December 12: Tara’s departure and launch of the 2020 Microbiome mission

This Saturday, December 12, after months of preparation for the Microbiome mission and 5 years after adoption of the Paris Agreement, the research schooner Tara set sail for 2 years of new scientific and human adventures across the South Atlantic Ocean. Video feedback on this exciting moment.

Follow the adventures of the schooner and her crew of sailors and scientists on our Facebook, Instagram et YouTube pages and on a live map on the Tara Microbiome mission page (French version)!

We thank our partners for their ongoing support: agnès b., BIC, Altran France, Fondation Groupe EDF, CNR, L’Oréal Group, Biotherm, Fondation Veolia, Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco, BillerudKorsnäs, Fondation Léa Nature, France Collectivités, Allianz, Vitamont, Phare d’Eckmühl, Smile Wave, Komori Chambon, Albert Bichot, Neuflize, CNRS, CEA Paris-Saclay, European Molecular Biology Laboratory – EMBL, Center for Mathematical Modeling, Région Bretagne, IOC-UNESCO, Office français de la biodiversité, IAGF, Lorient Agglomération , Fonds français pour l’Environnement mondial, CLEMI, la CASDEN, l’ADEME, le CEDRE, l’AEFE, la Fondation des d’Entreprise Air France, Ministère de l’Education Nationale et de la Jeunesse, la Fondation la Main à la Pâte, la Fondation BIC, World Courier, Panasonic, Thalos, Suzuki, Zeppelin, Jardins Bio, Serge Ferrari, Laurent Perrier, Cummins France, North Sails, Furuno, Vuarnet, Mercator Ocean, Agence 55, Sika et Timezero.

A look back at a stormy navigation in the English Channel

“The schooner Tara is leaving the “five port city” (Lorient, in Brittany), foghorns sounding the charge against Aeolus and his forces. Indeed, the sea is far from calm. A few fishermen greet us in their eternal foul weather gear.

A yellow sky accompanies us, the water is gray, and the wave crest fades as we sail out to the open sea. After 2 months in dry dock, the schooner finds her marks again as she exits the harbor. Sails are flapping, the rope tension is being adjusted, winches are rattling, the whole structure is adapting until it reaches a high point: gentle breathing.

The captain wants to achieve wind/rigging symbiosis. He praises softness: “When you can feel the boat breathing, it means she’s a little loose”;. Regarding the rigging of booms, he says: “See there, it’s slack; now, it’s good”;. The whole crew is active: the chief engineer is casually strolling around the deck, wearing hearing protection; the first mate has lost his thermostat once again and is setting the sails; Monch is carefully coiling ropes in a figure-eight pattern; the cook is sharpening her knives, and the deck officer is inspecting the rigging. The captain is finally sailing away from mainland, his cap secured on his head, looking pleased through the igloo opening, sometimes asking around: “Are you happy?” Caring about everyone’s opinion, he often consults the other crew members.

The swell makes the schooner oscillate between two fictional points. Her beautiful female curves, rounded hips and wide hull make Tara a protective matriarch in the Ocean matrix. We are near the Glenan Islands, a pod of dolphins surfing ahead of the bow. Let’s seize the moment, resting on the yankee, the slow motion of the stern, the swell breaking into a constellation of ocean spray while we sail around Armorica, a peninsula stretching westward, a promise for dusk. We will lower Tara‘s masts and sail up the Seine. Lutetia awaits us to hoist them again.”

Tommy Jegou, sailor on board

First samples from the Thames

Tara went to sea to reach the first European river for sampling: the Thames. Jean-François Ghiglione, scientific director of the Microplastics Mission 2019 shares these first impressions, observations and questions.

A thirteenth stroke of midnight was exceptionally struck by the schooner Tara for her departure from Saint Malo. Some faithful friends made the trip in the middle of the night to wish us good luck. We pull our rain gear over our ears and everyone is on deck with a big smile for the start of the Microplastics Mission 2019. We congratulate each other for all the preparatory work it took to launch this new mission. Let’s go hunting for microplastics!

The sea is calm to slightly agitated — ideal conditions for testing the equipment. The dress rehearsal will last two days. Time to create that special link between sailors and scientists; time for everyone to find their bearings. Protocols are discussed, materials are secured, labels are affixed so that the precious samples can then find their way to the 12 partner laboratories.

The famous London smog welcomes us for our first sampling at sea, off the Thames estuary. We are a little tense, afraid to botch this first sampling. The sea has considerable swell, but the crew is experienced in deploying the Manta net we will use to filter microplastics from more than 100,000 liters of water. It will take 2 hours of sampling and 3 hours of processing to finish this first station. But the tide doesn’t wait, and we must leave for the second station in the estuary before we’ve finished the first. Our work day will end at 3 in the morning. We’re not yet broken in!

Sampling stations will follow one another along the Thames. We’ll use a light boat to collect samples below London while the schooner Tara remains moored close to the famous Tower Bridge. Later, all the equipment will be transported ashore by the team to avoid the locks and to complete the sampling above London, which will serve us as a reference to evaluate the effect of this large city on pollution.

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Alexandra Ter Halle, scientific on board Tara, studies the first samples of microplastics © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Ocean Foundation

Under the microscope, microplastics are present. By the hundreds. Many are microbeads used in cosmetics. There are so-called ‘mermaid’s tears’, granules that come directly from plastic manufacturers. There’s much more plastic than what the team usually observes at sea. Fibers from clothing, expanded polystyrene pellets from food trays, pieces of plastic bags. A lollipop stick and some candy packages are the only ‘big’ garbage collected. Microplastics (< 5 mm) make up more than 90% of the harvest. The first observation of this mission: most plastics arriving at sea from the Thames are already in the form of microplastics. Is this an exception or a generality? What about other rivers in Europe? The schooner is already on her way, continuing the journey to answer this question.

 Jean-François Ghiglione

On the way to Boston

Tara left New York for Boston where she will be docked until October 4th. The agitated 3-day trip included numerous discussions on plastic pollution in the ocean.

1- Tara devant la Statue de la liberte_Celine Bellanger_Tara Expeditions Foundation Tara with the Statue of Liberty in the background © Céline Bellanger / Tara Expeditions Foundation

As with every departure, heading out to sea aboard Tara is a real adventure! Apart from the assistance of a few electric winches, almost everything is still done by hand: casting off the heavy moorings, hoisting sails and manning the “coffee grinder”. Leaving New York once the sails were up, the magic was there. With a cooperative wind, full sails and speed of 15 knots, Tara moved away from Manhattan and saluted the Statue of Liberty in passing.

Depart de New York : Celine Bellanger : Tara expeditions5 Martin Hertau, Tara’s captain, and Nicolas Bin, first mate, at the “coffee grinder” © Céline Bellanger / Tara Expeditions Foundation

After this beautiful New York Bay crossing, the crew encountered an agitated ocean: heavy seas with troughs of more than 3 meters, and an especially unfavourable wind. With its rounded, rather flat hull, Tara adapts badly to headwinds and close-hauling. Everybody was shaken up and the less-experienced just had to grin and bear it.

Nina Goodrich, directrice de l’ONG Sustainable Packaging Coalition _ Celine Bellanger _ Fondation Tara ExpeditionsNina Goodrich, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition © Céline Bellanger / Tara Expeditions Foundation

On the third day, the sea regained its calm and passionate discussions resumed on board. Several new team members had joined the schooner in New York, including Chris Bowler, Eric Karsenti and Emmanuel Boss, 3 scientists who have been involved in the Tara adventure for many years.

Others were aboard the schooner for the first time — Nina Goodrich, director of the NGO Sustainable Packaging Coalition (GreenBlue), and Henrick Anden of BillerudKornäs. Both are researching plastic pollution in the ocean.

Céline Bellanger

Tara studying Taiwan’s biodiversity

For 4 days Tara successfully continued scientific research, then weighed anchor and left behind Orchid Island and Green Island, off the eastern coast of Taiwan.

Tara Pacific’s 3 target species were found and collected on site. According to Emilie Boissin, scientific coordinator of this mission (CRIOBE), “these sites are interesting because they represent the northern boundary of the distribution area for these tropical species”.

Porites lobata (commonly known as lobe coral), Millepora platyphylla (plate fire coral) and Pocillopora meandrina (cauliflower coral) survive in these latitudes thanks to the Kuroshio, a warm north-flowing current, the world’s strongest after the Gulf stream.

Vianney Denis, a French researcher based in Taiwan, told us that a Japanese team traveled from Taiwan to Japan by kayak, following the current flow, at an average speed of 1.5 knots (a little less than 3 km/h).
Plankton and fish samples will be carefully stored aboard the schooner until the mission’s end and Tara’s return to Lorient, in October 2018. In contrast, the coral samples will probably be unloaded in Taiwan, since coral is a protected species. After completion of customs export formalities, they’ll be shipped by plane to our partner laboratories.


© Noémie Olive / Tara Expeditions Fondation


Monday, March 26, a major clean-up day!

Sailors scrubbed the deck, walkways, cabins and corridors. Scientists disinfected all sample bottles to prevent any collected plankton from proliferating aboard Tara! They left vials and pipes in perfect condition for the next scientific team.

On Monday evening the schooner set sail for Keelung where crew members will sport their agnès b. cardigans to greet Tara’s visitors. A welcome ceremony will take place upon arrival in the port of Keelung, and the crew will enjoy Taiwanese kindness and hospitality once again, just one year after Tara’s first stopover here.

Noémie Olive

Tara arrived in China!

Tara set sail heading north for China: four days marked by a minor scare off the coast of Vietnam. Then the schooner and her crew reached Sanya, on the southern end of Hainan Island.

Imposing silhouettes of buildings and giant hotel complexes are on the horizon. A curious ballet of yachts, monohulls and fishing boats surround Tara. Sanya, a popular Chinese beach resort is celebrating the New Year. At night the decor is even more spectacular: the facades of the buildings are lit up with undulating dolphins and jellyfish, blinking reindeer, palm trees and messages in Mandarin. On deck, the Taranauts enjoy the cool evening.

The schooner took her time to reach Hainan Island. Leaving Nha Trang on February 15, she avoided the end of a storm that came up from the Philippines to Vietnam. The sails were unfurled again and the scientists happy to clear their minds. We were still waiting for the green light from Beijing to resume diving and sampling in the country’s waters, with 2 Chinese researchers aboard.

Vue_avant_Tara_sous_voiles@Agathe_RoullinBetween Nha Trang and Sanya, Tara under full sail again © Agathe Roullin / Fondation Tara Expéditions.

