Tara enters the Arctic Circle

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1 June 2013

Tara enters the Arctic Circle

On Sunday June 2, 2013, at precisely 23:07 + 41 seconds according to the GPS on board, Tara reached a symbolic milestone on this expedition around the North Pole: we crossed into the Arctic Circle – an invisible border worth celebrating.

For the past few days predictions were made about the date and time of this famous passage. Day after day the computer gave increasingly precise forecasts: we’ll reach the Arctic Circle on Sunday night. With a long sampling station scheduled for early the next morning, many people reluctantly went to their cabins, but some courageous souls remained awake to celebrate this special moment. At 23:00 boat time, 8 Taranautes crammed into the wheel-house, our eyes glued to the GPS screen. Outside, a timid sun seemed reluctant to go to sleep, remaining below the horizon for just a few hours – not long enough to plunge us into darkness.

A little earlier, an argument broke out about the exact latitude of the Arctic Circle:  66°33 or 66°34? Everyone dove into the books and maps on board to find the answer.  We finally decided to stop at 66°33 North. Although no line appears magically on the horizon, this latitude corresponds to a boundary that is definitely not arbitrary. It marks the beginning of the zone where the sun doesn’t set, at least one day per year, during the summer solstice. The number of polar days then increases progressively heading north.

Finally, the GPS displays the fateful latitude: 66°33 North. On deck, our small group captures the moment in a photo, holding a sign created especially for the occasion. Crossing this invisible line (like that of the equator) is always a symbolic milestone on a boat. But the symbol is even stronger for an expedition like ours, sailing around the Arctic. We will not cross this boundary again for five months, when we leave Greenland to reach Quebec. But then the transition will be from north to south, marking the end of our icy journey.

Yann Chavance