Sad news. On 23rd February, at Ushuaia, Nicole van de Kerchove had heart attack while riding a horse across pampas. We were happy to entrust Vagabond to her for 10 weeks, from October to December 2006, during the first half of polar night. You can read again her logbook on this web site, showing her enthusiasm, her courage, her sense of humour. She was about to publish a book, written during her stay on board. From pack ice, we are sharing the grief with all her nearest and dearest.
February 21st. At 3:50 this morning, some strong tremors woke up the whole team on board Vagabond, except Léonie. It was like if a giant's hand took hold of the mast and was shaking it forcefully. For about 30 seconds, the strong ice cradle was creaking by fits and starts against the hull. Cracks were louder and different from those made by tides, which we are now used to. Quickly dressed, after another tremor series, we went around the boat and saw many new cracks in the 70cm thick pack ice. All was quiet outside, snow was falling slowly, without any wind... Strangely, this happened at the exact same time than the total moon eclipse, which we could not see, unfortunately, due to the clouds. Could a big wave, coming under the pack ice all the way to Vagabond, create so strong tremors? Or could it be our faithful Inglefield glacier, loosing a large part of ice, although this is usually not happening in winter? Around 11am, when a Norwegian journalist called us, we had the ex planation: we were very likely the closest people from the epicentre of the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Norway. At about 70 km from the boat, in Storfjord, the earthquake reached magnitude 6.2 on the Richter scale. Léonie was the only one not to worry, probably still under the spell after last polar bear visit, the day before, or after sliding in front of first sunbeams of the year. Our white paradise was very busy at the end of the polar night!
The big polar bear last night let us film him for a good while, few meters away from the boat, lit with the searchlight. Northern lights were dancing in the sky, the moon was twinkling, and there was not a breath of air. We could hear him breathe, and by -30°C, snow was crunching loudly under his steps. It was the seventh visit in 2 days. Polar bears came closer to shore, they are also waiting for pack ice to form again.
In 4 days, if the sky is clear, we will be able to see the sun for few minutes, in the south, at noon. It will be the end of the polar night. With light coming back, scientific experiments on sea ice and family trips with the dog sledge will be easier. A CTD and an electromagnetic icemeter arrived yesterday, these instruments were on board Tara, also for Damocles. Our first visitors, Ariane and Hugues, are on board for 12 days of filming. They can listen this morning to the loud creaking of the hull against the ice, because of the swell coming up to the boat. Already part of Inglefieldbukta's fast ice has been drifting away... We now have to wait for pack ice to re-form before venturing again.
As usual here, weather is giving us suddenly warm temperatures, almost like in summer. After -30°C and clear sky, northern lights or twilight at midday, here is only 2°C below zero. But the snow falling is not stopping Léonie liven up the camp, laughing in the big pulka pulled by France around the boat, in front of the surprised dogs. Tara's crew is already sailing to Lorient, no time to bring us the scientific equipment, which will be coming next week from Longyearbyen with our first visitors.
Yesterday afternoon, our visitor was a perfect actor. Wind had change direction and was blowing towards pack ice, from where a big polar bear could smell us. The animal went very close to the hull, allowed himself to be filmed while moving back, dazzled by the searchlight, then he lay down about 40 meters from Vagabond. Léonie was very excited watching him standing up and heading for pack ice again, after looking at us for a while. Few hours later, the visit would not have been so enjoyable as we were giving Léonie a bath!
Snow and northerly wind for the last few days. We are enjoying the little comforts of the only inhabited spot in the whole area, rocked by sea ice cracking. Vagabond is so close to shore that she is tilting and righting twice a day, trapped between ice floes going up and down with the tides.