Doubt in the China Sea

Tara was calmly sailing in the China Sea the day before arrival in Sanya, when suddenly our route was disrupted. It was already dark on Sunday, February 18 when, during his night watch, dive master/sailor David Monmarché woke up the captain in his bunk. A boat had suddenly changed course and was fast approaching Tara for no apparent reason. Soon other points appeared on the radar to the west of the first. Fishing boats hauling up their nets, or ill-intentioned ships? Samuel Audrain was in doubt and immediately launched the procedure established beforehand: start the engine, change course, drop the sails, and notify the Tara Foundation management. Sleepers woke up. Others put aside their computers or a game of tarot. The entire crew was now standing silently on deck, while Tara headed east. Claimed by several countries — including China, Vietnam and the Philippines — the South China Sea is a particular area where boats must remain cautious. The ship whose behaviour worried our captain sailed away. Fishermen, no doubt. The Taranauts relaxed. Marion Lauters went around the crew with a bowl of M&Ms. The schooner could now head back to Sanya.


Tara arrived in Vietnam on Wednesday, February 7th, but unfortunately did not receive a sampling permit from the Vietnamese government. The China Sea is a complex geo-strategic region which makes it very difficult for the expedition at present. Disappointed at not being able to resume their underwater explorations, the crew had some consolation thanks to optimal sailing conditions between Pangatalan and Nha Trang in the China Sea. Driven by a north-north-east wind, the schooner raced towards Vietnam all sails unfurled.


The Taranauts who set foot on the concrete dock of Nha Trang port were feeling happy. The seaside resort is disfigured by huge hotel complexes catering to mass tourism, and it certainly doesn’t have the charm of the pristine islands of the Palawan archipelago. But the crew didn’t care. This time the Pacific had offered them a totally new gift: a strong wind – between 25 and 35 knots – for a long, starboard tack, which allowed them to reach Vietnam in just 3 and a half days. “These were the ideal conditions for Tara”, explains Nicolas Bin, first mate. “We hoisted almost all the sails. The wind was blowing so hard we had to reduce the main and the foresail. One night I even had to wake up Sam the captain, to take a reef up front. The wind was too powerful, it was pulling too hard on the rigging”. But no doubt about it, “This was the most wonderful sailing I’ve experienced, along with the one between Japan and Taiwan. To see the boat moving at full speed – 140 tonnes launched at 10 knots – is really impressive”.


4_Explications_manoeuvre_Sam_Audrain_et_Nico_Bin@Noelie_PansiotDiscussion between sailors before hoisting the mainsail – © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


“We finally got to experience Tara with lots of wind in her sails!”

The scientists aboard Tara are not necessarily seasoned sailors. But when we left the small island of Pangatalan, everyone was excited. Some people already guessed that the waves and pitching would get the better of their stomachs since Tara, with her rounded hull, is a “roller”. “We finally got to experience Tara with lots of wind in her sails!”

Gaëlle Quéré, CNRS-CRIOBE postdoctoral researcher, was delighted: “We were able to participate in the maneuvers and raise the sails. I loved it.” Guillaume Iwankow, head of scientific diving at CRIOBE, had suffered from the vagaries of the wind during his previous 5 voyages. “Sailing during night watch, without a sound, with the stars just for myself – It’s a childhood dream, moments I will remember forever.”


In Vietnam without a permit

Strong wind in the sails brought some consolation to the frustrated scientists. As in Indonesia and the Philippines, they just found out they won’t get the necessary authorizations to take samples in Vietnamese waters.
Docked for several days, the team is trying to stay busy. Writing articles, meeting with the Oceanographic Institute of Nha Trang, and a little tourism. The time seems long, but Guillaume Iwankow puts things into perspective: “We could have had neither science nor wind!” Let’s hope this series of disappointments doesn’t last. China is the next stop on Tara’s route.

Agathe Roullin

Change of destination: Tara will not go to Indonesia

An unusual circumstance: the schooner must change route. On board, the Captain downloads new nautical charts thanks to the satellite connection. On land, the logistics team is modifying the dates and the port of entry for the next team of scientists to come aboard.  The reason for this last minute change? The Indonesian government has refused us permission to do sampling in its territorial waters. Explanation:

For months, the Tara Expeditions Foundation and its team have spent a huge amount of time and energy organizing this major chapter of contemporary exploration across the Pacific Ocean: Tracing a coherent  itinerary for sampling different species of corals. Inquiring about the safety of the crew on a route sometimes subject to piracy. Setting up adequate logistics to accommodate a rotation of 70 scientists and 6 crew members constantly. Contacting representatives of 30 countries to present the project. Requesting permission to collect samples. There’s no end to this list.


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© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Sometimes, despite all their efforts to organize & anticipate, the land-sea team must revise their plans. This is the case today, following the Indonesian government’s refusal to allow sampling. Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation, reacted to the decision: “It’s really unfortunate, especially since the challenges facing the coral reefs of Indonesia are major. It’s highly regrettable that  Indonesia’s ambition, as host of the “Our Ocean 2018″ Conference, is not followed up with specific actions, such as participating in an unprecedented pan-Pacific research program like Tara Pacific”. After 14 years of expeditions, only 2% of solicited countries refused the schooner entry into their maritime territory.

So, Tara will not go to the Maluku archipelago as planned. The ability to adapt is undeniably one of the major strengths of the project. The schooner will still make a very brief stop in Indonesia to welcome its new scientific team — in  Sorong, a port city in eastern Indonesia. Then Tara will leave the country immediately, headed for Palau where she is expected. 6 archipelagos comprised of 300 islets and 26 islands, the Republic of Palau in Micronesia, will be a vast area of ​​exploration for the Taranauts. A stopover will be hosted by the President of Palau, one of the first heads-of-state to join Tara in giving a voice to the Ocean at the COP21   by signing the “Because the Ocean” declaration.


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© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


This change of  itinerary will first take the crew to some tiny, remote islands, very rarely studied: Hatohobei, Sonosol, Pulo Anna.

Sampling around Koror, the most populated island of Palau, will take place from  January 4 – 9, 2018. Another specific mission conducted by the team from Monaco will happen later, from January 11- 20. After exploring and sampling in the famous Coral Triangle, in the heart of these “small islands” (Micronesia), the schooner will make a final stop in the port of Koror, from January 20 – 22, 2018,  before heading for the Philippines.


Noëlie Pansiot


A Customary Meeting on Yanaba Island

After leaving the acidification study site, the Taranauts penetrated further into Papuan territory, sailing northeast overnight to the Egum Atoll. On the island of Yanaba, a formal meeting was organized amidst the traditional huts on stilts overlooking the lagoon. Such meetings, indispensable for continuing our sampling, remind us of the necessity of taking time to listen and talk to each other.


We arrived early this morning in the small, shallow pass of Egum Atoll. First mate Nicolas Bin was in the crow’s nest to signal the reef, no maps being available. We anchored near the village of Yanaba Island.


Skilled Sailors

A well-crafted canoe approached us, maneuvered with dexterity by the customary chief Andrew, a mature man with a lively expression. He invited us to meet his community at the end of their Sunday religious service, to explain our visit to the atoll.

Early in the afternoon a delegation of Taranauts composed of Loïc, Vincent, Joern, Cristoph, myself, and of course our Papou scientific observer Alfred Yohang Ko’ou, landed with the surf on the beach.


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At Yanaba Island, a traditional  pirogue with sails © Vincent Hilaire -  Tara Expeditions Foundation


The Waiting

We spent 2 hours in the shade of the tribal chief ‘s hut, waiting for community leaders to gather.

Children were observing us with mischievous looks. Already questions were being asked and trust began to develop.

Once the head of the council (different from the tribal chief), the magistrate and the school principal joined us, we could present the Tara Pacific expedition and explain why we had chosen to come to this particular island. An experienced speaker, calm and self-confident, Alfred did a great job of explaining the work we wanted to do here.

About 500 people live in autonomy on the 2 inhabited islands of the atoll. 120 children attend school here. There are no regular connections to the nearest “big” islands — only the native canoes with rigging made of all-natural materials. These islanders are excellent sailors. It takes them 2 days to reach Alotau, the capital of the province.

The council deliberated and after they negotiated fees, we were authorized to take coral samples from their waters. We then toured the very well-organized beachfront village, and visited the school where we distributed some supplies and Tara Junior magazines to the teachers.



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The meeting begins in the shade of the hut, with Tara’s crew at the center © Vincent Hilaire - Tara Expeditions Foundation


The visit of the village

Nearby, 2 huts in ruin — a medical clinic and a post office — have been closed for almost 10 years. Where is the state ???

So close and so isolated. No power. Here and there a solar panel and a battery. No radio transmitter, no satellite communication, no internet.

A 30-hp outboard engine (at present functioning only in reverse) was donated by the provincial government, but now sits alone in a locked shack. Here nothing is wasted, everything is transformed and re-used: plastic materials (buoys, cans, etc) brought by the sea are all used or recycled.

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Yanaba Island children next to Tara © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


An Isolated Community

The last foreigners to visit this island were 2 Australian anthropologists who spent 2 months here more than a year ago. Passenger boats are extremely rare. Nevertheless, the inhabitants dare to hope that someday tourists will visit, and they’ll be able to create small businesses.

My feelings are mixed: I can’t help but think these people live in a tiny paradise. But the raw, infected wounds the young people show us, asking for medicine, remind me of the harsh reality.

As soon as authorization was given, Jon, Becky, Grace and the 2 Guillaumes set off on one of Tara’s zodiacs to locate a site for sampling. Tomorrow morning around 5:30 we’ll weigh anchor and move closer to the sampling area.


Simon Rigal, captain 


On Papua

After leaving Alotau at mid-day on November 1st, we navigated 80 kilometers to the northeast before reaching Normanby Island. At nightfall we anchored close to the west coast of the island and the next morning went through the first of many rituals of this leg.


At 7:30 am local time as the sun rose over the rainforest, we launched one of the dinghies to go ashore and meet our hosts. Before leaving, smiling children and adolescents were already circling Tara in canoes.

In the dinghy, our improvised delegation was led by Simon Rigal, our captain, and Alfred Yohang Ko’ou. our Papuan scientific observer. We landed on Soba Island and were met by excited children and shy adults awaiting this first contact. We were led past 2 huts, one on the ground and the other on stilts, both constructed mainly with braided palm leaves.


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The place of our first custom, surrounded by the houses of this little community © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Sitting on the floor around a palm mat taken from the main hut and unfurled for us, the ritual began with the family gathered amidst dogs, chickens and a pig.

Alfred began by explaining in Papuan where we came from and what we were doing on board Tara, while showing on his blue T-shirt our voyage from France. Kanagola, the head of the community, listened attentively.

