• Tara, a schooner for the planet

    • agnès b

Video: François Aurat, a sailor and artist on board

François Aurat, deck officer, is the sailor who spent the longest time aboard Tara over the last few years. Whenever he can, François got into the habit of taking his camera to enjoy the vast range of subjects offered by the schooner’s journeys around the world. Enough adventures to bring back thousands of pictures taken during the stopovers, from the top of the mast, or even with a drone cam, our newest arrival on board.

Y.Chavance/Tara Expéditions

From one stopover to another

Tara left the Beirut Marina Tuesday morning after enjoying a week of Lebanese hospitality. We were originally supposed to continue our route south towards Israel, but the situation there forced us to change our plans. 

With armfuls of gifts and lots of fond memories, Tara’s crew left the small Zaitouna Bay Marina in the Lebanese capital. The huge anonymous crowd that greeted us one week ago when we arrived has become a small group, but this time with familiar faces: local partners or Beirut citizens met by chance during excursions, all showed us generous Lebanese hospitality. So, after a stopover rich in meetings of all kinds, it’s with regret that we leave the land of cedars and head due west towards Cyprus.

The small island was not one of the initially planned stopovers for the schooner. We had originally planned to spend a week in Israel, with 2 stopovers in the cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv. But the political situation changed our plans. “These stopovers were intended to welcome aboard young science students — Arab-Israeli, Palestinians and Israeli,” recalls Romain Troublé, the secretary general of Tara Expeditions.“Given the context and how it has  evolved since the beginning of July, the conditions for hosting students and for the security of the boat and crew could not be met. The president Etienne Bourgois, the chief scientist of the mission and myself decided to cancel the visit.”

Tara had already stopped once in Lebanon, in 2009 during the Tara Oceans expedition, but   Israel was not yet on the long list of countries visited by the schooner. This meant that the decision to cancel the long-planned stopover was not taken lightly, and the land-based Tara team was left waiting until the last moment. “We wanted to see how the conflict would evolve, and were hoping for a rapid return to peace,” explains Romain Troublé. “By mid-July it was increasingly clear that we would have difficulties stopping over and safely hosting on board the hundred expected students. So, on August 1st, we took the decision to cancel and to stopover in Cyprus.”

We’re now sailing west in Lebanese waters, facing 4 days at sea and a busy scientific schedule, despite a reduced team. Anthony Ouba and Juliette Maury debarked in Beirut, and only Christian Sardet, plankton specialist and habitué aboard the schooner, has come to help Amanda Elineau (chief scientist until Malta) with the sampling of microplastics. As for the sailors, there’s Nils Haëntjens, a versatile intern who has joined the team to help with everything related to computers, electricity, electronics, and many other domains. We’re on course for Cyprus, where some newcomers are expected at our next stopover, Larnaca, in 4 days.

Yann Chavance

Stopover in Beirut : discovering the lebanese capital

On the occasion of Tara’s stopover in Beirut, Lebanese PhD student, Anthony Ouba who had barely disembarked the schooner, suggested he might give the crew a ride around the capital. This visit was the opportunity to learn more about the city’s and country’s rich history, oscillating between war injuries and modern reconstructions.

©Y.Chavance/Tara Expéditions

Tara meets the Lebanese CNRS

During the Mediterranean expedition, each stopover is an opportunity for Tara’s scientific team to have exchanges with their local colleagues. Here in Beirut, for example, we met with the Lebanese CNRS, to share ideas about mutual efforts to protect and preserve the Mediterranean Sea – Mare Nostrum.

After participating in a roundtable on marine pollution with local NGOs, Lebanese scientists and political personalities, our meetings in Beirut continued on the premises of the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS), a Lebanese research institute that recently celebrated 50 years of existence. The scientific team of Tara along with Romain Troublé, Secretary General of Tara Expeditions, met with a dozen researchers from the National Center for Marine Sciences, one of the 4 branches of the Lebanese CNRS.

“We wanted to have a constructive exchange between our scientists and theTara team, to present our respective work and develop  ideas for future collaborations,” explained Gaby Khalaf, director of the Center.

