Vagabond is at anchor in front of Longyearbyen, the little capital of Spitsbergen, since 7 o'clock this morning. The end of the third wintering and our return to civilization were already celebrated on 14 July at Hornsund, a great fjord south of Spitsbergen, with our friends from Makoré. For Fabrice and Isabelle, also travelling by yacht with their little daughter, Loana, it was the day they realized their dream: 5 years before, they started building their really nice boat whose destination was Spitsbergen. So the two happy French crews met by coincidence on their national nay, time for a little feast, especially since Makoré was carrying champagne and cheese for Vagabond. A whale came close to us exactly when we met! The evening before, while sailing around south cape, we were listening on the radio to the big African concert from La Bastille in Paris.
Interview done by Charlie Buffet in Le Monde.
The CTD didn't come up after her last dive. Eaten away by salt, the safety lock broke up, the instrument suddenly sank to the bottom of Storfjord with her ballast and all cable. At about 200 meters deep, she is still recording salinity and temperature, until memory will be full or batteries empty. Could we hope for a lucky trawl one day? Water was clear, swell was negotiable, and by an irony of fate, it was the last profile of our third wintering. Data are lost as well as the ones from the 4 profiles we did before, regularly since we left the wintering location on 10th July. A stop in front of glacier Croll is allowing us to do some mechanical maintenance, to have the dogs run on land, and to collect some ice to increase our fresh water stock, before going on with a more flat sea. Léonie discovered her house can move and is finding her sea legs slowly, like her parents.
I will participate by satellite phone at Jacques Pradel's program, tomorrow 10 July between 9 and 10:30am, 'Journey to the poles'.
Way is free! Sun has been shining 24 hours for one week, and there are only few ice bits around us. All started on 7/7/07 around 7:07... Dogs have been moved to land yesterday, at the last minute, while sea ice was breaking up everywhere around, and when few polar bears were hunting on the last ice floes. Later, still sweating after carrying the heavy dog houses on the shore, I didn't hesitate to jump in the water to catch a bucket about to sink. Biting! Despite the sun, water temperature is still negative... Now we have to finish transforming our winter hut into a boat ready to sail.
Few narwhals passed along the neighbouring beach, free of ice, the weather was very calm and we could hear them blowing. Polar bears keep showing us all their hunting technics, such as this big one covered with mud who turned up very fast, passed in front of the excited dogs, and rushed at the seals taking the sun not far from us. After making dive about 15 seals this way, during his mad run, the bear lied in wait in front of one of their holes, patiently. While we can still ski on pack ice to the glacier front, at about 2 km from Vagabond, we did yesterday our first trip around Inglefield's Bay with the dinghy, after pulling it on ice up to open water. What an amazing feeling to do the same trip by boat, accompanied by flocks of eiders, than the one we did last week on ski with the dogs! The outboard engine was rocking Léonie when we were going joyfully in between drifting ice blocks...
Every day, we are not wondering if we will see a polar bear, but how many! Concerning the seals, we cannot count them anymore. 2 days ago, we could see 12 polar bears in the same time from the boat, including 4 cubs. Females are always very careful to protect their youngs from starving males, impressive pursuits sometimes start suddenly. The carefree cubs, playful and curious, are only few weeks older than Léonie, and they grew up in the same environment. But Léonie is from Lion... And our Léonie's weight only doubled since her birth, while polar bear milk is so rich that cubs could multiply their weight by 100, from 500g (born around New Year) to 50kg now (10kg when going out of the den late March). This morning, a polar bear was hunting a seal at less than 100 meters from Vagabond, diving very carefully to hide himself in a hole. In vain. Open water is at 300 meters from us now, and pack ice is getting very fragile.
Our dog Frost burst his mouth out. When picking up the banger sent by France to dissuade a too curious polar bear from coming any closer, he was certainly not expecting such a result. Luckily, the polar bear ran away, Frost isn't badly hurt, and he can hear again. Later, another polar bear was watching our original team passing at a good speed on the flooded pack ice: the 3 dogs first, then me, then the pulka (with riffle, video and tripod), then France towed behind and carrying Léonie under her jacket. So skiing we suddenly reached the ice edge. The bad weather took away most of the surroundings pack ice, and open water is at only 2km from Vagabond now. Seals' resting area and bears' hunting field have reduced as much. We ate our last fruit, our last newspaper is getting old, but radio is helping us to think about what's happening in the rest of the world, and despite everything family life is quite peaceful here.
Eric and France by phone with Arielle Cassim, in program 'le Quotidien de la mer', on RFI between 13:40 et 14:00.