By Carol McCracken
MHN recently had the thrill of sitting in the cabin of the seaworthy cutter Gambo with her skipper and first mate. The three of us were looking at a chart of Greenland spread out on the cabin table. They were explaining the purpose of their upcoming expedition to western Greenland. The Gambo is scheduled to leave Portland Yacht Services (“PYS”) at the bottom of the Hill on July 10. Or it could be earlier than that as well.
The skipper is Nolwenn Chauche, 33, a Frenchman who is an experienced seaman having sailed with his parents in the Atlantic for years. He admits to suffering an occasional bout of sea sickeness but takes nothing for it. The first mate is Englishman Stephen Bate, 22, whose first experience with sailing just concluded. That’s when the two and the rest of the crew, now disbursed, sailed this 45 ft steel boat from South America to Portland Yacht Services. The crew left Uruguay on April 2nd and arrived at PYS on June 17th. MHN spotted this massive working boat as she was hauled out of the waters at PYS and was placed in her cradle there on the 17th.
Dr. Alun Hubbard owns the Gambo. He is a lecturer of glaciology at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales. Recently he purchased Gambo to sail to Greeland to assist in the measuring of the speed with which the glacier on the western side of Greenland (near Umanak) is breaking up. Crew members will put cameras on the sides of the glacier and use GPS to determine how the glacier moves. This equipment will be in place for 2 seasons. Then in 2010, the Gambo will return to put in place more and different equipment and pick up the data that will have been collected over this year.
The Gambo will be anchored far off the glacier and the crew will go ashore in dinghies. They will have to climb up the sides of the glacier to put the equipment in place on the glacier. They don’t know how far a distance that will be yet. Dr. Hubbard is currently in Greenland doing preparatory work for this data collection research. Most of the funding for this research comes from Great Britain and NASA. First mate Bate said they expect it will take 2 – 3 weeks for the Gambo to reach Greenland; it depends largely on the weather conditions they encounter along the way. It’s summer there now and it’s daylight all the time. The temp should be around 40 degrees.
Both Chauche and Bate are graduate students overseas. The skipper is working on his master’s degree in physics and chemistry in France. Chauche said he needs to back in France by September 1 to continue his studies. He has been assured of a flight back home by a supply plane that flies into Greenland regularly. Bate is doing graduate work in quaternary science in London. That is the study of historical climate change in the last 2 l/2 million years. This earnestly hardworking duo is preparing hard for the expedition to Greenland. Their first project begun just moments after arriving at PYS on June 17th was to remove the old engine in preparation for replacing it with a new 65 horsepower engine which is to arrive tomorrow. Covering the deck with foam to make it slip-proof at sea is another priority on their extensive to-do list before setting sail on July 10th.
The two don’t know yet just where the return voyage will land. It could be back here in Portland, the St. Lawrence River or in northern U.K. Dr. Hubbard will determine that later on in the expedition. One thing is for sure- there are a lot of unknown factors on this expedition – mostly weather related. For example, the skipper said that, generally speaking, the Gambo needs to leave Greenland by mid-September to avoid the buildup of ice and the dangers tha would present for Gambo. But it’s for sure that this bright and impressive ‘in every way’ team is working diligently to minimize as many of those unknowns as humanly possible.
Sprague, who manages the marina at PYS says he hopes the Gambo will return to his marina at the end of their expedition this summer. He’s doing everything he can to make that happen.
“It’s fun to have Gambo in the yard because it’s the cutting edge of science – that is climate change. The connection between the Bowdoin and Maine’s tradition of Artic expeditions are very close.” said Spague. “The Gambo will be following in the tradition of the Bowdoin to the Artic. The Bowdoin made 28 research trips to the Artic before becoming the training ship for the Maine Maritime Academy.”
Please google Dr. Alun Hubbard and/or Gambo for more information.