15-Aug-2004 -- Imram (Picture #2) is a
12.50m aluminum sailboat, the prototype of a new series, the Integral , designed to
explore the unforgiving arctic waters. Her maiden voyage brought her
from France to the uncharted waters of Greenland in 2003 and then over
to remote Svalbard islands in 2004.
The Svalbard islands are located as much North as you can get without an
icebreaker, and only in Summer, and are a unique example of arctic
wilderness. Infinite series of little-visited peaks offer themselves
for mountaineering, remote spots host unique wildlife, and -most
important in this context- they are a mine of not-visited confluences!
Among other targets of our trip, we planned on visiting some
confluences on the 80th parallel, and our attention fell on 80N14E, a
secondary confluence, but nicely located at sea along our route
circumnavigating the islands. After a first trip along the 80th
parallel in dreadful weather conditions, where confluences were quite
far from our mind, and anyhow the visibility was just a little bit more
than nil, we approached the point again, a few days later, on August
15th 2004, and it was clear that we could make a visit.
A spell of good weather was giving a Mediterranean feeling to these
remote arctic waters, and the decision was taken to sail through the
confluence, directed by the experiences we had made during some earlier
successful visits, such as 69N16E and 70N20E. We positioned ourselves
along the 80th parallel, and with decreasing wind, brought down the
foresail and called for our relatively silent yet powerful diesel
engine to propell us along 80N toward its intersection with 14E. The view toward the South (Picture #1) was stunning: we could see
the little visited North coast of Spitzberg, the largest of the
Svalbard islands, with its perennial snow, its glaciers falling into
the sea, and a typical fog forming close to the water. All around us,
the empty infinity of arctic waters, which at these latitudes are covered in ice almost year-round.
By the time we were on the confluence, this innocent fog had turned into
a denser and denser affair, and the navigation had to proceed by radar
(Picture #3). Sailing such a boat in the land of the icebergs is
indeed a dangerous business, and on other occasions (Picture #4) we
had not hesitated to send a crew member up the mast to find a better
way out of the ice in such little visibility.
After a few minutes in the fog, and a northward correction to our
course as we had actually drifted below the 80N, the board GPS told us
that 80N14E was right below our hull (Picture #5): time to take the
pictures of our surroundings to the North (Picture #6), East (Picture
#7), South (Picture #8) and West (Picture #9)... all remarkably equal
in the fog.
Our travel continued, toward other adventures, with the visit of a
curious walrus coming to check us out, before diving and swimming away
from us, like a mysterious northern siren... (Picture #10)