Avoid the Hungry Polar Bears, Take a Quick Dip: A Day in the Life of Arctic Liveaboards

"Cruising Posts" from our August 15, 2007, CW Reckonings


In the height of the summer thaw, Eric Brossier leaps towards shore with doghouses in tow.Www.vagabond.fr

Many of us dream of establishing a pastoral life at sea--raising a family in an unspoiled environment, reaping the ocean's bounty, communing with nature. You know, Swiss Family Robinson without the shipwreck.

Eric Brossier has achieved this dream, and he's living it to the extreme. With his partner, France Pinczon du Sel, their newborn daughter, Leonie, and three dogs, the 38-year-old French geophysicist has just completed his third winter in the Arctic aboard Vagabond, a 47-foot steel cutter. For nine months before the July thaw, Vagabond was icebound in Inglefield Bay off the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. The boat serves as an outpost for scientific research; in addition to conducting their own observations, Eric and France host teams of scientists for weeks at a time.

The Arctic is a notoriously inhospitable place, of course, where the perils of cold and isolation pale to the constant threat of polar bears hungry for something other than seal. When they weren't warding off ferocious predators or trekking across the pack ice in subzero temperatures, however, the Vagabond family enjoyed a surprisingly comfortable lifestyle. Leonie would nap on the aft deck in the afternoon sun, France would prepare gingerbread in the electric oven, Eric would climb an iceberg. In this blog entry from early July, Eric details one joyous day in the Arctic:

"Way is free! Sun has been shining 24 hours for one week, and there are only few ice bits around us... Dogs have been moved to land yesterday, at the last minute, while sea ice was breaking up everywhere around, and when few polar bears were hunting on the last ice floes. Later, still sweating after carrying the heavy dog houses on the shore, I didn't hesitate to jump in the water to catch a bucket about to sink. Biting! Despite the sun, water temperature is still negative... Now we have to finish transforming our winter hut into a boat ready to sail."

To visit the Vagabond expedition website, click here.