Then “Beckie” Vega Thurber, our current scientific leader, explained more precisely our scientific interest in this bay and what we would like to do there.

Kanogola listened very calmly without expressing any particular reaction and suddenly blurted out: “Ah, the bubbles!

Beckie explained that a mission had already taken place in 2013 to carry out research on these CO2 bubbles. Kanagola nodded confirmation. Beckie went on, “we’ve come to launch a new campaign on these carbon dioxide bubbles and their effects on the coral ecosystem. We will eventually compare these results with the older ones. The ocean is acidifying right now and at you have at the end of your beach an ideal laboratory.

Kanagola was reassured: “I give you permission to do what you have to do here. But if you go to the next bay, you will have to ask the other community for their agreement.

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Two generations of the community of Soba Island in this photograph © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Simon Rigal pulled out of his backpack some Tara Junior magazines in English and gave them to Kanagola, explaining with a touch of humor, “These are magazines for children, but as an adult I learned lots of things from them“. Kanagola thanked Simon with a smile while a new pile came out of the bag: notebooks and pens.

The ritual was coming to an end and we were honored to take some pictures of these people still living their traditional life, without electricity or water.


Vincent Hilaire

Tara in Papua New Guinea

This Monday, October 30th at 9.30am local time, Tara and her crew of 12 people arrived in Alotau, capital of one of the 20 island provinces.
In a well-protected cove on the north coast of the deep Milne Bay, Alotau has a population of just over 15,000, while the country as a whole numbers almost 6.5 million Papuans.
We will leave Alotau on November 1st for 3 initial sites, one of which will be devoted exclusively to the study of water acidification and its effects on coral.

“I am pleasantly surprised by the Solomon Islands”, confided Simon Rigal, our captain, as we left Gizo – the capital of the western province – and this archipelago. Ahead of us were more than 2 days of navigation and 750 kilometers without wind, and with engines.
Like Simon, as Gizo slowly receded, I felt a twinge in my heart leaving this small, peaceful, farming town.
The few minutes spent in the morning walking the main street and the market, all these colors amidst so many smiles, the boats stranded on the sand in front of the stalls, all that I already missed. An atmosphere that I love, full of life, simple and without makeup.


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 The market of Gizo, in the Solomon Islands © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


To chase away the melancholy as we passed the last Solomon Islands, Mother Nature concocted one of those magical moments which she alone can cast. First, a school of 5 dolphins played at Tara’s bow, directly in front of my cameras.

Then, through a magnificent cumulus formation, the sun was preparing a magnificent sunset, a falling curtain worthy of one of the greatest live show acts. It was like my experience when leaving Noumea at the moment the star was transformed at the horizon into a balloon of fire.

The navigation between the Solomon Islands and Papua, sometimes on a glassy sea and overwhelming heat, was interspersed by the quarter watches and the routine launching of oceanographic instruments.


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Tonight, while I was on watch with the chief engineer, Loïc Caudan, we were treated in these last miles to an extraordinary sky, studded with thousands upon thousands of stars. At the break of dawn, at the entrance to Milne Bay, which in 1942 was the scene of the first Japanese defeat in the Pacific, we discovered a new country, mountainous and green.

The highlight of the show was soon coming. On the quay where Tara was now moored, an improvised welcome committee came to watch this curious schooner, with all those blue T-shirts bobbing about on deck: “Tara, Tara, is that the name of the boat? Where do you come from? France? Where is that? ”


                                   Vincent Hilaire


In the wake of Bougainville and La Boudeuse

Bougainville. The explorer’s name echoes in our heads while Tara is clocking up nautical miles. Throughout the Tara Pacific expedition, except in the Strait of Magellan, we are following the sailing routes of La Boudeuse and L’Étoile, thanks to the discoveries made and maps drawn up during Bougainville’s incredible adventure, more than 2 centuries ago, long before GPS was invented!


In 1768, during his major exploration journey in the Pacific Ocean, the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville discovered the largest reef in the world. When we say that the greatest discoveries are sometimes made by chance, this adventure story is a perfect example.


Louis Antoine de Bougainville


In December 1766, Bougainville departed from Brest aboard La Boudeuse. Accompanied by naturalists, a cartographer and an astronomer, his role as Captain was to add to knowledge and increase French presence in this part of the world.

In Rio de Janeiro, he received the support of another French vessel, L’Étoile, which under his command, acted as a cargo ship. After a laborious crossing of the Strait of Magellan, winds and the Humboldt current pushing the vessels northwards, Bougainville finally entered the Pacific Ocean.

In Rio de Janeiro, he received the support of another French vessel, L’Étoile, which under his command, acted as a cargo ship. After a laborious crossing of the Strait of Magellan, winds and the Humboldt current pushing the vessels northwards, Bougainville finally entered the Pacific Ocean.

It took him and his 400 men, weakened by scurvy, more than a year of navigation to finally sight the first islands – the immense Tuamotu Archipelago – in February 1768. He baptized it “the dangerous archipelago” because of the many coral atolls that made the progress of the 2 ships very perilous.




The expedition reached Tahiti on April 6, 1768. Unfortunately for Bougainville, Tahiti had already been discovered in the previous year by an English navigator, Samuel Wallis.

As soon as La Boudeuse and L’Étoile anchored, a charming problem arose. “In spite of all our precautions,” he wrote, “a young woman nonchalantly dropped the loincloth covering her and appeared for all to see, like Venus in front of the Phrygian shepherd. She had a heavenly shape. Sailors and soldiers were eagerly reaching for the hatch and the capstan has never been operated with such zeal. We actually succeeded in restraining these bewitched men”. Bougainville later wondered: “How do we make 400 French young sailors who haven’t seen a woman in 6 months remain at their work stations in front of such a sight?”

After an exquisite stay among “noble savages” according to his accepted expression, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville resumed his voyage heading west, and discovered the New Hebrides Condominium (now the nation of Vanuatu).

From there he continued further west, trying to find Terra Australis which, on his nautical chart, was located northeast, towards New Guinea. Provisions ran out once again and Bougainville observed: “Spoiled meat was in great quantity, but it was becoming infected. Instead, we preferred to eat rats we could capture”. He nonetheless continued his journey.



In the spring of 1768, the 2 vessels reached the eastern waters of Australia where reefs prevented them from approaching the coast.

Bougainville had just discovered the Great Barrier Reef: “Lookouts saw new shoals from atop the masts.” he wrote, “We couldn’t see where they ended.”

After careful consideration, Bougainville set a northward course and decided not to seek a passage among all these pitfalls.

The first European to explore the Great Barrier Reef was the British captain, James Cook. He discovered the reef when his vessel ran aground on it on June 11, 1770.

Bougainville then visited the western part of the Solomon Islands and discovered a new island on June 30, 1768, on his way to Papua. To this day, the island bears his name.


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The most difficult part of the trip was the return journey along the coast of New Guinea. The sailors were plagued by hunger and scurvy. The expedition then joined the Moluccas and busier sea routes before sailing around the Cape of Good Hope.

On his return to France, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville resumed his military career, participated in the American War of Independence, then was appointed wing commander in 1779. During the Age of Enlightenment, the account of this journey, published in 1771, fed philosophical controversies and particularly inspired Diderot.

Famous, covered with honors and supported by Napoleon, Bougainville devoted the rest of his life to scientific studies and research projects.

He died at the age of 82 in 1811, and was buried in the Pantheon in Paris.

Vincent Hilaire


Video : On the Great Barrier Reef

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on Earth, had lost about 50% of its colonies.

At the beginning of this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner and its scientific team conducted a week of sampling in the southern Pacific Ocean to study the biodiversity of coral reefs and their reaction to climate change.

Initial observations show mixed results: at some sites on the Great Barrier Reef, coral colonies are very damaged or even dead, while a few kilometers away they show resilience or are in good health.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video : On the Great Barrier Reef

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on Earth, had lost about 50% of its colonies.

At the beginning of this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner and its scientific team conducted a week of sampling in the southern Pacific Ocean to study the biodiversity of coral reefs and their reaction to climate change.

Initial observations show mixed results: at some sites on the Great Barrier Reef, coral colonies are very damaged or even dead, while a few kilometers away they show resilience or are in good health.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video : On the Great Barrier Reef

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on Earth, had lost about 50% of its colonies.

At the beginning of this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner and its scientific team conducted a week of sampling in the southern Pacific Ocean to study the biodiversity of coral reefs and their reaction to climate change.

Initial observations show mixed results: at some sites on the Great Barrier Reef, coral colonies are very damaged or even dead, while a few kilometers away they show resilience or are in good health.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

Nicolas de la Brosse, 5 years of commitment aboard Tara and a fresh start

After 5 years of commitment and loyal services, Nicolas de la Brosse, Tara’s chief officer, decided to take a new direction. Nico disembarked in Noumea on September 22, after 3 major expeditions on the schooner. Native of Burgundy, Nico’s maritime career path has been rapid since he met Peter Blake, at 11.


VH: Nicolas, your history with the schooner began even before she was renamed Tara. How did you meet Peter Blake?

NDLB: “It’s a long story! I grew up in Dijon. At 11, I was selected, along with other youngsters, to cover stories aboard la Fleur de Lampaul, an old rigged barge, also described as the children’s oceanographic vessel. The idea was to raise public awareness on environmental issues through our eyes. In short, I was already passionate about sailing and adventure.

In November 1996, after returning from this year of expedition, we presented our reports to the International Festival of Adventure in my home town, Dijon. That’s where I met Peter Blake, sponsor of the festival. My idol. For me, he was a living god. I watched his exploits on VHS tapes (laughs).


cohesion dequipe_une des grandes richesses de tara sont les rencontres humaines et la cohesion d_equipage© Fondation Tara Expéditions


I handed him a letter I had written in English. Peter took the letter, and after reading it, told me that we would stay in touch.

The following year, in 1997, Peter invited me to spend 3 weeks in the Mediterranean Sea on his family’s schooner, Archangel. Despite his success, Peter, this 2-meter high colossus, was easily accessible, straightforward and humble. After this cruise, he really took me under his wing. I’d become a member of his family”.


VH: What happened next, given Peter’s tragic death aboard the Seamaster?

NDLB: “Once I returned to Dijon, I went back to high school. I was still in contact with Peter. At 15, in 1999, I had the opportunity to embark on a boat transfer as a sailor and crew member from Panama to Polynesia. We took advantage of this trip to stop on our way back in New Zealand.

Peter welcomed me into his home – he was then preparing the America’s Cup. But he was already speaking about his reconversion after this competition. In Auckland, I met again with Sarah Jane and James, the 2 children of Peter and Pippa – his wife and my second mom.

