Moving fast towards the Bellot Strait


24 September 2013

Since our departure from Tuktoyaktuk (Canada), leaving behind Amundsen Gulf, Tara has been advancing by motor power at 8 knots in the direction of the Bellot Strait – a strategic point of the Northwest Passage. The scientific aspect of the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition continues: the schooner’s hull is equipped with sensors that continuously record a variety of physico-chemical, climatic, oceanographic and biological data.

At this speed, unless we encounter ice along the way, Tara should reach the Bellot Strait next Friday evening. Since leaving “Tuk”, we’re racing against the clock, before this part of the sea closes up. It’s our only chance to reach Lancaster Sound and then Baffin Sea and Greenland.

With no stopovers at sea for sampling stations, everybody on board is busy with repairs, maintenance – getting ready. We must not miss the rare chance to accomplish our scientific mission and add this western part of the Arctic Ocean to the inventory of planktonic species established during the Tara Oceans expedition.

The latest ice charts confirm the abundance of floes* this year, much more prolific than last year. This is relatively ‘young’ ice, only 15 cm. thick, but in certain places it already covers 9/10ths of the water’s surface. Another aggravating factor in the area of ​​Bellot Strait – temperatures are already negative, therefore the ice is fixed and necessarily thickening, since seawater freezes at -1.8°C.

Difficult to say what will happen 5 days from now. The 15 people on board are optimistic, but in the end, only nature will decide. This suspense is well-accepted because everyone understands the limits of our capacity to change the course of things. In any case, no one can say what our next stop will be. Arctic Bay, or turn back to Tuktoyaktuk, or another place? It’s the passage that makes the rules, and determines our route.

Tonight, we will definitively leave Amundsen Gulf, without having glimpsed even a tiny part of its coast. After bright sunshine the day after our departure, we are often sailing in thick fog and snow. For now the sea is beautiful, as we enter Coronation Gulf.

This may be our last chance to admire a bit of the mythical Northwest Passage because this evening we will be only 4 miles from the south coast.

Vincent Hilaire

*floe: a plaque of the ice pack