12 May 2017
Tara has been traveling towards the South Pacific for the past few days, heading for Fiji, more precisely for Lautoka, with arrival expected on the first of June. 6 sailors, 5 scientists and a journalist are aboard, living in complete autonomy for a whole month of sailing. On the high seas, Taranauts maintain a fast pace determined by the rhythm of sampling stations, daily tasks and night shifts. This leg is the longest of the Tara Pacific expedition.
744 hours of navigation. A unique experience for 13 people living in full autonomy aboard an oceanographic vessel. But what is “autonomy” at sea? The dictionary gives this definition of the word: “Time during which a device can function without outside intervention”. Regarding Tara, this definition is not limited to the supply of food and fuel.
Energy independence is indeed one of the main concerns of Captain Samuel Audrain: “Fuel oil is an important concern because we have to arrive on schedule. But fuel is expensive and weighs down the boat. So we have to make some calculations. We departed with 25,000 liters — the reservoir a little more than half full. And as soon as conditions are right, we hoist the sails and choose a direction to get maximum benefit from the wind. Being powered by the wind makes everyone feel happy, stabilizes the boat, and spares the motors. We move much faster, and of course our carbon footprint is much improved”.
All sails outside, the schooner advances at a speed of 7 knots © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Samuel continues: “Water autonomy is also a crucial point. We have a 6000-liter tank and a desalinator. In case of a problem with this machine, we have 390 liters of bottled water which, theoretically, would keep us going for a week”.
When embarking aboard the schooner, risks related to the remoteness of medical care must be considered. In the event of a problem, the Taranauts would not be lacking for care. The boat carries medical equipment labelled “Dotation A” consisting of materials and medicines determined by the type of navigation practiced, and the number and function of people on board. The letter “A” means that the schooner has a well-stocked pharmacy, and that sailors are trained to measure vital signs, and place sutures or perfusions if necessary.
When it comes to safety, the watchword is clear: “Forbidden to get hurt on board!” First mate Nicolas Bin repeats this rule to each newcomer during the security briefing. “Each person must take care of his own safety and that of his team”. We have to respect the sleep of the Taranauts who all take turns doing night watch. “We try to take into account the capacities of each person because we need to function well over a long period. Team members must find their own rhythm, balancing hours of sleep and work. Paying attention to the crew’s rest is an important aspect of safety on board”, remarks the Captain.
The crew simulated a man overboard exercise © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Interrupted sleep, hard work, extreme heat — this crossing is far from any romantic images one might have. Remember that Tara is a polar vessel currently sailing in a tropical zone. Crew and equipment are like coral, they suffer from high temperatures. Samuel Audrain explains: “Our navigation instruments could not withstand the temperatures that the sailors bear from time to time”. Air conditioning makes it possible to maintain a moderate temperature in the PC Com and also in the dry lab where essential instruments function 24 hours a day.
For Marion Lauters, sailor/cook, managing the food stocks is a real challenge. Her “little worry” is keeping things cool. “Aboard Tara we don’t have much space in the refrigerators. Another place partly reserved for food storage is the front hold, but it’s not insulated and varies according to the outside temperature — more than 30°C at the moment. Also, there’s a generator in this hold, but I negotiated with the chief mechanic so it’s not being used”. As for food stocks, there’s no worry! Marion knows very well the quantities consumed on board: “I multiply what we eat by the number of weeks and people. Coffee is about 250g per day, the same as butter. Flour is between 800 grams and 1 kilo per day.” For this leg, nothing will be lacking. The risk is being overweight!
Autonomy aboard Tara for such a long time requires a lot more than some bunches of bananas, a stock of preserves and a reservoir of fuel. This crossing requires a great deal of planning, precise logistics and a highly competent team.