Jack Frost and the Cold Hard Facts


Boat in Ice Harbor


A calmer moment in the weather on December 11 offered us the opportunity to venture out to sea at around 11:00. After having negotiated the ice-covered launching ramp adjacent to the Sept-Iles marina, we headed about 5 miles offshore in a north-northwest wind that was building slowly but surely.

Around 14hrs as we traveled towards Port Cartier, we were forced to turn about and head back to harbor, because the wind came up stronger with the incoming tide, reaching 20kts, making the seas untenable. The chill spray caused by beating against the rising sea, placed the boat and crew in difficult wet, frosty, icy conditions.

Upon our return towards calmer seas in the bay we spotted nothing more substantial than one puffin and a few razorbills, which left us to try another day. We were back at the launching ramp at 15hrs just as darkness was gathering.


Frozen Jack



The next day-December 12-the weather appeared to be more favorable, and we headed back offshore at 11:30. Larry launched the boat and started the engine using it to clear away the accumulation of ice in the marina as we headed out.  The greater flow of fresh water in the bay coupled with protected waters of the marina provided ideal ice forming conditions, which solidifies more quickly as the season progresses.  The less dense fresh water turns to ice faster than the denser salt water over which it flows and on this day the air temperature was -15º C. As we headed offshore, we encountered a pan of fresh sea ice about a kilometer long, which forced us west around Pointe Noir to get out beyond the islands.  As we passed by the ice, we took a few pictures of a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) that was enjoying a rest aboard the white flat sheet.


Seal on Ice 

Once out beyond the islands we headed towards Port Cartier and the underwater cliff not far from the Arcelor Mittal iron ore company.  We were a bit discouraged to only find one grey seal (Halichoerus grypus), a few gulls, a kittiwake, and a few alcides.  The cold was scathing and penetrated us to our core. We turned south offshore in a loop on our way back towards Sept-Iles, which enabled us to cover as much area as possible despite the conditions.   And to our surprise a blue whale emerged, but too far to take useful ID pictures, and then after a mere two breaths was gone.  A kilometer more to the North near Ile Corossol the blue re-appeared minutes later, but again only took two breaths and disappeared. This animal was probably not finding the food concentrations it requires. Minutes later it surfaced more to the west and vanished just as quickly.  Our efforts were in vain, the sun was by then already low near the horizon at 14:30 and because we had to contend with the inshore drifting ice pan, we decided to quickly head to shore before we were enveloped in darkness.


Jack and Larry Mercier

             Jack and Larry Mercier


Translated from Jacques Gelineau’s description of two days on the water along the Quebec North Shore with Larry Mercier as winter’s frozen grip takes hold.  Jacques also known as Black Jack has been tenacious enough to go out to sea in the late fall and even early winter on occasion-weather permitting.  In past years this has provided us with valuable sighting and photo-ID data for blue and humpback whales still present in the St Lawrence late in the season.