Once Peter completed and won the Cup, he purchased Antarctica from Jean-Louis Etienne. After a period in dry dock, the schooner, renamed Seamaster, left for 5 years of expedition around the world.


photo14_Nico sur la proue de Tara_Vincent Hilaire© Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions
As for me, I needed to pass my bachelor’s degree and finish my studies. Peter had already told me: “No worries, you’ll join us afterward”. The tragedy happened on the Amazon River 6 months before I rejoined Blake Expeditions. My idol disappeared brutally. For me, it was very hard to take.

When Etienne Bourgois bought the schooner in 2003, Pippa introduced us. I had passed my bachelor’s degree in 2002 and was in my 2nd year of DEUG in marine biology in Brest. I didn’t know yet that I wasn’t made to be a researcher, but my desire to sail was still there. It was the first time I set foot on Tara’s deck, in Camaret”.


VH: What was your first mission aboard Tara?

NDLB: “I embarked as a crew member to go to Greenland in 2004, with Céline Ferrier as captain. It gave me the opportunity to take a pause in my studies, but I didn’t give up. Later, I completed my bachelor degree in biology in Australia and a master of science in New Zealand, between 2008 and 2011.

In Auckland, my roommate was Sarah-Jane, Pippa’s and Peter’s daughter. I also worked from time to time in the maintenance shipyards of the America’s Cup. Then I came back to France with the desire to become a professional sailor. I contacted Romain Troublé, who was Tara Expeditions’ secretary general at the time.


ours polaire tara polar circle_Se retrouver face a ces animaux et avoir la chance de les observer dans leur element a ete une des experiences des plus fortes de tara polar circle
© Nicolas de la Brosse / Fondation Tara Expéditions

VH: You were about to begin your second mission aboard Tara. What was its destination?

NDLB: Tara Oceans was continuing with the Polar Circle expedition. I joined the team in Paris in October 2012 where Tara was currently in port. I then participated in the schooner’s preparation and this new expedition in the Arctic Ocean. One thing followed another. I completed a Master 500 gross tonnage certificate then, after the Arctic circumnavigation, I participated in Tara Mediterranean in 2014 and Tara Pacific in 2016-17. This already represents 5 years of my life! (smiles).


VH: What is your new direction today? Does leaving Tara mean turning an important page in a sailor’s life?

NDLB: “I’ve lived a super rich, very intense period with Tara. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many interesting people, on board and ashore. The human component is very important during these expeditions. With Tara, we have access to privileged situations. These are exceptional journeys. For instance, during the Arctic circumnavigation, we sailed surrounded by ice. This may not be the case in a few years due to global warming. I’ll also treasure my memories of the Tuvalu Islands and Kiribati.


DCIM100MEDIADJI_0043.JPG© Fondation Tara Expéditions


Besides this rich experience and passion, these projects are always very absorbing and now I want to have more time for myself and my personal life – to take a step back and stand on my own two feet.

I plan on working as a skipper on private sailboats, or for the charter market. Moreover, I could no longer evolve aboard Tara. I would have had to pass other diplomas to become a captain.

Tara is also a large family, to which I’ll always belong, even if I leave. This happens at sea where we live together and experience great cohesion through exceptional situations and moments. These are inextricable bonds.


Interview by Vincent Hilaire




Tara in Noumea

From the Chesterfield archipelago it took us a little more than 3 days of sailing into the wind to reach Noumea. We arrived on “Le Caillou” under a slightly cloudy sky. The stopover at Port Moselle lasted a week before we set out for some new sampling sites in the Caledonian lagoon. Registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, this lagoon is the longest in the world.


14 photo 23_preparation amarrage Tara Noumea_Vincent Hilaire 2
Preparation of the mooring of Tara in Noumea – © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Still under the enchantment of those peaceful but active days spent in the Chesterfield Islands, the 15 Taranauts were called to order when, after crossing the southern pass, we hit rough seas again. As announced by the grib (weather forecast maps), a period of difficult navigation began using Tara’s 2 motors, no sails, heading directly into a steady southeast wind.

For the entire crew, life at sea immediately resumed a fairly monotonous (and for some people, even unpleasant) pace, punctuated by meals, night shifts, specific jobs, daily chores and routines. Except for Morgane Ratin and Guillaume Bourdin, who redoubled their energy on the rear deck, doing 3 plankton sampling stations on the way to Noumea.


5 photo 5_paysages lagon NC_Vincent HilaireLandscapes of the lagoon of New Caledonia – © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


At dusk 72 hours later, after following a very mountainous coastline barely visible in the thick mist, we came to the entrance of the Caledonian lagoon – a liberation! Once we passed the immense barrier reef, the rolling and pitching ceased. An hour and a half later, advancing into the darkness, Simon Rigal found a quiet refuge for Tara, which meant a real night of sleep for everybody (finally)! Anchored here we were surrounded by only a few far-flung lights – a gentle and gradual return to civilization.
The next day, getting closer to our goal, we found a new spot to anchor in the lagoon, this time about 15 kilometers from Noumea. A second restful night.

“It looks a little like the Canary Islands”, said deck officer Francois Aurat, who will remain on board until the Solomon Islands. Seen from the boat, this very mountainous landscape, interspersed with bays, sparsely dotted with pinewoods, looks as if its vegetation was burnt by the sun.


10 photo 20_Port de Noumea_Vincent HilaireNoumea’s harbour before entering the marina of Port Moselle – © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Then the first buildings appeared on the horizon: Noumea, formerly called Port-de-France, is a city of 180,000 inhabitants (counting the suburbs) – the largest French-speaking city in the entire Pacific Ocean. Tara docked in Port Moselle. As at every stopover, it was time for conferences, and visits of school kids and general public.


Thank you all for your welcome, your support, and many interesting exchanges. We’re heading for the Caledonian lagoons to do coral sampling, but we’ll come back to Noumea soon.


Vincent Hilaire

Anchored in the turquoise waters of Chesterfield Islands

On Monday, September 11 at 8:30 local, Tara’s motors were turned off. Sailing the 500 nautical miles (more than 900 km) from the Great Barrier Reef had been very challenging: On this easterly route, we were constantly heading into the wind. Once the schooner was well anchored in the sandy bottom (to a depth of 10 meters!), the team of scientists was already equipped and didn’t waste a moment before jumping into the water. In this uninhabited French archipelago located 550 kilometers north-west of New Caledonia, 3 spots must be explored by Friday.

The view of Reynard Island at daybreak was a pleasure and a relief, bringing hope of a little calm. For the last 4 days none of us had really slept a full night, not counting the night watch. “That looks like Clipperton”, said deck-officer Francois Aurat, whose birthday we just celebrated. A cloud of birds — gannets, and frigates — was flying over this green clump rising from the Pacific Ocean. The anemometer showed the wind was still strong, at 20 knots (37 km/h).


4- photo 22_Arrivee l'ile Reynard_Vincent Hilaire copieDiscovery of Reynard Island, in the Chesterfield Islands lagoon. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Difficult mooring

We made a first attempt to anchor near this island, but our cautious captain Simon Rigal kept Tara’s 2 engines at a standstill. The reef around the island didn’t protect us sufficiently: the schooner rolled from side to side, preventing us from launching the diving boats.

So, the anchor was raised and we headed further south to another part of the immense Chesterfield reef. This archipelago — 120 km long by 70 km wide — is composed of 11 islands separated by numerous barriers of coral.


From the Coral Sea to Chesterfield

This group of islands owes its name to the ship of an English captain, Matthew Boyd, who explored the Coral Sea in the 1790s, and nearly sank here on June 2, 1793. Afterwards, ships sailing in the region were primarily whalers. The archipelago became French on June 15, 1878, when it was taken over by Lieutenant Louis Adolphe Guyon. At this time, the primary goal was exploiting the abundant guano. Then the islands were apparently abandoned, until Captain Arzur in the French warship Dumont d’Urville explored the Chesterfield reefs and erected a plaque here in 1939.


6- photo 6_lever de soleil Ile Reynard_Vincent Hilaire copieSunrise on Reynard Island. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Practically unknown French islands

The Chesterfield reefs are now part of New Caledonia, and since 2014, are included in the Marine Park of the Coral Sea, the largest French Marine Protected Area.

The Chesterfield lagoon covers an area of about 3,500 km2. A barrier of coral encircles the lagoon, interrupted by wide passes, except on the east side. Most of the lagoon is exposed to trade winds and ocean swells from the southeast. Average water depth is 51 m.
P2250982© François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Isolated and totally uninhabited, the Chesterfield Islands are renowned for offering exceptional underwater biodiversity. Throughout the year, many green turtles come here to lay their eggs. Sharks are as numerous here as outside the barrier reef, and the waters can be several hundred meters deep.

Since this morning, Tara Pacific’s scientific team has continued its mission, sampling coral in these rich, turquoise waters.


Vincent Hilaire

Tara at Heron Island

On Wednesday, August 30 at 7am local time, Tara arrived at Heron Island. This green island surrounded by shades of blue, 2 hours off the Australian east coast, appears to be a paradise on earth. A hundred people live permanently on this islet of barely 16 hectares. Among them, a dozen work at the Heron Island Research Station*. For the Taranauts, Heron Island marks the restart of the study on reef ecosystems, with sampling of corals, fish, sea water and air. The Tara Pacific expedition, has just entered its second year and will continue to collect massive amounts of data.


3-photo 1_arrivee Heron_ Francois AuratTara arrives at Heron Island (photographed with a drone). © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Day was just breaking and the team on Tara’s deck was already busy. Simon Rigal, our captain, and Jonathan Lancelot on his quarter watch, were there. François Aurat was preparing his drone, unaware that a few minutes later, he would take amazing footage of a humpback whale and her calf.

The low-angled sun was diffusing a soft orange light. Heron Island was slowly appearing on the horizon, an oasis in the middle of nowhere.


1-photo 9_sur la route d'Heron_ Vincent HilaireSunset on the way to Heron Island. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Keeping an eye on the schooner’s progression over the last miles, Simon was already thinking about the best anchoring place to allow our scientific divers to be as close as possible to Tara during their underwater work.

That’s when François, who had taken refuge in the wet lab** to operate his drone in the shade, called out: “Look, Vincent, look!”. On the screen, a whale and her calf were basking in the pass between Heron Island and Wistari Reef, slapping every now and then the calm water surface with their caudal fins. A gentle wake-up for this probably recent tandem. Heron Island is known to be a nursery appreciated by these marine mammals, who come here to give birth.


