Portrait of Nicolas Bin, first mate

© Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions

19 June 2017

The list of the first mate’s tasks is long, very long. If we were to cite his most important responsibility, it would certainly be safety. At age 36, Nicolas Bin takes his job seriously, with rigor and a profound knowledge of the boat. That’s what it takes to be in the N° 2 position aboard Tara. Before he leaves the boat after 5 months of mission, here’s a lively portrait of Tara’s first mate:

Can you talk about my shorts and boots in this portrait?” Despite his responsibilities, the first mate maintains his keen sense of humor. A cheerful type with hair just starting to turn gray, he enjoys making plays on words. Trained at the Glénans school of sailing, Nicolas did not consider the profession of sailor immediately. After his baccalaureat, he hesitated between pursuing studies in music (at a conservatory) or sports (at the fac). But the music lover/black belt in judo finally chose a third alternative: the sea.

When asked what he likes about sailing, Nicolas replies: “It’s one of the last spaces of liberty. I love traveling and meeting people, and from a technical point of view, I enjoy maneuvering the boat and adjusting the sails. When I sail, I always imagine the boat seen from the outside. I try to visualize its aesthetics”. Despite his Alsatian origins, Nicolas began sailing at age 10 with his father in Plobsheim.   “When I was a child, at the end of  a summer vacation the last swim in the sea was a special moment. It was a separation from the sea and I always said a special goodbye”.

After a year and a half as a volunteer at Les Glénans, Nicolas passed the national sailing certification in Quiberon, then was certified “Patron de plaisance” in Cherbourg. From 2005 to 2007, he worked between France and the West Indies as an itinerant “Chef de base”, training instructors for the UCPA. Afterwards he did many back and forth trips between Egypt and Marseilles, but also across the Atlantic. Of all the boats he sailed, only one really caught his attention: “Shooting Star”, a 60-foot former racing catamaran. “I liked that boat very much because it was rugged, with a very elegant profile. It was my first big boat”. Afterwards Nicolas alternated seasons in Corsica and Ushuaia, then went to warm up in French Polynesia on a charter dive boat.

Aboard Tara, the first mate is at the heart of human relations. Each time the scientific team changes, Nicolas is in charge of welcoming new arrivals, explaining the functioning of the boat, organizing the night shift, etc. His briefing on safety and life on board is well established and leaves out no details. He gathers new arrivals around the large table in the main cabin to talk about the challenges of group living and the joys of sharing household chores. And he always gives this warning: “Forbidden to injure yourself on board. Everyone must watch over his own safety and that of others…When there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt: if you smell a suspicious smell, hear a suspicious noise, tell a sailor”.


First Mate Nico Bin getting his first look at Japan_photo credit Sarah Fretwell_0Q8A3656© Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


For Loïc Caudan, one of the 2 head mechanics aboard, “It’s pleasant and easy to work with Nico. I think we have the same way of apprehending work on board. He’s always motivated to lend a hand, whatever the task to accomplish, even the most unpleasant. The first mate’s role is very important: he’s the link between crew and captain, between scientists and crew. Nicolas is very good in this role. He puts everyone at ease with his irresistible charm”.

Charming, even a crooner, he never holds back at the piano: “He could have lived in another era” says Daniel Cron, the other head mechanic.  “He has a slightly jazzy, retro side”. I could see him playing in the smoky bars of New Orleans with the greats of the time — Amstrong, Parker, etc.”

When Nicolas’ name is mentioned to Samuel Audrain, the Captain praises him highly: “He’s the ideal first mate — a guy who really knows how to sail and has experience in sailing, which is important aboard Tara. He likes things well done. Nico is also a sensitive guy you can really talk to. And it’s nice to share something other than work. We often get together to play music”.


P2170647© Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


After a day’s work, the 2 men meet to ‘let go’, Samuel on the accordion and Nicolas at the piano. The wheelhouse, PC Com or workshop are transformed into a rehearsal room. The duo plays and replays the same melodies over and over: Libertango; Tango for Claude, Besame Mucho…Sometimes, at the request of the Taranauts, the musicians set up in the main cabin. Crew members start to sing and dance, with more or less talent, but always in good humor. With big smiles, Sam and Nico get totally into the music, playing until they drop.


Noëlie Pansiot

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