulated on the deck, to check ropes and anchoring... Pressure is going up again, it had not been so low (962.8 mb) since 2004!
DAMOCLES project is on France 24 at 22:45 (click on 'Live feed').
First tests with the electromagnetic icemeter (EM31), a slightly different model from the 2 years before. Still some perfecting needed before observing accurately pack ice growth until spring, in addition to measurements done with ice drill and gauge. About the weather mast, all sections, guys, sensors, solar panel, battery and cables are in the hut, next to which it will be set up as soon as possible. But now the weather is getting bad.
We were about to miss fresh water on board, and I had seen a little iceberg, not far from Vagabond. Also I was looking forward to try the sledge, given last summer by our friends Berit and Karl, in exchange for 3 watercolors to decorate their restaurant Busen in Longyearbyen. I first had a try with Imiaq only, the rashest to make a track in the night on the thin pack ice, but also the most dissipated! Then with the 2 brothers Jin and Frost, I only had to let us go. What a feeling when coming back by dog sledge, with 2 full barrels of ice, towards the warm inside of Vagabond, the only spot light around...
Sky completely clear, very starry. The moon on one side, northern lights on the other side. Not a breath of air, we can hear only few cracks of ice, or a dog scratching. 20cm of pack ice perfectly flat, lightly snow-covered, easy to walk on without skis or sledge. A seal resting close to his breathing hole, seen in the night with the moon light. And a female polar bear with her two cubs, few meters from us. Magical moments, then, not to encourage too much their curiosity, the flash light and, with regret, one banger. Suddenly few strong breaths and a nice galloping, the three polar bears are swallowed up by the darkness.