The critical point

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28 September 2013

This Friday at 6:00 am (local time), Tara entered Bellot Strait (Canada) under very favorable weather conditions. This 35 kilometer-long natural channel connecting Franklin Strait with Prince Regent Inlet was ice-free with no obstacles. In a little over 4 hours we made the passage without difficulty, and on the banks we saw in passing 2 solitary polar bears watching us defensively.

Entrée du détroit de Bellot. B.Régnier/Tara Expéditions

The entrance of Bellot. ©B.Régnier/Tara Expéditions

We’ve been waiting for this moment for almost a week, and at 5 am in the morning, even those not on watch duty — all 15 of us on board from Tuktoyaktuk (Canada) were ready and impatient.

The entrance of Bellot has striated rocky cliffs on either side, sprinkled with snow clinging to the walls. “The same place where Amundsen passed through a little over a century ago, in 1903,” chief scientist Lars Stemmann told me. And Lars continued full of amazement, “Here we are at the northernmost tip of the American continent.”

From the very first miles sailing in this narrow passage, we felt the magic of this place with a pale sun, but the special light only the polar regions know how to offer us. Loïc Vallette, our 34-year old captain, savored the moment while remaining vigilant about the current which sailing directives indicated would be favorable at this hour.

To commemorate this moment of grace and purity, the sailors hoisted the sails above water barely rippled by the wind. Like a bird spreading its white wings, Tara in this setting looked like a “traditional sailboat” and began to list slightly, helped by the apparent wind created by her engines.

From the dinghy launched a few minutes earlier, we admired and immortalized this scene with the photographer Francis Latreille and Martin Hertau, the first mate entrusted to help us in this task. “We don’t take the Bellot Strait everyday,” he said, captivated like us to be here at this moment under these conditions. Fishing for beauty, what luck!

With Bellot Strait in our wake, and after a quick snack and discussion with Loïc Vallette, Lars Stemmann and his team of 6 scientists decided to do a short sampling station before penetrating a little more into the Prince Regent Inlet which is iced-up further north.

The rosette was immersed to 100 meters followed by 2 plankton nets.

Right now we are on a northeastern route in the Prince Regent Inlet to reach the west side of Brodeur Peninsula. According to the latest ice charts received, there would be a potential corridor of open water along the peninsula at this point leading to Lancaster Sound. The weather conditions are still stable and the adventure is still possible, but can Tara, who is not an icebreaker, manage to make her way through the few miles of ice that cover nine-tenths of the water’s surface?

This is the second moment of truth for Tara Oceans Polar Circle. Will we finally be able to cross the Northwest Passage? Loïc Vallette has restarted the engines and it’s full-speed ahead to give it a shot, as always with a realistic optimism. The die has been cast.

Vincent Hilaire