September 1, 2013

Arctic Voyages 2013 – Update 2

Over the last few days both the Arctic expeditions we've been following since the beginning of July announced that they were abandoning their voyages before reaching their planned destinations. Although it doesn't seem to have been published on their web site yet,  Séb Roubinet and Vincent Berthet on Babouchka have just abandoned their "Quest Through The Pole". According to their "La voie du pôle" Facebook page (and translated from the original French):

We.. analyzed the ice charts and weather forecast for the next week and we had to face the facts … For two or three days,  ice has been reforming on the way to the pole and Spitzbergen and negative temperatures are forecast for the next 8 days. The trap closes earlier than expected …

The phenomenon we expected 15 days later adds to the unusual and adverse conditions we have encountered since the beginning of the expedition (adverse winds and drifting). After lengthy discussions, we felt it was becoming too dangerous to venture further north. It is vital to try to reach the nearest land.  The sudden change in conditions has surprised us, and the decision was therefore very difficult to take. Currently we are only a hundred miles from the north pole of inaccessibility, the center of the Arctic Ocean, the furthest point from any land, and our adventure is not over…

This morning, Sébastian and Vincent have triggered their distress beacon.

To give you some idea of the ice conditions that Babouchka is enmeshed in, here's a screenshot from Google Earth in which Babouchka's recent GPS position reports are overlayed on a satellite image of the Arctic sea ice on August 30th:

Babouchka GPS positions from August 26th to September 1st 2013

Babouchka GPS positions from August 26th to September 1st 2013

As you can see August 25th was a very good day for Babouchka, but she has made very little progress since then. According to Séb's report from August 29th:

A lot has happened over the last 2 days. First we passed 82°N, after a 19 hour day and much effort. Then we were forced to stop for 30 hours waiting for some strong winds to subside, which allowed us to rest properly. The next day began with temperatures of minus 20 degrees and a large floe to cross to warm us up.

Once we reached water again we had to shoot through dozens of gaps between the ice floes, until finally we arrived in an area where the snow had formed a surface like molasses. Then to move forward, we had to crush the molasses with our feet while rowing, all with a boat not strong enough to push through by force. So last night at midnight we had no strength for anything, and we collapsed.

Here's the picture that accompanied that report:

The Babouchka making slow progress through "crushed molasses"

The Babouchka making slow progress through "crushed molasses"

A couple of days earlier the Mainstream Last First team on the Arctic Joule described their decision this way on their web site:

We row into Cambridge Bay, Nunavut this afternoon – August 28th, 2013 to officially conclude the Mainstream Last First expedition. The snow squalls that dogged us earlier in the day have lifted and blue sky and sun greet us as we end our journey. It feels like a fitting end.

Over the past 54 days we traversed more than 1500-kms of the Northwest Passage from Inuvik, NWT to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and come away humbled and awed by the experience. We had hoped to make it to Pond Inlet, Nunavut by early September but this has proven impossible. Severe weather conditions hindered our early progress and now ice chokes the passage ahead.

According to the Arctic Joule's ice router, Victor:

Residents of Resolute say 20 years have not seen anything like. Its, ice, ice and more ice. Larsen, Peel, Bellot, Regent and Barrow Strait are all choked. That is the only route to East. Already West Lancaster received -2C temperature expecting -7C on Tuesday with the snow.

Here's the current Canadian Ice Service forecast for the Resolute area of the Northwest Passage, with the Arctic Joule's original destination, Pond Inlet, over on the extreme right:

Canadian Ice Service forecast for the approaches to Resolute on September 1st 2013

Canadian Ice Service forecast for the approaches to Resolute on September 1st 2013

The Mainstream Last First adventure has finished with a warm welcome in Cambridge Bay, slightly over half the way to Pond Inlet from their starting point in Inuvik.  Séb and Vincent's adventure still continues, and we wish them a safe and speedy return to civilisation too.

[Update - September 4th]

The crew of the Arctic Joule have now flown back to Vancouver. Here they are interviewed by CBC:

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Comments on Arctic Voyages 2013 – Update 2 »

September 2, 2013

Jim @ 11:02 pm

Help is on its way towards the crew of Babouchka. Translated from a French language article at

The Russian icebreaker "Admiral Makarov" was sent in the eastern Arctic, to rescue the French crew said Monday the head of the Russian Marine Rescue Centre, Dmitri Smirnov, the official news agency ITAR-TASS. "The French travelers have reserves of food and fuel for ten days. This is quite sufficient to await rescue" he assured. The icebreaker is expected to arrive in the area on Wednesday morning.

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