The meeting began with a presentation of research conducted by the Lebanese Center, including the work of the doctoral students present. Subjects were extremely varied, including the monitoring of marine mammals, and the study of acidification in the Mediterranean. But they all had one point in common: research was conducted partly in France, either at the University of Perpignan or at the Observatoire océanologique de Villefranche-sur-Mer. “This is a Franco-Lebanese collaboration,” said Gaby Khalaf. Doctoral students work mainly in Lebanon but make regular visits to France, where they are also officially registered as students. For the past 10 years, 20 of our doctoral students were able to work in France.”

Following the Lebanese doctoral students,Tara’s scientific team made a brief presentation of the schooner, the various research missions, and protocols for sampling microplastic in the Mediterranean. Finally, the Lebanese researchers discovered with interest the first analyses of samples collected in Lebanese waters in 2009, at the beginning of the Tara Oceans expedition. “Back then, we had just acquired our own research vessel, so it was very important for us to visit Tara, to see the facilities and talk with scientists,” recalls the director of the National Center for Marine Sciences. “It is very interesting to finally see today what Tara collected in 2009 off the coast of Lebanon.”

After the presentations of their respective work, the scientists engaged in less formal discussions on subjects ranging from plankton collecting techniques to invasive marine species in Lebanon. This was also the occasion for everyone to explore new ideas for collaboration between the 2 teams. The Lebanese CNRS, very interested in microplastic pollution, will soon receive the plans of our Manta net. As for Tara, on Monday we will embark   3 floating buoys that will be launched shortly after our departure from Beirut. A small service to render in exchange for the extremely warm hospitality we have received since we arrived in the Lebanese capital.


Yann Chavance     

Beirut’s Warm Welcome

On Tuesday, August 5, Tara arrived in Beirut – the easternmost stopover of her Mediterranean route. Our entry into the marina of the Lebanese capital was accompanied with great fanfare, and the presence of local and international media.


After 2 days in the waters of Cyprus without the possibility of sampling, the scientific team took advantage of our arrival in Lebanese waters to carry out 2 long sampling stations. After a short night, on Tuesday we came into view of the first buildings of the Lebanese capital. Shortly before 6 pm, boats bearing the colors of the Lebanese flag began to join the schooner, turning into a real escort to the Beirut Marina.

Docked at the quay where Tara will stay all week, we were immediately submerged by Lebanese warmth. First, a garland of flowers was hung around the neck of each crew member, then “Welcome to Lebanon” echoed from all sides. A steady stream of journalists poured over the bridge, grabbing the attention of sailors and scientists.

Television, magazines, newspapers and news agencies – Lebanese (TV Lebanon) and international (Reuters) – the media were present in large numbers on deck. Adding to the merry hubbub that engulfed the bridge for over an hour were our local contacts: the group Solidere who organized our welcome; our scientific counterparts such as the Lebanese CNRS; and also local NGOs, for example, the Association Big Blue that has been fighting coastal pollution for 25 years.

Once the bridge emptied of guests, the crew recovered from this warm welcome at a cocktail party organized in our honor at the exhibition hall where Tara’s scientific adventures are on display. A welcome break before starting this week’s long program, including exchanges with local institutions and scientific structures, and of course, the visits of school children and the general public. Hundreds of people are expected on deck during the 7 days of our stopover – a week in Lebanon before starting the return journey westward to complete, by the end of the year, 7 months of sampling in the Mediterranean Sea.


Yann Chavance


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Invisible borders

If the location of the sampling stations are chosen according to scientific needs, they are also determined by the local legal restrictions: each country boasts, off their coasts, an Exclusive Economic Zone. Before undertaking water samples, Tara’s team first needs to be issued an authorization, which sometimes arrives at the last minute. 

Yann Chavance © Tara Expéditions

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Direction Lebanon

Since departing from Mykonos (in the Cyclades archipelago, Greece ) at the beginning of the week, there are only 10 of us aboard Tara continuing our route towards Lebanon. Voyaging with a small group greatly changes the atmosphere on the schooner.

