Questions and Answers with Tara Captain Martin Hertau

© Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions

17 February 2017

After boarding Tara this past October in Moorea, Martin has sailed Tara almost 8,500 nautical miles through 16 atolls, 11 islands, and 8 countries to reach Fukuoka, Japan in 5 months and a week. In the midst of his demanding schedule, he gave us some of his valuable time to tell us more about his experience as captain.


Martin Hertau rencontre le roi de WallisCaptain Martin Hertau  introduces Tara to the king of Wallis © Pierre de Parscau / Fondation Tara Expéditions


How do you feel about visiting Japan for the first time and what are you most excited to experience?

I’m very excited to visit Japan. In college, I was involved in a film festival where the guest of the year was Japanese. Before that, I did not know much about the Land of the Rising Sun, but I met Japanese performers and saw many different movies. Ever since, I have been fascinated by the mix of modernity contrasted with the weight of tradition. I have always known I would visit Japan one day and luckily that day has come with Tara.


Where did you begin this leg of the trip, how long have you been aboard, and what were the highlights of this leg for you?

Scientists aboard have taken thousands of samples, we have completed hundreds of dives, dozens of scientists and crew have been aboard. Often it has been in unbearable heat, working/living on a ship built for the Arctic in the Equator. It has been a very rich experience filled with mixed emotions and an array of experiences. We have met with kings and chiefs, spent the night in a fale (traditional hut), we experienced an island church service, and ate pork cooked in a traditional oven.


Chief Scientist Didier Zoccola and Captain Martain Hertau hold an early morning press conference with NOAA in Washington DC_photo credit Sarah FretwellChief Scientist Didier Zoccola and Captain Martin Hertau hold an early morning conference with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA – US) in Washington DC © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions 


Patience has been key to navigating the Pacific. Long hours waiting in government offices stuck in bureaucracy meant we could talk to locals about their islands, way of life, and how they do or don’t protect the environment. I have spent countless hours on boat papers, obtaining clearance in and out of each port, and trying to obtain CITES permits for the coral samples. I met many people with an array of views on the impacts of climate change. In Tuvalu (waiting for permits), I asked an administrator about sea level rise. She said, “We don’t have a problem with that. God has a plan for everybody and so he has a plan for us”.

I was truly impressed by the Tuamotu’s lush tropical backdrop that fulfills every western Polynesian’s dream. We were often surrounded by humpback whales and even swam with them. The Wallis atoll was magical when we arrived after four days’ navigation, with incredible light illuminating the bright blue water contrasted with the green endemic trees. Before Futuna, 50% of the dives we did found bleached and dead reefs. The feeling aboard was we were witnessing the impending doom for coral reefs around the plant. However, dives off of Alofi Atoll were the best we experienced during the past 4 months – colorful and very alive. We were elated to discover a healthy reef in Polynesia. We have been lucky to do some gorgeous nights dives with sea snakes in Niue, and some tremendous wrecks dives in Chuuk.


Captain Martain Hertau and Chief Engineer Daniel Cron upon finding the boats telegraph on Fujikawa shipwreck_photo credit Pete WestCaptain Martin Hertau and Chief Engineer Daniel Cron upon finding the boats telegraph on Fujikawa shipwreck © Pete West / BioQuest Studios 


What is the most challenging part of being the captain aboard Tara?

Life onboard is intense. The mission of Tara is very ambitious and it is not always easy to coordinate the science, public relations, tight time schedules, and weather conditions. There is always another destination, each stop over is different, and you need to be in front of the situation for the success of the expedition. It is extremely interesting and there is always a challenge. Weeks have flown by in no time. In this job you are continually passing through so many new experiences and always focused on the next thing that needs to be done. It is only when you stop you have time to reflect and that you can take in the entire experience.


What is your plan after you get off the boat?

It’s not sure yet. I’m waiting for an answer about seaman certificate, I have two options that will lead to completely different paths. I will either return to my boat in Guatemala and get some rest or start an upper certificate to update my captain’s license and go to school for the next year !

To be continued….

Sarah Fretwell

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