12/07/2006


Vagabond - Inglefield Bay, East Coast of Spitsbergen

Suddenly Imiaq is barking. I jump out of bunk, woken up again, to see a polar bear passing at a good speed on pack ice, near Vagabond. This time, the visitor doesn't seem to be interested by the yacht, neither by our 3 Greenlandic dogs.

The bear is going to meet another one who just caught a big seal, few hundred metres away from us. A short fight, some loud growling, then they agree to enjoy the feast together. 20 minutes later, a third bear is passing close to Vagabond, ignoring us as well, and hurrying up to get some meat, attracted by the smell from few kilometres away. Then 2 hours later, a fourth bear is meeting with many birds to finish the leftovers, while the 3 other bears are moving away to start digesting. Fascinating and unforgettable show to celebrate the 30th birthday of my team mate Sebastien, and to forget the defeat of France in the World Cup! 

Only about a hundred metres of ice is separating us from open water. Within few days, Vagabond will be sailing again, after more than 9 month immobilized. We will be sailing in Svalbard fjords during the summer, and preparing Vagabond for her next missions. France will come back on board early August, after the Sea Festival of Douarnenez www.douarnenez2006.com 

The 2 first winterings of Vagabond allowed us to bring the necessary logistic support to several scientific programmes, especially to study the impact of sea ice formation on ocean currents. During the second wintering, new experiments were also tested, to prepare for DAMOCLES www.damocles-eu.org This project that gathers more than 100 researchers, experts of the Arctic Ocean, from 45 European Institutions from 11 EU countries and Russia is a major contribution from the European Union to the International Polar Year (2007-2008). 

DAMOCLES consists of developing and operating a long-term observing and forecasting Arctic Ocean Observing system in order to evaluate and predict risks and impacts of extreme climate events such as the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice in summer or equivalently the disappearance of the arctic perennial ice. 

In this context, Vagabond will freeze in again for the 2 next winters, so 4 consecutive winterings in Inglefield Bay. There we will continue tests on hi-tech instruments for DAMOCLES, before sending them all over the Arctic Ocean. One of the observing station will be Tara, the yacht will leave France on 11th July, heading North for 2 years of drift at the mercy of pack ice (www.taraexpeditions.org). The crews of the 2 French yachts involved in this important research programme will then be only few hundreds kilometres of sea ice apart, and will necessarily keep close relations. 

France and I are still doing our best to offer a clean logistic and to minimize Vagabond's impact on Spitsbergen's fragile environment. A new wind generator has been set up, next to the solar panels, as well as new and more powerful batteries, in order to run the inboard generator few hours a week only. Getting a better dog sledge will reduce a lot snowmobile hours. Our cohabitation with polar bears seem to be already a success: over 180 visits during this second wintering (88 during the first one), including 40 for the last 9 days, without incident. 

A bientôt!
Eric Brossier 

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