Tara soon in the Gulf Stream

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25 January 2012

Tara arrived Friday, January 20th in Savannah, Georgia, in the southeastern United States. On Thursday, the schooner will set sail for New York, and during this leg will sample seawater from the region where of the Gulf Stream begins. Among the 15 crew members, the navigator and journalist Catherine Chabaud, embarked on this leg and re-discovered Tara with open joy.
Anybody who has returned to sail on Tara knows that seeing the “whale” again is a very emotional moment. I first looked for 2 masts of the same size, with their fluorescent orange tops, and after spotting those, I saw her rounded flanks sitting high in the water. And then a flood of memories came back, from my other voyages aboard Tara : unloading skis with the “Mountains of Silence” team, at the beginning of Shackleton’s Route, in South Georgia; sailing amidst the ice of the Antarctic Peninsula, the long hours on the foredeck with Sebastião Salgado, the photographer, waiting for a leopard seal to appear, the conversations in the wheelhouse or in the mess-room.
Since then, a wet lab has been added on Tara’s deck which allows scientists to filter water samples collected by the rosette, which is also kept on the back deck. A cabin has been transformed into an “optical laboratory” (the “dry lab”) where scientists analyze and photograph the freshly sampled microorganisms with cameras and microscopes.
One thing struck me since I boarded 2 days ago: during the expeditions I participated in before, in South Georgia and Antarctica, our favorite subjects were icebergs, penguins, and sea lions — photographed and filmed from every possible angle. Today, on the Tara Oceans expedition, our stars are viruses, bacteria, diatoms, copepods…They are the focus of everybody’s attention and subject of all conversations. A flat screen on a wall in the mess-room shows images of magnified “sea dust”, mostly invisible to the naked eye, exhibiting their unusual and beautiful forms.
In the days before departure, there’s excitement on board: scientists are preparing their sample tubes, using the protocol defined in advance for the entire expedition. With Loïc Valletta, captain, they analyze charts showing the currents, and study ideal locations for the next sampling stations. In the morning, high school students from Savannah visit Tara. On Tuesday morning, I shared this experience with advisors at the ‘Conseil Economique, Social et Environmental’, live via Skype. Tuesday afternoon, the two leaders of this scientific leg, Lars Stemman and Daniele Iudicone, presented the work of Tara Oceans at the University of Savannah, and in the evening there were cocktails for the crew: Marc Picheral, research engineer at the Laboratory of Oceanography in Villefranche, had just learned that the CNRS was awarding him the “Cristal”, the highest distinction for a research enginneer.
On Thursday, we will go down the Savannah River, like the container ships which transit here. Savannah is considered to be the second largest commercial port in the United States. The sea is 20 nautical miles away and we should have fair wind for our departure.
Good luck to all. You’ll be hearing from me soon, out in the open sea!
Catherine Chabaud