6-photo 6_arrivee Heron_ baleines_Francois AuratA humpback whale and her calf in the channel between Heron Island and Wistari Reef. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


With Tara at anchor and sails lowered, there was no respite on deck. Supervised by Jonathan Lancelot, divemaster, our scientific divers, Christian Voolstra (KAUST), Claudia Pogoreutz (KAUST), Benjamin C.C. Hume (KAUST) and Ryan McMinds (Oregon State University) prepared their diving gear for the first exploration around the reef.

This afternoon, the 4 scientists are in the water to sample biodiversity at 2 different depths, looking for characteristic species.

A little further away, Jonathan Lancelot is coring a Porites. Just like trees record changes in their growth environment, these massive corals record in their skeleton, variations in sea water properties through time. Therefore, they enable us to study and understand how climate changes impact coastal and marine ecosystems.


13-photo 44_experiences corail centre de recherche_Vincent HilaireThe first coral samples from this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Heron Island exhibits exceptional biodiversity with 900 species of fish and about 72% of the coral species present across the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike half of the Australian barrier reef, strongly affected by the third episode of global coral bleaching that just ended, Heron Island seems to have withstood this situation according to the scientists from the research station. The corals here have remained healthy so far.


Vincent Hilaire


* University of Queensland

** a sheltered structure on deck for sea water analysis

To the Great Barrier Reef

On Thursday morning at 10 am local time, Tara headed northeast after crossing once again the magnificent Sydney Bay.
Weather conditions were still optimal: sun, blue sky and just after exiting the bot-tleneck, a south wind of 25 knots.
It will take us about 4 days to reach our first research spot south of the Great Bar-rier Reef: beautiful Heron Island, a green speck on an ocean of blue.


After backing away from the wharf of the Australian National Maritime Museum, Captain Simon Rigal launched Tara’s 2 motors, heading out to sea for new adventures.
7 newcomers, mostly scientists, enjoyed the privilege of crossing one of the most beauti-ful natural bays in the world. Sydney is so peaceful and captivating that some of us left this city with a bit of regret.


1-credit clementine moulinTara leaves Darling Harbour in Sydney after a one-week stopover – © Clémentine Moulin / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Beyond the picture postcard views, what awaits us is one of the key sites of Tara Pacific’s second year, the Great Barrier Reef — the planet’s largest coral structure, constructed by a surprising animal, the polyp. Ranging in size from a millimeter to 30 centi-meters at most, polyps have built a structure visible from outer space! The polyp, an architect-builder? A pleonasm.


In contrast to our previous leg against the wind, we were now navigating downwind, so the sailors lost no time in hoisting Tara’s sails and unfurling the yankee jib. A few hours after leaving Sydney, we were sailing very comfortably at an average of a little more than 7 knots.


We should be in sight of Heron Island next Monday, 600 nautical miles (about 1,000 km) further north. In the meantime we’ll be following the coast westward to our destination: Newcastle, Port Macquarie and the Gold Coast, before leaving Frazer Island on the port side. We’ve lost sight of the coast, but it’s not very far, as attested by the charts.


10-photo 15_Fanche parle aux dauphins_Vincent HilaireFrançois Aurat, deck officer, the dolphin whisperer – © Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation


A little while ago, after we trimmed the sails, a pod of 4 big dolphins came to greet us at the bow, showing us their magical jumps and pirouettes.
The first quarter-shifts have begun. We’ve settled again, gently this time, into the distinc-tive rhythm imposed by the sea.


Vincent Hilaire

Video: Rough sea from Whangarei to Sydney

This second year of the Tara Pacific expedition began with a navigation of almost 2500 kilometers between New Zealand and Australia.

From the first nautical miles, until Sydney, the Taranauts faced heavy wind and rough sea. The end of the austral winter often offers conditions of this type, with many western depressions, and Tara didn’t escape this rule…

In the end, it took a little more than a week of a challenging sailing for the schooner to rally the calm of Darling Harbor and the dock of the Australian Maritime Museum.


© Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expeditions

The School of Tenacity: Portrait of Charlène Gicquel

Some notes of accordion escape from her cabin aboard Tara. Charlène Gicquel is savoring this moment deeply. At 33, she is a captain in the merchant marine and has been eagerly awaiting her first voyage aboard the schooner — for over 13 years!


This your first contract aboard Tara, as chief engineer. You’ll be working alongside Daniel Cron until Sydney, and afterwards you’ll take the big jump (smiles). What’s your state of mind right now?

I feel a little bit of anxiety since I don’t yet know the boat in operation, although I participated in the renovation work at Whangarei Shipyards. I’m pleased to embark with Simon Rigal as captain since he is also a chief engineer,, with Les Abeilles. I’ll be able to communicate with him at the beginning in case of breakdowns, and to avoid making mistakes.

I originally thought of being on deck, but finally signed up for the long term, working on Tara’s machines. It takes so much energy and investment at the outset that I’d regret not being able to persevere in this position. The challenge has now begun, and I want to finish this first contract for the best.

To come here, after all these years of waiting and hope, I had to resign from my position as second captain on the sailboat Le Ponant. You understand how Tara caught my eye one day in Marseille (laughs)! Since then, it had become an obsession to find my place on board.


1-Photo-1_Auquartdenuit_Vincent-Hilaire-Fondation-Tara-ExpeditionsChief mechanic Charlène Gicquel on night watch aboard Tara. © Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Nothing particularly predestined you to the maritime trades. There was no family atavism. You’ve been patiently working towards your position today since your first sailing courses in the merchant marine, including some alternative experiences?

Yes, it’s been a long journey. Like many teenagers, at age 12 I took my first sailing course in Cancale (Brittany). My father grew up in Vannes, but his family didn’t sail.

And then in the summer when I was 15, I discovered the catamaran which I loved. At the end of the course the instructor said to me: “If you’d like, next year you can work with me as assistant instructor.”

All this logically progressed to my becoming a sailing instructor at 18. I participated in my first cruises, and gradually the idea sprouted that “making a living with a job related to the sea could be great.” At that point, I was thinking mainly of shipbuilding or oceanography. When a friend told me about the merchant marine, I really flashed on the idea. Without too many illusions I took the entry exam during my last year of high school, and I got in! I left for Marseille in 2003 to attend “Hydro” (ENSM: Ecole Nationale Supérieure Maritime). A year later, Tara stopped in the Old Port of Marseille. That was the first time I saw her, and the first time I applied for a job aboard, hoping that one day I would join the crew.


photo 5_Charlene Gicquel-resize© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation


During your years in the merchant marine, you discovered container ships and tankers, but you continued to apply for a position aboard Tara, especially for the Arctic drift.

Yes, Tara had clearly become a fixation for me. I was training aboard commercial ships, but I was looking for something else. One day Simon Rigal, whom I already knew, told me about Father Jaouen’s boats, the Bel Espoir and the Rara Avis. These embarkations changed my life and I said to myself: “That’s how I want to work”. These new voyages opened up amazing horizons for me.

The crew on board these boats had very varied backgrounds, but we all started from scratch regardless of our previous route. This allowed everyone to share knowledge and progress. It was very stimulating.

After that wonderful year 2006-2007, I started getting proposals to sail in the polar region, Norway and Spitsbergen. I applied and then flew off to spend the winter of 2009 on the Dumont d’Urville base in Antarctica as second engineer (civilian volunteer).


So you were being unfaithful to Tara!

Yes, and I continued after I returned from Antarctica, because I departed a little later (in 2010-2011) on the Belem for 2 full seasons, while finishing my fifth year in the merchant marine. In 2012, I applied for the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition, but there still was no room for me. By now I understood that with my diplomas and my experience, it would eventually become possible.

I then embarked on the Ponant for the first time before doing a whole year on the Hermione.

And then a few months ago in the spring of 2017, Simon (him again!) called me during my holidays when I was back on the Ponant to say that Tara Expeditions was looking for a mechanic. So here I am, 13 years later!


Interview by Vincent Hilaire

Tara in Sydney

After 8 days of intense sailing, we moored in Sydney today at 9am, local time. Until the very end, it took all the experience of Captain Simon Rigal and the crew to sail in these well-established westerly winds, oscillating from 15 to 50 knots. Exhausted, the 10 team members are now relishing setting foot on land after this crossing of nearly 1,215 nautical miles (almost 2,300 km). A one-week stopover is ahead of us, with local press meetings, scientific conferences and public visits.


DCIM100GOPROG0052920.Tara in 40 knot wind. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Around 6am this morning, before sunrise, the first building towers appeared on the horizon. Sydney was slowly waking up before our eyes, while facing at last a calmer sea. Progressing at more than 10 knots with her 2 engines, the main sail and foresail reefed in, Tara engaged in her final sprint.

After playing submarine and leapfrog a good part of the journey from Whangarei (New Zealand), this well-deserved arrival was worth the energy expended by the team.

“We experienced a little bit of everything during these harsh sailing conditions” summarized Simon. “It’s true that in this season, depressions follow one another between the Australian east coast and New Zealand like in the North Atlantic Ocean”.

Arriving in the early morning of August 17, we avoided yet another important low with a forecast of 40 knot westerly winds. Lucky us!


10-photo 6_envoi des couleurs localesFirst mate Nicolas de la Brosse hoists the local colors. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


After this marine episode, the entrance to the Sydney Bight was a highly anticipated moment. Arriving by sea into one of the most beautiful bays in the world is always a pleasure. François Aurat and I were sharing memories: “Do you remember our arrival in Rio during the Tara Oceans expedition? (smiles) and in New York? Yes, but we weren’t there together”.

After passing a last headland topped with a nice white lighthouse on the starboard side, the famous Sydney Opera House appeared bathed in sunshine in an azure sky. Aboard Tara’s dinghy with our cook, Dominique Limbour, and François, I took the traditional picture upon arrival with some of the crew members on the fore deck. It reminded me of the photo I took in New York with the Statue of Liberty behind Tara and Daniel Cron lifting his arm, mimicking Auguste Bartholdi’s famous sculpture.


15-photo 27_Tara devantopera SydneyTara passes in front of Sydney’s famous opera house. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


We passed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which resembles the Brooklyn Bridge but with 2 Australian flags at the top, and turned left to reach the quay of the Australian National Maritime Museum, at Darling Harbour. Clémentine Moulin, logistics coordinator of the Tara Expeditions Foundation, was waiting for us to assist Dominique.

Since then, customs formalities were carried out and sailors are washing away the salt from the deck, fittings and sails. It’s a Tara in salt crust that brought us here!

Tomorrow, the press is invited to attend a conference on Tara Pacific in the presence of Serge Planes, scientific director of the expedition.

As with every stopover, public tours and school visits are also scheduled on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

On August 24, we’re leaving Sydney to set sail towards Heron Island, south of the Great Barrier Reef. We’ll then head east to Chesterfield Islands and New Caledonia.

