We are choosing our stops depending on the weather, and according to what we wish to discover. We want to enjoy the short sailing period as much as possible. Vagabond is frozen in ice from October to July, and summer doesn't last long: it was snowing yesterday, in the northern part of the island... Wind was more than 80 km/h, Vagabond was pulling hard on her mooring! But today, the weather was great, the crew could watch very well about 15 walruses, and meet with coast-guards, who came to get a fishing net lying on the beach. Dangerous for local animals.
Vagabond is at Longyearbyen. Today, the little capital is disappearing in the fog. Luckily, the sky was clear yesterday and we could watch the solar eclipse (93% in Longyearbyen). We were having a subdued light for while, strange feeling in this period of permanent day light! Coincidence or not, a walrus set up on the beach down the old peer. During 2 days, he got many visitors who probably pushed him to finish his siesta. Walrus population is increasing at Spitsbergen, they usually gather in small colonies.
After 2 days stop in Longyearbyen, Vagabond sailed again for some coasting in the surroundings. While 3 of or dogs are watching a kayaker's camp on the other side of the fjord, Zagrey is enjoying the summer with us: 5 children and 5 adults on board! Not long after 2 pm today, our ship was driven on a shoal, not written on maps, and not visible because there is so much Old Red in the water. Waiting for high tide, the crew is walking ashore, kayaking or simply looking at the great view we have on the glacier Sefström. There is like a holiday atmosphere on board...
With a peaceful navigation along the west coast of Spitsbergen, 2 stops at Hornsund and Fridtjovhamna could allow us to meet up with Algol. The beautiful boat of our friend Jean-Baptiste didn't come back to the archipelago since 1984! On board, transported from France for us, 2 big rolls of mooring rope and part of the food for next winter! We are now at Longyearbyen, 2000 people, capital of Svalbard. Temperature +10°C, no wind and perfect blue sky. It is always strange to come back here with Vagabond, after more than 9 months of a still isolation. The relative agitation is surprising us again this year.
Yesterday at 2 in the morning, the anchor was up at least. The 4 dogs were on board, and Vagabond was sailing South. We left behind us 6 cairns, showing the land anchorages, 4 dog houses, filled up with stones, and the small hut full of equipment. Next to this hut, a weather mast, still recording. This will all be useful when we will come back in October, for the fifth wintering. Pushed with a strong northerly wind, our crew anchored yesterday afternoon at Isbukta, waiting for better conditions to go around the south tip of Spitsbergen.
Vagabond's position is here
Vagabond is free since 13th July (with the passing winterings, dates of liberation from ice were quite constant: 13th July 2005, 15th July 2006, 7th July 2007, 13th July 2008). And since last night, engines are running again. We will pull up the sails more serenely. In case of drifting ice or if no wind, we will still handle the boat! Now we need to finish changing our hut into a sail boat, while the passing polar bears are looking on. Not a day without a visit. This morning, when we were all busy on the deck, one of them was walking on the beach, less then 20 m from us. Surprised, he sat down to better observe us, but he didn't take out his camera...
The way is almost clear! But for now, Vagabond is not able to find her way through the last ice floes. Her engines don't start, apparently they didn't like the long sea water bath, when we found holes in the hull last April. We are still trying to repair with what we have on board, before may be deciding to go under sail only. Difficult decision: winds are capricious in the Arctic, and at the end of the fourth wintering, rigging, ropes, sails and fittings should be used very carefully.
Strong gusts up to 100 km/h. We are watching some remains of pack ice speeding along, but few hectares of ice are still blocking Vagabond. And protecting her from swell. Wind has been bad since last night and we are happy that we could enjoy a quiet and splendid sun to achieve scientific work: sea ice thickness measurements, dismantling radiometers, weather sounding with the helium balloon (quickly deflated just before the storm). Hunting field has been reduced: 4 polar bears were seen this morning, including a female with her 2 cubs, not far from the boat.
Live phone call from Vagabond and the Polar Circle Festival, organized by Le Cercle Polaire, at Pléneuf-Val-André, in Brittany.