We were 15 in Cala Gonone, Sardinia, and 14 in Vlora, Albania, and finally 12 after Zakynthos, Greece. The downsizing continued after the crew rotation took place during our last stop in Mykonos. Today we’re only 10 Taranautes including 5 sailors. The Breton Martin Hertau, who will become captain in a month, is currently chief mechanic, the former position of Rodolphe Gaudin, who is now first mate. Captain Samuel Audrain, Marion Lauters, the cook, and François Aurat, deck officer, are continuing their journey started several weeks ago.
As for the scientists, Lebanese Anthony Ouba has joined Amanda Elineau and Juliet Maury, who have been doing the sampling stations for the past month. The presence on board of the Lebanese PhD student working at the Oceanographic Observatory of Villefranche-sur-Mer means 2 extra hands during the stations, and thanks to his nationality, gives us the right to take samples in Lebanese waters. Finally, the painter Emmanuel Regent will be artist in residence for this leg of our Mediterranean trip.

As always with a reduced team, the ambiance aboard Tara changes, becoming more relaxed and less noisy. In the large air-conditioned dining area there’s no more juggling for a place to work, have discussions, or plan a station. At meals, everyone feels free to talk with neighbors, and discussions become more personal. Although the teams responsible for household chores had to be adapted, each person willingly participates. (The cook, normally spared, given the huge task she accomplishes, had to join one of the 5 teams.) This Tara family is smaller, but more unified.

On the other hand, the “non-sailors” will no longer be able to sleep through the night. We’ll be taking turns almost every night, every 3 hours, assisting the sailor in his night-watch –  another opportunity to get better acquainted with our cabin mates. The next sampling stations will take place in this more familiar atmosphere. We have one week before reaching our next stop – Beirut –  and then we’ll spend a week in the Lebanese capital. 


Yann Chavance


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H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco aboard Tara

Sunday, July 27, 2014.  Prince Albert II of Monaco came aboard the schooner for a visit, highlighting his Foundation’s support of Tara’s mission

On July 27, 2014, during Tara’s stopover in the Cyclades (Greece), Romain Troublé Secretary General of Tara Expeditions, and the crew of the schooner had the honor of welcoming aboard H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and his delegation for a few hours. One of the main partners of the Tara Mediterranean expedition, the Albert II of Monaco Foundation has been supporting Tara’s missions since 2006.

This visit allowed H.S.H. Prince Albert II to fully appreciate the implications of Tara’s scientific expeditions by seeing first-hand the work accomplished for years with our partner laboratories and institutes. H.S.H. Prince Albert declared, “I am extremely happy to be on board. I had seen the boat at dock without actually sailing on it, so this is a real satisfaction to share at least a few hours with Tara’s crew. I think that by having this opportunity to talk, we can now envisage other ideas and other adventures.”

H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco was able to discover the boat in the conditions of an expedition – the occasion for the Prince to highlight the interest of the Tara Mediterranean expedition: “This campaign – to study pollution by plastics – is also a way to alert our contemporaries and make them understand that the situation is serious. I think Tara is really an example. This is a great adventure, environmental and maritime of course, but above all, human.”

The visit of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco aboard Tara underlines the commitment of his Foundation to protect the oceans, and his support for the Tara Mediterranean mission. This expedition has a scientific component – to better understand the impacts of plastic on the Mediterranean ecosystem, and an educational component – to raise public awareness of the many issues related to the Mediterranean. This includes the promotion of efforts to develop Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

“This entire day spent aboard Tara with H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and his Foundation’s team gave us the opportunity to support the launching of the Gyaros MPA, and strengthen ties with H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco. For over 7 years he has been supporting and encouraging Tara’s quest for knowledge,” says Romain Troublé, Secretary General of Tara Expeditions.

