13 July 2015
At this season in the Arctic’s high latitudes, the great white continent has not yet freed its coasts of ice. Patience and prudence are the golden rule in navigation. Tara’s voyage to Greenland will take a little more time than anticipated.
The schooner, engaged in the Tara Ecopolaris mission with members of the Arctic Ecology Research Group (GREA), will facilitate the study of birds living in this very isolated polar region.
Just as they did 11 years ago, Etienne Bourgois and Jean Collet (first captain of Jean Louis Etienne’s boat in 1989) arranged to meet aboard Tara in Iceland. In 2004, the gray schooner had just become the property of Etienne Bourgois and agnès b. This was the beginning of a series of expeditions on the east coast of Greenland in the company of Olivier Gilg and Brigitte Sabard, French experts on Arctic ecosystems.
This time around the 2 ornithologists left their belongings on the boat, docked at Akureyri, and flew last Wednesday to Constable Pynt, one of the only places on the remote east coast that has a small airstrip. The next day, Tara left the port of Iceland’s second biggest city and made her way north to retrieve the two GREA scientists. But the Scoresbysund Fjord, which according to satellite maps provided by NASA still seemed accessible, was completely blocked. Strong north winds have pushed the ice towards land, closing the passage.
After a very rough crossing, Tara had to slalom among the first pieces of ice that showed up 80 miles offshore. The boat then traversed a second ice barrier, but the third one proved to be more resistant. The battle with the giant blocks turned to the advantage of the elements. Winds 35 to 40 knots northeast were predicted.
For obvious security reasons, the decision was made to head back to Iceland. Friday, July 10 at 7 pm, after hours of zigzagging in the freezing cold among numerous blocks of ice, Tara managed to get to safety, a little further out to sea.
With binoculars in hand and a lookout perched at the top of the mast, the crew turned the boat back south. “We were hoping for a change, but the weather reports don’t foresee one before 3 or 4 days,” said Captain Martin Hertau. Nothing dramatic in the polar situation this year. The dominance of north winds for weeks has pushed the ice to the south, and even the west coast of the continent is still in the grip of ice.
Sunday July 12 around 10 pm, after a downwind crossing, Tara arrived in Akureyri. Moored in a small fishing port, Tara must await the green light of the ice maps before doing the crossing again in the other direction.
Dino Di Meo, correspondent aboard Tara
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