10 June 2015
In the aluminum belly of TARA, the correspondent’s office is as much a laboratory as a refuge. Nestled below the main cabin, the space is shared with the captain’s desk. For over 10 years, different storytellers have taken turns aboard. Each one has left his or her mark in the pages of the logbook, translating the adventures of Tara into words and images, and offering readers a chance to take part in these exceptional expeditions. The authors have turned their stories into memories, and continue to pass the flame from one voyage to another.
For the first time, we were 2 correspondents aboard TARA in Lorient this week. Two generations of journalists: the long experience of Vincent Hilaire confronting my recent discovery of TARA. This was an opportunity for me to put Vincent on the other side of the camera, and talk with him about his love affair with the schooner: a journalistic romance that began in 2007 during the Tara Arctic expedition, somewhere on the ice pack.
“I had landed on the ice pack one kilometer from the boat which was caught in the ice. The crew on board came to fetch us. We arrived aboard Tara in this incredible landscape. I went up on deck, and they had prepared a welcome meal in the main cabin. I was overwhelmed by the smells of kerosene, humans, and food. It wasn’t very appetizing (laughs). But it was really amazing to be there on the ice for an indeterminate time.” A first impression of amazement at the landscape that Vincent has continued to translate through his numerous photographs, alternating color and black and white. Not easy today to choose his favorite among them if he could keep only one. “There were so many beautiful things,” he says with a smile. I would probably keep the photo that still hangs in the main cabin of the boat. This photo shows TARA head-on, some 80 meters in front of the bow – a ghost ship stuck in ice and the polar night. It was a very emotional moment, and the photo is like evidence for me – proof that I was really there. It will certainly be one of the best images of my life.”
Son of a sports journalist, Vincent worked for France 3 and spent 20 years writing for the daily press. Aboard Tara for a total of a year and a half, he was able to experience the different aspects of the correspondent’s job. “This was a new profession that I’d never done before. I was a member of the crew, and filmed people in proximity, not easy on a boat, and even less so during a polar expedition. Journalists like to get answers, but must absolutely understand the fact that we’re living a very special experience. It takes a lot of psychology. It’s a fascinating position, but requires adaptability. It’s a different job from being a journalist on land, and a real pleasure to be an ambassador for this great adventure. One learns to juggle photography, writing, video, and also participate in maneuvering the boat. “The correspondent’s involvement in daily life aboard must not prevent him from preserving the essential: his point of view. “You have to describe the work that all the people on board are accomplishing with great modesty, competence and passion. Focusing on them while keeping a little distance allows you to remain an observer.”
Writing day after day the adventures of TARA is not an easy task, and despite the richness of these adventures as a team, the individual is sometimes neglected. “It’s a fabulous enrichment: sometimes you relay difficult scientific subjects, other times very strong human stories that touch the public. We’re like a repository of the beauty of these teams; new people are always relaying each other aboard, because embarking is a big investment of time, and we are sometimes happy to return to land.
Returning to land is always a moment of respite for Vincent, until he feels the call of adventure again. “I love the sea, voyages, meeting people. I get real happiness from this. It gives meaning to my life and my work. Every time I meet up with TARA, whether here in Lorient or on the other side of the world, the 2 orange masts appearing on the horizon is always very moving.”
Vincent is currently finishing his documentary project “Greenlandia” devoted to the Inuits. He will follow Tara closely in the Pacific next year on an expedition about coral reefs.
Once a Taranaute, always a Taranaute.
Interview by Pierre de Parscau