We’ll be 15 on board with a full scientific team once again.


Vincent Hilaire

Simon Rigal, temporary captain

More accustomed to embarking on Abeille tugboats over the past 10 years, Simon is back on board, sailing Tara to Papua New Guinea. This is a temporary replacement since Martin Hertau (official captain of the Tara Pacific expedition along with Samuel Audrain) is currently in training at the national merchant marine school in Nantes. Simon’s first nautical miles as Tara’s captain date back to the end of August 2005. He was only 27 years old and had his dream come true piloting a vessel on an ornithological campaign in South Georgia.


Simon, you’ve returned 12 years after your first experience aboard Tara. Why?

When Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation, called me to propose this temporary job as Tara’s Captain, I was touched and very happy. We’ve been in contact since Georgia and the Tara team has invited me to most of their events. But this proposal meant coming back on board and participating in an expedition. So I asked and obtained from “Les Abeilles” management (whom I’d like to thank here) an unpaid leave, and here I am. Being back gives me the impression that I’ve come full circle. Like a pilgrimage, it makes me feel good. After South Georgia, I sailed Tara from Lorient until the schooner was locked in the ice for the Arctic drift expedition. Then I became a dad. Being back on board, I’m reliving some of those past sensations. Memories resurface and I’m reconnecting with the marine adventure I love so much. I’m also delighted to meet people: Daniel Cron, Nicolas de la Brosse, Charlène Gicquel, Samuel Audrain and Marion Lauters who disembarked in New Zealand. I see that everyone is progressing well, just like the project. Moreover, I’d never been to New Zealand and Australia.


4-retrouvailles - Charlene Gicquel - Fondation Tara Expeditions© Charlène Gicquel / Tara Expéditions Foundation


You just took over the helm from Samuel, who disembarked 4 days ago. You’ve known each other for a long time. He was a sailor when you first met, wasn’t he?

I met Samuel at the beginning of 2005, during the Clipperton expedition led by Jean-Louis Étienne aboard the Rara Avis, one of Father Jaouen’s ships. Before that, during my 5th year in the merchant navy, we sailed one day to Camaret with another of Father Jaouen’s vessels. Tara was there and the crew members in their yellow raincoats were having a drink. I was with Nicolas Quentin, Tara’s future chief engineer. We didn’t dare talk to them, even though the schooner made us fantasize. Some time after that, Sam embarked aboard Tara, as did Nico Quentin. They told me Tara Expeditions was looking for a skipper and I received a first phone call. I thought: “If I don’t do it now, I never will”. That’s how my story with Tara began.


6-photo 8_Simon Rigal, nouveau capitaine_Vincent Hilaire _ Fondation Tara Expeditions© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expéditions Foundation


You really got a foot in the door: afterwards you spent more than a year aboard Tara, participating in 2 amazing missions.

I embarked in Camaret at the end of August 2005, a few months after Clipperton. Tara was being prepared for a campaign in the Southern Ocean: Georgia, Patagonia, Diego Ramirez, etc. I was a 27-year-old captain and I found myself at the helm of this awesome ship. One day while we were sailing to the island of Groix, long before leaving for Cape Verde and Georgia, I realized that when you strongly believe in something, you can sometimes make it happen. With Tara, I had access to everything I love: a mix of adventure, different cultures, science and art. The campaign in Georgia was exciting. We were doing counts of giant petrels, albatross and fur seals with the British Antarctic Survey. There was also a glaciologist aboard who installed sensors to monitor advancing glaciers in the Antarctic Ocean. We then conducted a second campaign with Sally Poncet, an Australian biologist specialized in the Antarctic, and Ellen MacArthur.


While you were down south, another campaign was already in preparation on the opposite side of the world: the Arctic drift.

With Tara, you never get bored (laughs)! After these 2 campaigns in the Southern Ocean, we first had to sail back to France after a last stop in the Diego Ramirez Islands and rounding Cape Horn. Tara Arctic was already in preparation with a period of dry dock maintenance lasting several months during the spring of 2006. I had been navigating for 2 years in a row in the Pacific (Clipperton), the Antarctic and Georgia, and soon it would be the Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans! Tara Arctic was a really outstanding project. Romain asked me to sail the schooner until she was locked in ice. I didn’t want to stay afterwards because I was feeling tired after 2 years of circumnavigation. I had planned on coming back aboard Tara for the second winter of the expedition and sailing her back home to Lorient. But, shortly afterwards, I became a dad and started my career at Les Abeilles.


Tara en Arctique au début du mois de septembre 2006© F. Latreille / Tara Expéditions Foundation


Ten years have gone by, and you’re joining Tara today. How does the schooner look to you?

Technically, there are 2 new engines and 2 new propellers, currently in their breaking-in period. The exhaust system has also been successfully improved during Tara’s recent dry dock in New Zealand. The sails are in good condition. Tara is aging well, thanks to all the sailors’ hard work. On a scientific level too, everything has also evolved in the right direction. Tara remains Tara, with this futuristic look from the 1990s (smile). She still slams hard into the waves (laughs)!  This ship was born from a crazy idea but she’s following her course. The schooner herself is a whole project. I take my hat off to all those who have given so much for the adventure to keep growing. In return, Tara makes you grow up too. Sam, who was a sailor 10 years ago and is now her captain, is the best example of this.


The former chief engineer of the Abeille Languedoc will enjoy the voyage to Papua New Guinea.


Interview by Vincent Hilaire

Tara’s new departure: heading to Sydney for the 2nd year of Tara Pacific

Docked in New Zealand since June 18th, Tara set sail this Wednesday for the 2nd year of the Tara Pacific expedition devoted to coral. The annual maintenance is completed, and a new chapter of this maritime odyssey begins. By the end of October, scientists aboard the schooner will have collected hundreds of new coral samples from the planet’s 2 largest structures built by these animals — in Australia and New Caledonia.


DCIM100MEDIADJI_0001.JPG© François Aurat / Tara Expéditions Foundation


After torrential rains lasting almost all day, the sun slowly came out 2 hours before our departure to offer us an exceptional late afternoon. The landscapes surrounding Whangarei and its river resemble those of Normandy or Limousin in France.


Before the end of the traditional clearance* procedure Tara’s new captain, Simon Rigal asked chief mechanic Charlène Gicquel and Daniel Cron (who will debark in Sydney) to start the 2 engines. Seeing that everything was on the right track with the Kiwi customs officer, Simon was eager to leave Whangarei and carry out the departure maneuvers during this window of beautiful, dry weather.


Samuel Audrain, outgoing captain and Marion Lauters, outgoing cook, played dockhands and released the moorings on land. Slowly, after a slight move forward on the last mooring, Simon backed up to the end of the dock.


Hailed one last time by Marion and Samuel, Tara then headed east leaving a wake behind the gray hull. Ahead were 15 km of nighttime navigation to leave this beautiful sinuous river and reach the sea.


photo 14_Nicolas de la Brosse prepare les voiles_Vincent Hilaire - Fondation Tara Expeditions© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expéditions Foundation


Less than 2 hours later, the first signs of rolling indicated that we had left this sheltered path for open water. Like a dromedary advancing in a sea of sand dunes, the schooner bobbed and throbbed forward.


We navigated with the motor for almost a day before encountering more difficult conditions. Weather reports announce 30 knot** westerly winds for the next few days.

This means we will start sailing to Sydney into the wind and the hours ahead may be a bit taxing for the 10 who are on board. They will have no choice but to quickly acquire their sea-legs. To stabilize the schooner and reduce rolling, the sailors hoisted the mainsail and foresail.


We are expected on August 18th in Sydney, a distance of 1,215 nautical miles.*** On our first night at sea there’s a nearly full moon. This is the second time the schooner will come into Darling Harbor. In March 1990, Jean-Louis Étienne finished the trans-Antarctica with 6 other explorers in this Australian port.


Vincent Hilaire


* authorization for departure

** 55 km/hour

***2,250 km

10 years of passion, and no previous pop-up!

After more than 2 days traveling west, I arrived on August 6 in Auckland (New Zealand). A 2-hour drive brought me to Port Whangarei and the welcoming sight of Tara’s orange tipped masts. After a first good night’s sleep, my 5th mission on board began. I met up with many former traveling companions: Nicolas de la Brosse, first mate, François Aurat, deck officer, Samuel Audrain, outgoing captain, Marion Lauters, outgoing cook and Daniel Cron, chief engineer. My sailing family is brought together once again for 3 and a half months, up to Papua New Guinea. Together, we’re going to write a new page of these 10 years of expeditions and passion that I’ve had the chance to experience, from the Arctic to the Antarctic.


retrouvailles - Charlene Gicquel - Fondation Tara Expeditions
Reunion of the new on board correspondent Vincent Hilaire with the crew at Whangarei. © Charlène Gicquel / Tara Expéditions Foundation


Everything started well when I left home. The taxi driver was on time and we soon arrived at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport terminal 2A. “New Zealand, it’s not next door!” he said before we chatted about French news.

At 8.30am, there was already a big queue for checking-in. After half an hour, I reached a counter and began the classic routine of ID presentation for these 3 flights about to take me to the southern hemisphere, at the other end of the world. My luggage was being registered when a pop-up appeared on the screen in front of the Air Tahiti Nui stewardess. “I can’t complete your check-in. The computer is blocked because you don’t have a return ticket”.

I explained that it was normal since I was on my way to join a ship. After my mission, I would disembark at another location. Despite my explanation, the pop-up persisted.

So I had to interrupt the formalities before completion, even though my boarding passes were duly issued. Now I had to plead my case. I produced the Tara Pacific expedition’s  presentation file and my contract letter to a first supervisor.

But the pop-up was still resisting, imposing its hegemony.

Three quarters of an hour after my arrival, I was still at the same terminal in front of the main supervisor. A new ordeal where I needed to be on my toes: presentation file, explanation of the mission and the inapplicability of a return ticket, etc. “We can’t let you go without a ticket back, Sir. I have to call immigration services in New Zealand to inform them and they will decide. They will need a local address.” Despite my experience in these situations with 2 hours before take-off, my departure was not certain.

The address given, the head supervisor came back a quarter of an hour later, on the phone with Auckland. In Shakespeare’s language, I had to explain once again the reasons for my one-way ticket. Fortunately, my interrogator was friendly and supportive. Having detailed a bit more about our mission and reassured her of my customs clearance papers, I then explained to her that Tara was actually Peter Blake’s ship, the former Seamaster. All of a sudden, the pop-up was disappeared: Sir Peter Blake’s aura had defeated it.

I checked my baggage, passed security and finally embarked.

Paris-Los Angeles was an 11-hour flight, followed by a first 10-hour transit. Unfortunately, I was about to discover that the pop-up had a cousin in the USA!

