Taranauts and Taradogs


6 October 2007

On board Tara, there are presently twelve living creatures: ten bipeds and two quadrupeds. Zagrey and Tiksi are two Laïka Yakouts dogs. Hervé Bourmaud, captain of the polar schooner is their master. This is no coincidence.

Outside of Tara, Hervé is a fisherman on the island of Yeu in Vendée. He has been passionate about dogs for ever. He had dogs onboard of his previous boats. He is nostalgic about “his tramp” with who he crossed the Atlantic several times. His tramp, sea companion of many nautical miles was a sea griffon that was capable of tying relations with humans, whether disabled or not, sometimes better than humans themselves.

It is the same spirit that ties Zagrey, Tiksi and Hervé together here on the ice. They are pack ice comrades of long nights and days. “The first job of the dogs is surveillance. A dog is worth a gun when it comes to watching out for bears”. Their attributions are not limited to this. They are also expected to yap if the pack ice moves. Hervé skips the details on the long cuddles and the fuss these two ice dogs regularly make over their “boss” and the crew.

But it took time to come to this. Patience, firmness and attention also. When he set foot on Tara for the first time, Zagrey the oldest of the two dogs was already nine years old. Tiksi was a puppy of two months barely weaned. Once Tara was in high sea, Zagrey had trouble getting accustomed to life on sea. According to Hervé, he was even sick. One has to say that Zagrey is originally a hunter, a toundra dog, tracking polar bears so not really a sailor.

After the sea, the ice also was a new stage in the adventure of the “taradogs”. Zagrey very much at ease did not want to climb back on the deck after having walked on the pack ice. Tiksi on the other hand was very fearful and panicked after his first ocean bath. Temperature: -30°. Little by little, Hervé has defined their personalities. “Zagrey is White Fang, a wolf who follows men. Very independent, tempted by long breakaways. We tamed each other slowly. Tiksi, more of a homebody at first, is becoming a real ice dog. Agile, brave. Standing up now to the bears. He has proven to be a very good draught dog which is not the case for Zagrey. But Tiksi has his pet peeve. Every thing that flies : bird, plane, helicopter”.

With all this accumulated experience, canalized and trained by Hervé, Tiksi and Zagrey are starting their second polar night onboard Tara; Soon, they will let themselves be covered by snow so as to surprise the bear. Hidden in the night. Theirs two eyes glimmering through darkness. “In contrast with expeditions like Nansen, the dogs are insured of their survival except in the case of a major incident. Today with freezers, the dogs are no longer considered as a meat reserve.”

What will the future hold for the two dogs after the drift? Hervé thinks that Zagrey will not be able to adapt himself to other latitudes; he will remain on the Spitzberg islands for reproduction. This race of Yakouts is much sought after. And Tiksi? Hervé cannot bring himself to leave him. “I shall take him with to France” It is sentimental between us. Belle, the bitch that Hervé still has on his island “the widow of tramp” can thus start a new life… of a dog.

Vincent Hilaire