Jean-Louis Etienne visits Tara


22 November 2011

The French explorer had an emotional rendez-vous with his former sailboat “Antarctica”, now called Tara. This was the occasion to share with the crew many memories linked to the boat since its construction in 1989. Tara has come a long way since then!

Today, Tara continues its outreach program by hosting over 50 students from the San Diego French American School. The crew welcomes the children, and in small groups they visit the boat from deck to berths, passing through the Wet Lab and the machine room.

The pupils are studious and very curious about everything. It’s no wonder — for months in class they’ve followed Tara’s voyage, and are thrilled to be actually on board. Among the groups, a familiar face appears: Jean-Louis Etienne, who lives in San Diego, has come to visit the crew before they embark on the open seas.

He conceived this boat with the help of engineer Michel Franco and architects Luc Bouvet and Olivier Petit, and named her “Antarctica”. Constructed to withstand Arctic ice, the boat sailed across the world’s oceans with Jean-Louis on board. Purchased and rebaptised “Seamaster” in 1996 by the famous New Zealand navigator Sir Peter Blake, then acquired by Etienne Bourgois in 2003 especially for the Tara Arctic expedition, the boat has undergone numerous transformations.

But for Jean-Louis Etienne, it’s still the same boat, which took him across the world. “I have the feeling that I never left. A part of me is still here,” reminisces the explorer, deeply moved by his memories. “I could walk the length of the boat without even opening my eyes.” Moving around, as if on familiar ground, he notices here and there a cabin transformed into a lab, a wooden panel removed, a new control instrument. Surrounded by the whole crew, the French explorer recalls his adventures on this same deck, the boat’s past technical problems, the good times and the bad.

Memories are evoked wherever he looks, and the audience is enthralled to be in the company of a living witness. Even if there’s a whiff of nostalgia, we feel this man is happy to see his former boat in such good hands. “When I put her up for sale, some people wanted to use her for cruises,” he sighs. “Here, she’s found her place. I’m proud of what she’s doing as Tara”.

Loïc, the captain, takes the opportunity to ask for information about Clipperton, our next stop. Looking at a large map of the island, Jean-Louis Etienne, who led a 4-month expedition there in 2005, explains where to approach, where to anchor. Vital information for the crew: Clipperton is Tara’s next destination, half-way between San Diego and Panama. Our departure for Jean-Louis Etienne’s esteemed island is scheduled for Thursday!

Yann Chavance