An hour before boarding my second plane to fly Los Angeles-Papeete, a loudspeaker message invited me to go to the nearest terminal counter.

Hello Sir, why don’t you have a return ticket?”  Since I wasn’t afraid of the pop-up anymore, my arguments were now well organized for battle: “Sir, I was asked the same question in Paris. Despite this, the New Zealand border police have given their consent to my entry, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to board the plane in France. In addition, I already have the customs clearance to go to Australia, our next stopover”.

Ok Sir, I’ll check with my boss.

The pop-up’s American cousin and partners never re-appeared.


Vincent Hilaire

“On board and in dry dock maintenance, I’m the mechanic!” – Daniel Cron, chief engineer

Interview with Daniel Cron in Whangarei, New Zealand, where Tara has stopped for repairs. Engines, electricity, painting, the schooner undergoes a midway overhaul in the southern hemisphere’s winter weather. 


Tara was in dry dock maintenance for several months in Lorient before the expedition departure. Why is Tara in dry dock now, a year after leaving her home port?

A ship is like a car and needs to be maintained. To do this, you take it to a mechanic. I’m the chief engineer here: I ensure the proper functioning of the engines for propulsion, generators for electricity, desalinator for drinking water and many other small repairs. Dry dock maintenance is a bit like the “technical control” for cars, with the difference that Tara is much more complex than a car, because in addition to mechanics, there’s the “sailing” dimension!

During an expedition, we always organize at least one month of dry dock maintenance each year, but when preparing for a new mission, some maintenance can take 4-6 months! Moreover, the “whale” (Tara’s nickname) is now an “elderly lady”:  28 years is a lot for a ship, and she needs to receive increasing care year after year.


Tara_au_chantier2-credit_Noelie_Pansiot-Fondation Tara Expeditions.jpgTo prepare for the second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, overhauling the schooner continues in dry dock. © Tara Expéditions Foundation


Who works in the maintenance shipyard? Are people sailors and mechanics at the same time?

Dry dock maintenance for a sailor is literally changing your way of life! The expedition is put on hold during maintenance and all the scientists go back to their labs. We take the vessel out of the water which is always impressive! Then begins a ballet of coming and going between the stores, and technicians coming to support us during the repairs. No more night shifts and no more scientific sampling. During the maintenance, we live like you landlubbers, although still on board. It’s a rare thing for us and we value the opportunity to easily communicate with our loved ones, go to a restaurant, the swimming pool, and sometimes even explore a region. It also feels good to get out of the ship for a while. A small team of 6 or 7 sailors usually remains on board and everyone contributes and becomes somewhat of a “mechanic”. Days are busy, we don’t count hours. Maintenance in dry dock is always intense!


DCIM100MEDIADJI_0087.JPGTara in dry dock for repairs. © Nicolas de la Brosse / Tara Expéditions Foundation


What type of work is performed?

Maintenance in the shipyard is usually carried out, either because we haven’t had time to do it earlier (between science and navigation), or because it’s impossible to stop the equipment for repairs while sailing, or simply because it requires very specific tools we don’t have on board. During each maintenance, there are many recurring small repairs, almost mandatory every year: cleaning the hull, checking the sea water valves (to avoid stupidly sinking), painting, welding, cleaning, and of course, everything associated with safety! Everything has to be checked: medical equipment (needed in the event of an accident), firefighting equipment (in case of fire), and the various distress and safety systems (in the event of abandoning ship). In addition, there are some major works specifically planned for this dry dock in New Zealand, for instance, fitting silencers on the engines’ exhaust pipes to reduce noise, installation of new propellers to go faster and consume less fuel, replacing the desalinator, and many more. We continuously try to improve daily life aboard the schooner and to renovate when needed!


Daniel_Cron_credit_Fondation Tara Expeditions
Chief engineer Daniel Cron checks the condition of the 2 engines. © Tara Expéditions Foundation


In what shape are Tara’s engines?

Even though Tara is a sailboat, we have 2 engines aboard that allow us to maneuver in port or move forward when there’s not enough wind. Each of them drives a propeller. The chief engineer is fully aware of their importance and spends his time taking great care of them! Over time, it feels like a real relationship has developed between the three of us (laughs). I have a particular relationship with these machines, even to the point where I personify them! Now, everyone on board knows these “ladies” under their respective nicknames, “Brigitte” and “Thérèse”, respectively located on the port (bâbord in French) and starboard (tribord) sides. Who knows if they don’t have their own secret feelings? (laughs).

Stopover in New Zealand for Tara’s Annual Check-up

Having completed the first year of the Tara Pacific expedition, on June 18 Tara docked in Whangarei, northern New Zealand. Samuel Audrain, Tara’s captain since he embarked in Kobe, and 6 sailors are participating in this mid-course maintenance session. This is a classic check-up, including verification of the engines and other vital elements. At the end of this week, the sailors will take a break and go to Auckland for a week. Invited by the Sir Peter Blake Trust, Tara and her crew will participate in many festivities.


9_Arrivee_NZ_iminente_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2230082After 8 days of sailing, Tara arrives in New Zealand with the first rays of sun. © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


As soon as they arrived from Fiji, the crew set to work. For Samuel, it was important to reach New Zealand on this date and this season, for two reasons: “First of all, we couldn’t stay in the northern hemisphere with the cyclone season coming up and still maintain our schedule for the rest of the expedition. Moreover, in Whangarei, we have an ideal technical platform for the overhaul.

The workers are efficient, competent and available to do what we had planned before the next departure on August 9th”.

VH: As always aboard Tara, time is short. How did you organize the work with local shipyards?

SA: “Over the past few weeks, we established 2 lists for the chantier. The first included all the work to to be done by local service providers. We know we can delegate certain tasks to them, including a lot of welding. Then there’s a list of things to do ourselves, including the revision of the 2 new engines Brigitte 2 and Thérèse 2 which are celebrating their first year of operation. We also intend to reduce the overall sound level by installing silencers. Among the important micro-projects already accomplished this week, we completely repainted the freshwater reservoir.

On the way back from Auckland, around July 19, the second part of the chantier will begin. We’ll take Tara out of the water to clean the hull, and also remove the shaft lines of the 2 engines. The engine cooling system does not work well. The temperature gets too high and we have to find a solution. Installing a new, more efficient refrigeration chamber is the right thing to do. We will also take the opportunity to install 2 new propellers. Tara will be in dry dock for about 10 days, then we’ll finish the last tasks with the boat in the water”.


Samuel Audrain (capitaine) vérifie le câblage de la timonerie depuis le carréSamuel Audrain (captain) checks the wiring of the wheelhouse from the main cabin. © Maeva Bardy / Fondation Tara Expéditions


VH: It’s been more than 10 days since you started to test Tara. How do you find the schooner after the first year of expedition in these hot latitudes?

SA: I find that the more time passes, the better Tara is! When we return to Lorient next time, it won’t be difficult to be quickly operational again.

The annual maintenance session will also be the occasion for several visits and certifications. Since we are registered in the Merchant Shipping Registry, we will have the annual visit of the Bureau Veritas, the certification organization that gives us the right to sail.

There will also be an official fire inspection, and a mandatory sanitary visit which happens every 6 months.


19_Arrivee_a_terre_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2230178For a few days the schooner will have some repair work done before the Auckland stopover. © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


VH: Tara, formerly Seamaster, is returning for the first time to the homeland of its former owner, the late Sir Peter Blake. Before the big festivities in Auckland that will last a week with many visitors on board, how did the locals welcome you in this quiet town of Whangarei?

SA: As soon as we entered the channel leading to our berth at Whangarei, we saw people photographing Tara from the surrounding hills. Some told us they had recognized the boat and were very surprised to see it here again. Since then, photos have been published in the local press, as well as important coverage by the national press.

When we started working on Tara with local service providers, they said: Welcome home”!

There’s no doubt that when Tara arrives in Auckland on Saturday, July 1 at 1 pm, there will be a great thrill on board.

The tribute will be immense. The memory of the sailor with the generous blonde mustache is still very much present. Especially since New Zealand just won the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda. The last time this trophy was brought back by the kiwis to their island, it was with Peter Blake.


Vincent Hilaire

Portrait of Nicolas Bin, first mate

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

“Bula Fiji”

After sailing across the Pacific Ocean for 31 days, the sailors finally docked the schooner. On June 1, at 2pm local time, Tara entered Port of Lautoka, a city located west of Viti Levu in the Fiji archipelago. But this was a short stopover. The Taranauts’ program during their first 24 hours ashore was very busy: buying provisions, filling out customs forms, and preparing the ship for a new scientific mission.

Some Taranauts would gladly have stayed a few more days at sea, but others were looking forward to setting foot on land, hearing birds singing and seeing green vegetation. For Samuel Audrain, Tara’s captain and sailor at heart: “When you’re on board for a long time, you enter another space-time. In the end, you lose track of time spent at sea. One or two more weeks don’t change anything.”


Image ElyxElyx, the UN’s digital ambassador, who illustrated the 17 Sustainable Development Goals aboard Tara to participate in World Ocean Day from Fiji © Elyx by Yak


For a month, the skyline and the sea had become our daily lives. On June 1 around 6am, land appeared, breaking our routine. When the first islets came into sight on the port side, the deck was already teeming with scientists ready with a plankton net to filter liters of water. At this early hour, nobody had yet realized that this great adventure on the high seas was about to end. Around 10am, Tara entered the Navula Passage, heading toward a quarantine zone before obtaining approval from the health authorities in Lautoka. A little further, a small pod of dolphins escorted the schooner…


13_Lamaneurs_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2220429Docking pilots in the port of Lautoka, Viti Levu Island © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expéditions Foundation


At 2pm, the head docker moored the schooner while others immediately shouted their greetings: “Bula!” In Fijian, this means “welcome, hello, goodbye” – a word repeated by every new person we meet. Here, in the second largest town in the Republic of Fiji, people greet each other in the street.

Tomorrow, the Taranauts will sail another 25 miles towards Kuta Island to reach their first sampling site. The scientists on board will follow the sampling protocol, marking the beginning of the second year of Tara’s expedition in the Pacific Ocean. For 5 days, the team will study 3 different sites. Then the schooner will sail along the south coast of Viti Levu to reach its capital, Suva. Taranauts will then be able to follow closely the UN Ocean Conference, being held in New York. They will participate in live discussions with United Nations representatives and contribute their precious testimony.


