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Sailing Tales- A yachting life in the Arctic

by Nancy Knudsen/Sail-World Cruising on 8 Feb 2013
Vagabond and Eric Brossier - a normal day at the office .. .
There are many of us who love the sailing cruising life but are tied to a desk or a career for most of the time. There are some, however, who can successfully combine both, even while bringing up a family. One of those is Eric Brossier, French engineer and oceanographer, who, with his wife, France Pinczon du Sel, has been living on his yacht Vagabond in Canada's Arctic for the last eight winters, recently with their two small children, recording scientific data.

They are there again this year, anchored near Grise Fiord, the most northerly community in Canada. Not that the family isn't like other long-range cruising families, making do with what one can in remote areas. One of the first things they did this year on arrival was head to the community's garbage dump, looking for a few 'odds and ends - wood, a propane regulator, a bike frame,' they told The Star - to haul back to their purpose-built 47-foot steel sailboat anchored just off the southern tip of Ellesmere Island.


There's one big difference this year. They've recently moved into town for the school term, something Brossier says was necessary for his two daughters. His eldest daughter, Leonie started attending the community school this year and the girls relish having playmates.

France is happy with the move into Grise Fiord and says it's a relief to not have both kids on board the boat full time, as they did all last year. She's also enjoying socializing with the women in town.

'Everybody here is helpful,' says Brossier, whose first home is near Brest in northwest France. 'It's a really nice community.'

Brossier provides some of the eyes and ears of science in Canada's North. The 43-year-old engineer and sailor, who fell in love with the Arctic more than a decade ago, works with researchers in British Columbia and Toronto to help understand how ice is changing and how fast it is melting.

And things are changing faster than scientists thought, he soon noted, since his arrival in Grise Fiord. This year he watched the boat rocking in harbour swells that would have been frozen over at that time in previous years. Last winter sea ice shrank beyond any previous limit in the Arctic.


Several hunters in the community used to drive their snowmobiles on the sea ice near Grise Fiord at the beginning of September. Nowadays, they're stranded at home because ice does not even start to form at this time of year and the waters are too rough to navigate.

So what kind of yacht do you need to undertake such voyages?

Vagabond is an expedition yacht designed for sailing in ice. 15.3m length overall and 4.2m breadth, with a draught of just 1.2m. Since year 2000, Eric Brossier prepared it as a unique logistic support, a floating and moving base camp for scientists, sports people, or photographers. Her displacement is 25-32 tonnes, cutter rigged. She has a generator, a special E36 steel hull and the stem is reinforced with a 10mm stainless steel plate.


She is fully equipped with modern communication and electronics, poles to push ice, a crow's nest at 13m, ice axes and ice screws.

Below decks there is a diesel stand-alone heater and diesel stove, with good insulation of polyurethane foam, electric fridge, deep-freezer and oven. As well as lots of music and videos, and they even have a guitar on board.

Brossier says he's lucky to be living a lifestyle that is unique and has a real purpose as well. Then he adds that he has worked hard to make his luck.

Maybe more of us who think we are stuck behind our desks during the week could work harder to 'make our luck' sailing as well. Well, done, Brossier family!

To learn more about Vagabond, its crew and the work they are doing, http://vagabond.fr/vagabond!click_here.

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