Sam, Captain of icy waters


21 June 2013

Farewell Tromsø (Norway)! We’re now heading towards Murmansk (Russia). Tara and Samuel Audrain are very familiar with the passage amongst the fjords. In 2006, before starting the Arctic drift, the boat and the sailor had taken the same route. At that time Samuel was a sailor but today, he’s the captain!

From Tromsø to Dudinka, Samuel Audrain will be at the helm of the research sailboat. Like his predecessor Loïc Vallette, Samuel knew how to trim a sail almost before he learned to walk! For him, the sea is like a close relative. In the Audrain family, the uncle restored old rigs; the great-grand-father was a sea captain at the time when steamships began to seriously cast their shadow over sailboats. The aunt is an ocean photographer, and the grandfather spends his free time sailing on “Jacaré”, a 10-meter Melody.

On the waves of the Loire, a few kilometers from Nantes, Samuel began sailing very early on a Hobie Cat 16, and also windsurfing. “I was just ten years old when my uncle introduced me to windsurfing. I wasn’t heavy enough to raise the sail, so he gave me a backpack full of water bottles.” At sixteen, the “landlubber” escorted his first boat from Greece to the south of France with his grandfather. After such a great adventure, it was difficult to stop. Samuel became an instructor at the Glénans sailing school and then passed a sailing certificate, before earning a BPPV, a certificate for sailboat skippers. In Brittany and the West Indies, the young man spent his time on or underwater!

Thanks to his diving skills, Samuel experienced for the first time the world of exploration. On Clipperton Island, he embarked on an expedition led by Jean-Louis Etienne, the famous French explorer and former owner of Antarctica before the schooner became Tara. The Clipperton expedition was taking an inventory of the atoll’s flora and fauna, and Sam joined the diving logistics team. “That’s when I realized I was diving without really knowing the ropes.” To remedy this, on his return he enrolled in a professional diver’s training course. With his dual qualifications, Sam approached Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditions. Jean-Louis Etienne had given him the contact.

Samuel succeeded again! In 2005, he embarked on the polar sailboat. After a stopover in Cape Verde, he went to South Georgia to take part in a scientific mission involving the retreat of glaciers, observation of petrels and counting sea lions. Following a second mission to South Georgia and a shipyard stint in Lorient, Samuel sailed aboard Tara until the last Siberian stop before the pack ice. “We passed through the same places: Tromsø, Murmansk … It’s nice to return here, people recognize us!” During this period, the sailor began to think seriously about machines. “I quickly realized that the engines on Tara are very important!.” Hoping to re-embark, Samuel went back to school to learn mechanics.

After obtaining a Mechanics 750kW diploma, his wish was granted. He re-joined Tara during the Arctic drift, and remained on board eleven months as a mechanic. A few days before embarking, using his skills as a diver, Samuel discovered a dangerous new element: the ice. He became completely enamoured! Even the sounds of creaking sea ice did not discourage him. In 2010, in between two legs of the Tara Oceans expedition, Sam embarked on the expedition “Under the Pole.” The objective of that mission: filming beneath the Arctic ice. In the Canadian aircraft that flew them to the North Pole, Samuel noticed a Tara sticker. “This was the same pilot who had dropped us for the Arctic drift !” Clearly the world of exploration is not very big.

Insatiable adventurer and student, in 2011 Samuel passed the Captain 500 certificate. He now had the qualifications and especially the experience necessary to command Tara. So when Roman Troublé proposed that he embark on the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition as Captain, the professional navigator and passionate “ice-man” just couldn’t say no! The rest of the story will unfold in the coming days.


Anna Deniaud Garcia