A family sailboat in the service of French science in Greenland | Polarjournal
Vagabond stops at Ipiutaq in summer 2011 to replenish its freshwater supplies (Photo: Éric Brossier).

The permanent crew of Vagabond, which has been criss-crossing the Arctic for over 20 years on behalf of science, welcomes a team of geologists from the Université de Bretagne Occidentale in southern Greenland.

Last Tuesday, Éric Brossier, captain of the yacht Vagabond, came as planned to the international airport of Narsarsuaq, a village of 120 inhabitants in southern Greenland. A team of geologists supported by the French Polar Institute was to join him to study the Gardar rock, using his yacht as a floating base camp. We were able to reach him by phone when he connected to the airport wifi network, his satellite connection being limited the rest of the time.

Éric Brossier and France Pinczon du Sel have been navigating the Vagabond for over 20 years in the Arctic. “I contacted the French Polar Institute, which had sent me to Kerguelen as part of my national service, and they trusted me right away,” he explained at the symposium on ice navigation organized in Marseille last June by the French association Pôles Actions.

They have provided logistical support for numerous research programs, crossing the Northeast and Northwest Passages in 2003, wintering in the Arctic 12 times and giving birth to two daughters between 2007 and 2009.

Since 1999, the sailboat had already found itself trapped in the ice, drifting towards the coast, pushed by the wind and the swell, but beyond a few frightening moments, their voyage went well with the ice and the local inhabitants.

On July 3, after treating the hull against algae and painting the underwater parts, they set off from Saint-Pierre et Miquelon for Greenland to the tune of Celtic music. During the crossing, a few white-sided dolphins took the opportunity to show their beaks.

Arriving in Narsaq through some ice, they tied up alongside Mike Horn’s sailboat Pangaea. “In southern Greenland, it’s less challenging to navigate, but you have to watch out for gales and icebergs that can’t be seen on radar, hidden by the swell,” he explained over the phone as he watched the plane land with the geologists on board.

From July 16 onwards, the boat has been anchored in the fjords around Gadar and Igaliku, with plenty of cod under the hull, white-tailed eagles overhead and humpback whales just a stone’s throw away (Image: Éric Brossier).

This part of Greenland is a paradise for tourists visiting the World Heritage-listed Gardar Episcopal Palace, and when a cruise ship calls, the population of the community triples. And sheep are at home in the meadows of the Narsaq region, with 18,000 animals harvested each year for meat.

Vegetation doesn’t necessarily help geologists looking for rock formations. They study plate tectonics and magmatic movements. A little over a billion years ago, the rocky mantle, subjected to great traction forces, cracked, leaving “out of the ordinary” spaces – up to 1,000 metres wide – for pressurized magma to flow into vertical fissures, over tens of millions of years.

Geologists such as Laurent Geoffroy of the Université de Bretagne Occidentale are investigating the mechanical properties of this ancient continent, in order to make a more accurate estimate of the speed at which the Earth was permanently cooling.

The Protero-Litho2 project receives support from the French Polar Institute, will be running for at least three years and this first year begins with scouting and initial testing. “We’re spending a lot of time in the field identifying faults, and next year we may be getting closer to the glacier front,” explains Éric Brossier, before the conversation concludes.

Vagabond’s next mission will be to study coralline algae, which form small limestone reefs in Arctic fjords. For this mission, Éric Brossier will don diving gear adapted to cold waters. And again, the sailboat will be the platform for science in Polar regions, just like it did for so long already.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

Link to the Vagabond website (in French but nice pictures)

Link to theFrench Polar Institute website

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