Crossing the Nunavut


26 September 2013

Our sprint to the Bellot Strait continues. Tara is still making eight knots to arrive in the shortest possible time at this first key point of the Northwest Passage. As for the ice, the situation is quite stable this Wednesday, encouraging us to try and reach the strait as soon as we can, before skirting the western flank of the Brodeur Peninsula.

The days and nights are rhythmed by the motor, running nonstop without pausing to sample plankton. This does not prevent the team led by Lars Stemmann, the current chief scientist, to carry out mini stations in the dry lab (inside the boat) where seawater is pumped continuously from under Tara’s hull. This completes all of the data — biological, physico-chemical, oceanographic and imaging — recorded throughout our voyage by the onboard instruments.

This morning in the mess room, our Captain, Loïc Vallette, gave us the latest news on the meteorology for the up-coming days. The news is good and leaves much more room for hope compared to a few days ago.

Temperatures remain rather mild for now, slowing the formation of additional new ice. On the other hand, there will be no gales in the days to come, but rather fairly calm conditions. An anti-cyclone seems well-established over this area. This means that we will navigate through the narrow corridor along the Brodeur Peninsula with no waves amidst the sea ice, facilitating radar surveillance.

This is, of course, the theory for the moment, because changes in the Arctic can be quick and sometimes violent. So caution, but especially patience, is one of the major virtues that the Arctic teaches us with each trip to these remote and wild regions.

During our night watch with the sailor François Aurat, we passed a ship sailing in the opposite direction towards “Tuk” (Canada). We had a Canadian-accented exchange with the watchman on the cargo, loaded to supply several of the few small Canadian hamlets on the Northwest Passage. After some practical information on the ice conditions, the conversation ended with a “Take care of yourselves !”

After the Northwest Territories, we made our way into another Canadian region — Nunavut. Nunavut means “our land” in Inuktitut, the Inuit language spoken here besides French, English and “Franglais”. The population of this region, whose capital is Iqaluit ,was 31,556 inhabitants in 2009, or 0.02 inhabitants per square kilometer.

We’re crossing a huge “desert” and the rare tundra landscapes that we see from time to time confirm that there are not many people in the neighborhood!

Vincent Hilaire