Arrival in Ilulissat (Groenland)

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15 October 2013

Tara is off the west coast of Greenland and heading towards a small village called Ilulissat via Disko Bay, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The weather is looking good, the wind is mild, and our navigation instruments indicate an arrival time just after nightfall at 19h, leaving time to undertake a sampling station before lunch.

The team is occupied as usual with emailing their labs or offices, data analysis, meal preparation, short naps, and boat and equipment maintenance–in short, everyone is busy. Tara is still continuing her course in the middle of some huge, majestic icebergs, with bright sunshine on a looking-glass sea.

Around 18h, an hour before the planned arrival time, we meet the first growlers (= ice floes) and icy areas dense enough to slow us down. The Jakobson Glacier is true to its reputation, producing so much ice that large and small chunks invade the sea, even far from the coast.

Shortly afterwards, we’re all on deck as the first ice chunks tickle and sometimes even shake Tara up. Night has fallen, the nearly full moon rises, we’re 5 miles from the village where lights are glimmering, and we’re forced to reduce speed in order to slalom. A projector is turned on at the bow to avoid hitting larger icebergs, sometimes as high as Tara’s deck.

Loïc Vallette, the captain, is in charge. Every 100 meters we advance is encouraging. There’s some doubt about Tara’s capacity to make her way through, but even greater doubt about the possibility of finding a 40-meter berth in such a small harbor filled with fishing boats.

We’re advancing with the moon, the water is like a mirror, and the ice chunks or rather their silhouettes are outlines disappearing in the dark. It’s beautiful, with lunar tones from light to dark gray. The cold of the glacier has lowered the ambient temperature by 5°C, the atmosphere has changed, and Tara is shrouded in mystery. We finally perceive a contour, and then another and here we are at the entrance of the port. Crushed ice is everywhere. We can’t see the water but we’re moving forward anyway, and an aurora borealis begins to dance in the sky as we dock. The word “magic” is not enough to describe these moments.

21h: It took us 2 hours to cover the last 5 nautical miles, but we’re now moored at the dock and dinner is ready, prepared by Dominique, our cook. The team sits down at the table, enveloped in Tara’s warmth, all of us still moved by the magic of these last moments. This too is part of the Arctic.

It is a particularly special moment for me, having lost a loved one this Tuesday morning, the 15th of October.

Roman Troublé, secretary general of Tara Expeditions