November 2007 : The great break-out
Published on 07.12.2007 - Tara Arctic
In November, the pack ice around Tara showed what it was really capable of doing as the great white desert suddenly changed dramatically. The crew is getting ready to break free...
At the beginning of November, the schooner Tara and its crew witnessed the dark side of the pack ice. In the space of a single night, "what a few hours previously had looked like a fixed, white, infinite and immovable desert, suddenly broke up and changed totally. Where before there had been an icy expanse before us, there were now compression ridges and ice moving in the centre. A lead of water opened up in a matter of minutes without us feeling anything at all aboard Tara..."
This abrupt transformation in the ice only lasted a few days, but it was enough for the crew to start asking themselves questions about the future course the boat would take. As they are already at 83 degrees north, which is more or less equivalent to the most northerly tip of the Greenland coast, they are beginning to wonder on which side they will finally break free from the ice. Spitzbergen? Or Iceland?
Even though scientific work and the Damocles programme are continuing on board and the main measuring instruments that had been installed out on the ice have been brought back on board with the prospect of more sudden breaks in the pack ice, it is already the feeling that the crew's main concern is the sailing ship's forthcoming release from its icy grip.
It has to be said that when the time comes, it will be a memorable moment. Numerous questions are already being asked about what will happen. Because Tara has not sailed in open water for two years and because there have been numerous changes on board associated with the loading and unloading of tons of equipment, skipper Grant is wondering whether the equilibrium of the boat will be right. Other unknown factors include what the accumulation of ice having trapped the keel and the rudder for so many months might have done. The various people who have taken a dive beneath the vessel say that it does not look like melting yet, though. "What is preoccupying the captain, expedition leader and logistics manager at the moment," writes Vincent Hilaire, "is being able to guarantee good equilibrium for the boat when it is released from the ice, as well as a maximum level of safety so that we can sail for the nearest port. A 220-litre drum of fuel rolling about the deck could damage the boat as well as injure people. Especially as Tara seems to be enjoying this Greenland cruise along the east coast of the island. But the ice here has a reputation for being bigger, with more violent shifts and movements to go with it."
As no one can actually predict when Tara will be able to float again, the whole crew is working twice as hard to get as much as possible stowed away and ensure everything is shipshape in and on the schooner.