Also present on this day were the members of associations involved in a major program of conservation of the monk seal on the island of Gyaros. H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco considers vital the program – run by his Foundation and local partners – to preserve this endangered species.  “It was important to try to save one of the last monk seal habitats on the island of Gyaros and other surrounding islands,” he said. “We are very happy to be a partner in this program, via my Foundation. I think we will not only better protect the monk seal and its habitat, but also the fauna and flora of these extremely fragile ecosystems.” These conservation actions and scientific studies are accompanied by a determination to work with local partners. “Projects like these only work if everyone feels involved, when everyone meets around the same table,” explains Prince Albert. “We must be able to work with the local population, especially with the fishermen, to show that it’s in their interest too, in the long run, that monk seals and fishermen coexist.”


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VIDEO – Tara sails across the Corinth canal

July 23rd, 2014, Tara crossed over the Corinth canal, which separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland. This shortcut allowed us to reach the Cyclades without having to sail around the Peloponnese. The canal is more than six kilometres long, but only twenty metres large and is overhung by impressive 50 metres high cliffs. 

The Tara Méditerranée expedition is on its way to Mykonos!
©Y. Chavance/Tara Expéditions

Intersecting views

Lorraine Féline, filmmaker, and Carly Steinbrunn, photographer, are the two artists in residence on Tara since Cala Gonone, Sardinia. A few hours before disembarking, it’s time for an interview after three weeks aboard the schooner.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

Lorraine Féline

I make films, I do drawings and performances that revolve around the concept of gesture, movement and choreography. I studied at the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg, as well as at the University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany. I film short performances with people in their workplace. In 2013, I made a film called “Mechanical Ballet,” shot in a London factory that makes ballet shoes.

Carly Steinbrunn

I am a photographer working in London and Paris. I first trained in scientific photography and then studied at the National School of Photography in Arles. My work focuses on the idea of discovery and innovation in photography. I did a series, “The Voyage of Discovery” which was exhibited at the festival of photography in Levallois. This series was also made into a book, for which I was nominated for the “First Book Award” in London.

What was your project on Tara?

LF:  My project was to make a film on board Tara. I wanted to observe the boat like the stage of a theater,  regard the movements, gestures, the activity of everyone aboard the boat. All these movements could intersect, take place at the same time, and this creates a kind of choreography. This is an independent project, an independent film that could be shown at a festival or art center.

CS:  I am developing a project inspired by the journey taken by the French astronomer Jules Janssen to photograph the passage of Venus across the sun in 1874. For my project, developed in partnership with the French Society of Photography, I am particularly interested in old techniques developed at the time, and the problems of movement and recording of such an event. I am trying to make a kind of preliminary sketch book, partly on Tara.

What does it mean for you to be on Tara?

LF:  I discovered Tara from other artists who were on board, and then I was able to visit the schooner in Paris a year or two ago. It was then that my project really materialized. This resembled almost a type of dream, in the sense of everything related to the unknown, relative to the boat, navigation, the fact of traveling, of leaving. It’s an experience that is truly unique and rare.

CS:  I’ve always been fascinated by this boat, which really makes me think of a vessel, something between a boat and a submarine, like the Nautilus. This is a truly unique boat, so it was very important for me to be aboard. As an artist, Tara gives me inspiration. Photos can be taken everywhere – in the engine room or during scientific experiments. I didn’t think I’d be taking so many images. I feared at the outset that it would be more monotonous, less intense, but in fact, it was very varied.

Why is it important to have resident artists on Tara?

LF:  I find it very stimulating that artists can observe and contribute a view on the scientific activity of the boat and on the boat itself. I was wondering recently how the work done aboard Tara will be seen in a couple of years. I guess things will have evolved a lot, but what vision will people have of all of this? So, it is interesting to have the views of artists – it’s another way of archiving.

CS:  It’s really a good thing to mix artists and scientists. Contrary to what one might think, they are not so different from each other. Each person in his own way is trying to understand reality. It’s also an incredible opportunity for artists, who are neither scientists nor sailors, to  voyage on a boat like Tara. There are so few artists’ residencies like this – it’s really an amazing opportunity.

Interview by Yann Chavance