26 July 2017
Interview with Daniel Cron in Whangarei, New Zealand, where Tara has stopped for repairs. Engines, electricity, painting, the schooner undergoes a midway overhaul in the southern hemisphere’s winter weather.
Tara was in dry dock maintenance for several months in Lorient before the expedition departure. Why is Tara in dry dock now, a year after leaving her home port?
A ship is like a car and needs to be maintained. To do this, you take it to a mechanic. I’m the chief engineer here: I ensure the proper functioning of the engines for propulsion, generators for electricity, desalinator for drinking water and many other small repairs. Dry dock maintenance is a bit like the “technical control” for cars, with the difference that Tara is much more complex than a car, because in addition to mechanics, there’s the “sailing” dimension!
During an expedition, we always organize at least one month of dry dock maintenance each year, but when preparing for a new mission, some maintenance can take 4-6 months! Moreover, the “whale” (Tara’s nickname) is now an “elderly lady”: 28 years is a lot for a ship, and she needs to receive increasing care year after year.
To prepare for the second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, overhauling the schooner continues in dry dock. © Tara Expéditions Foundation
Who works in the maintenance shipyard? Are people sailors and mechanics at the same time?
Dry dock maintenance for a sailor is literally changing your way of life! The expedition is put on hold during maintenance and all the scientists go back to their labs. We take the vessel out of the water which is always impressive! Then begins a ballet of coming and going between the stores, and technicians coming to support us during the repairs. No more night shifts and no more scientific sampling. During the maintenance, we live like you landlubbers, although still on board. It’s a rare thing for us and we value the opportunity to easily communicate with our loved ones, go to a restaurant, the swimming pool, and sometimes even explore a region. It also feels good to get out of the ship for a while. A small team of 6 or 7 sailors usually remains on board and everyone contributes and becomes somewhat of a “mechanic”. Days are busy, we don’t count hours. Maintenance in dry dock is always intense!
Tara in dry dock for repairs. © Nicolas de la Brosse / Tara Expéditions Foundation
What type of work is performed?
Maintenance in the shipyard is usually carried out, either because we haven’t had time to do it earlier (between science and navigation), or because it’s impossible to stop the equipment for repairs while sailing, or simply because it requires very specific tools we don’t have on board. During each maintenance, there are many recurring small repairs, almost mandatory every year: cleaning the hull, checking the sea water valves (to avoid stupidly sinking), painting, welding, cleaning, and of course, everything associated with safety! Everything has to be checked: medical equipment (needed in the event of an accident), firefighting equipment (in case of fire), and the various distress and safety systems (in the event of abandoning ship). In addition, there are some major works specifically planned for this dry dock in New Zealand, for instance, fitting silencers on the engines’ exhaust pipes to reduce noise, installation of new propellers to go faster and consume less fuel, replacing the desalinator, and many more. We continuously try to improve daily life aboard the schooner and to renovate when needed!
In what shape are Tara’s engines?
Even though Tara is a sailboat, we have 2 engines aboard that allow us to maneuver in port or move forward when there’s not enough wind. Each of them drives a propeller. The chief engineer is fully aware of their importance and spends his time taking great care of them! Over time, it feels like a real relationship has developed between the three of us (laughs). I have a particular relationship with these machines, even to the point where I personify them! Now, everyone on board knows these “ladies” under their respective nicknames, “Brigitte” and “Thérèse”, respectively located on the port (bâbord in French) and starboard (tribord) sides. Who knows if they don’t have their own secret feelings? (laughs).
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