10_Tara_baie_Kuata_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-0058Tara moored near the small island of Kuata in Fiji © Samuel Audrain / Tara Expéditions Foundation


*Bula Fiji: Welcome to Fiji


Noëlie Pansiot

Portrait of a sailor: Loïc Caudan

Loïc Caudan is something of a shadow man aboard Tara: he’s below deck in the bowels of the whale and discreetly watches over its vital organs. Whether in the engine room, the workshop, the hold or under the passageways, he moves around carefully, far from the bustle of the bridge, which is perfect for him. During his long months on board, he pampers, repairs, creates and maintains. Who exactly is this Taranaut? Portrait of a “chief mechanic” very different from the stereotypes.


For the first mate, Nicolas Bin, Loïc is “a guy I like to work and sail with! He’s someone who finishes things and doesn’t go half-way.” On board, everyone agrees that the young man is conscientious and reliable. But not only…


2-Loic_Caudan_credit_NPansiot-2170205Chief engineer Loïc Caudan upon arrival in Yokohama harbour © Noélie Pansiot / Tara Expéditions Foundation


32 years old, married with one child, Loïc grew up in Val-d’Oise until he was 20. He enrolled in geography at the university and earned a bachelor’s degree in “History, Sociology, Climatology and Geology”. In parallel, he became an instructor for “dinghy sailing and sailboat cruising”. Following a year of volunteer work at the French Les Glénans sailing school and a state certificate as sports instructor at the National Sailing School of Quiberon, Loïc found his vocation! “At least for a while.” He then worked at Les Glénans for 3 seasons. While there, he didn’t hesitate to jump overboard to put his apprentice-monitors to the test during rescue exercises. “The most grueling session lasted 45 minutes in 15° C water. That’s a long time, even in a wetsuit,” recalls the chief mechanic.


In 2010, he joined forces with Father Jaouen’s association to improve his knowledge of ship maintenance and repair: “I was given responsibilities even as a novice. I helped to fabricate a bronze rudder bearing for a 36-meter boat. A rare experience!” It’s here that he acquired the basics for his future work aboard Tara. He then embarked on a major personal project: buying and refitting a steel sailboat and sailing along the coasts of Africa, Brazil and Uruguay.


On his return in 2012, he passed the 750Kw mechanic’s certificate and volunteered as a mechanic on the Greenland expedition Under the Pole. “I was involved in the project from the construction site to the end of the exploration. And it was during this first polar experience that I encountered my first big engine breakdown. Seawater had entered the cylinder head.” Loïc then turned to another environment: fishing. He embarked as second mechanic on a 35-meter trawler for 8 months.


IMG_7934© Tara Expéditions Foundation


Loïc always thought about working aboard Tara: “I wanted to continue to be on a work boat and to sail, which is, in my opinion the nicest way to navigate.” For the last 2 and a half years, the 30-year old has taken turns in the position of chief mechanic on the schooner. Daniel Cron, his alter ego on board explains: “In general, it’s a bit frustrating since we just cross paths on Tara. But just for a change, this time I embarked as deck officer. So we have the opportunity to sail together for a month to Fiji. And I’m very happy! We are opposites in character: he’s rather quiet and I’m rather extroverted. In fact Loic mentions from time to time that silence doesn’t bother him. At first, he plays the role of gruffy bear and it takes a little while to find the marshmallow inside. He’s a fake bad guy, but a real grumbler when it comes to the consumption of water and electricity on board. And he’s right!”




It must be said that Loïc is responsible for all of the schooner’s energy production. He understands how much each drop of water costs and knows every energy expenditure. Engines, generators, desalinator, electric circuits, water circuits for science and even sanitary. Loïc watches over Tara’s essential organs, and also over his teammates. He is always there to help.


After thinking about it, he probably makes a game out of being reluctant. Loïc displays a cynical sense of humor but he doesn’t lack responsiveness or general culture. His characteristic shrugging and eyebrow raising show that he participates in the teasing on board. You often have to listen carefully to hear him say a word. He doesn’t like being the center of attention, and when the on-board correspondent points a camera in his direction, the chief mechanic bends over and closes his eyes. When asked to open them, he answers at a glance, “You should take my picture only when I have them open! Maybe it’s time you found a real job.” Bursts of laughter follow.



Noëlie Pansiot

31 days of autonomy at sea

Tara has been traveling towards the South Pacific for the past few days, heading for Fiji, more precisely for Lautoka, with arrival expected on the first of June.  6 sailors, 5 scientists and a journalist are aboard, living in complete autonomy for a whole month of sailing. On the high seas, Taranauts maintain a fast pace determined by the rhythm of sampling stations, daily tasks and night shifts. This leg is the longest of the Tara Pacific expedition.


744 hours of navigation. A unique experience for 13 people living in full autonomy aboard an oceanographic vessel. But what is “autonomy” at sea? The dictionary gives this definition of the word: “Time during which a device can function without outside intervention”. Regarding Tara, this definition is not limited to the supply of food and fuel.

Energy independence is indeed one of the main concerns of Captain Samuel Audrain: “Fuel oil is an important concern because we have to arrive on schedule. But fuel is expensive and weighs down the boat. So we have to make some calculations. We departed with 25,000 liters — the reservoir a little more than half full. And as soon as conditions are right, we hoist the sails and choose a direction to get maximum benefit from the wind. Being powered by the wind makes everyone feel happy, stabilizes the boat, and spares the motors. We move much faster, and of course our carbon footprint is much improved”.


All sails outside, the schooner advances at a speed of 7 knots © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Samuel continues: “Water autonomy is also a crucial point. We have a 6000-liter tank and a desalinator. In case of a problem with this machine, we have 390 liters of bottled water which, theoretically, would keep us going for a week”.

When embarking aboard the schooner, risks related to the remoteness of medical care must be considered. In the event of a problem, the Taranauts would not be lacking for care. The boat carries medical equipment labelled “Dotation A” consisting of materials and medicines determined by the type of navigation practiced, and the number and function of people on board. The letter “A” means that the schooner has a well-stocked pharmacy, and that sailors are trained to measure vital signs, and place sutures or perfusions if necessary.

When it comes to safety, the watchword is clear: “Forbidden to get hurt on board!” First mate Nicolas Bin repeats this rule to each newcomer during the security briefing. “Each person must take care of his own safety and that of his team”. We have to respect the sleep of the Taranauts who all take turns doing night watch. “We try to take into account the capacities of each person because we need to function well over a long period. Team members must find their own rhythm, balancing hours of sleep and work. Paying attention to the crew’s rest is an important aspect of safety on board”, remarks the Captain.


The crew simulated a man overboard exercise © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Interrupted sleep, hard work, extreme heat — this crossing is far from any romantic images one might have. Remember that Tara is a polar vessel currently sailing in a tropical zone. Crew and equipment are like coral, they suffer from high temperatures. Samuel Audrain explains: “Our navigation instruments could not withstand the temperatures that the sailors bear from time to time”. Air conditioning makes it possible to maintain a moderate temperature in the PC Com and also in the dry lab where essential instruments function 24 hours a day.

For Marion Lauters, sailor/cook, managing the food stocks is a real challenge. Her “little worry” is keeping things cool. “Aboard Tara we don’t have much space in the refrigerators. Another place partly reserved for food storage is the front hold, but it’s not insulated and varies according to the outside temperature — more than 30°C at the moment. Also, there’s a generator in this hold, but I negotiated with the chief mechanic so it’s not being used”. As for food stocks, there’s no worry! Marion knows very well the quantities consumed on board: “I multiply what we eat by the number of weeks and people. Coffee is about 250g per day, the same as butter. Flour is between 800 grams and 1 kilo per day.” For this leg, nothing will be lacking. The risk is being overweight!

Autonomy aboard Tara for such a long time requires a lot more than some bunches of bananas, a stock of preserves and a reservoir of fuel. This crossing requires a great deal of planning, precise logistics and a highly competent team.

Noëlie Pansiot

Chronicle of a Taiwanese stopover

More than 8 days ago, Tara arrived under escort in the port of Keelung, Taiwan. Small sailboats of the National Taiwan Ocean University welcomed the Taranauts with great fanfare which continued throughout the stopover. And it was to the sound of big drums that the sailors moored the boat, only a few steps from the famous fish market.


Voilier_Universite_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2210154The Taranauts escorted by sailboats of the National Taïwan Ocean University © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


With about thirty knots of wind in her sails for 36 hours, the schooner didn’t take long to cover the 330 miles separating Japan’s Okinawa Island from Taiwan. As soon as they reached the quay, the Taranauts were invited to a reception ceremony followed by a dinner – an evening during which the team explored the local culinary diversity. The following days were exceptionally well organized thanks to the National Taiwan Ocean University (NTOU) and the faithful support teams of agnès b. Taiwan: scientific conferences, public visits on board and inauguration of a beautiful exhibition in Taipei.


Tara’s stopover in Keelung is the result of a fruitful collaboration between Tara Base in Paris and the dynamic NTOU President, Mr. Ching-Fong Chang. The project seems to have found a particular echo: “We have the same concerns as Tara. The ocean is suffering from warming, pollution and overfishing,” explained Mr. Chang. “We are surrounded by the sea, we have 100,600 km of coast and 120 islands. The ocean is very important for Taiwan, but the government does not seem concerned by the subject. The arrival of Tara in Keelung is a good thing for the education of children and the public. This is a positive sign.”


Ceremonie_acceuil_Keelung_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2200321Tara arrives in Keelung. Sunday, April 23 © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


As for each stopover, visitors took turns on deck with an efficient team of volunteer translators present every day from 9 am to 6 pm regardless of the weather: Duos of Taranauts and volunteers took turns leading visits and describing the history of the research vessel. Everybody recounted anecdotes and added a touch of humor to keep the attention of the audience.

Michel Flores of the Weizmann Institute of Science encouraged the public’s participation: “Do you know how many people can live on board?”. Others told the love story with a sad ending between coral and zooxanthellae during an episode of bleaching. Between each visit, the crew refined the details of the “great crossing” that will take them from Taiwan to Fiji in the coming month. After a meeting to define “Ocean and Aerosol” protocols, the scientists finished installing their instruments on board. While the sailors tackled final preparations of the boat, Marion Lauters, sailor/cook, spent the last 3 days of the stopover shopping in organic stores and supermarkets to replenish the food stocks.


Nicolas_Bin_manoeuvre_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-photoshopFirst mate, Nicolas Bin, hard at work © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expéditions Foundation


Sunday afternoon after casting off, Nicolas Bin sounded the foghorn and gave a vocal performance. Placing his hands around his mouth, the first mate imitated the honking horn of an old car, like the wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon. A last wave of hands saluted the volunteers and the public on the quay. It’s promised — in one year, Tara’s orange masts will return to the port of Keelung. Thank you all!

Zài jiàn! (Goodbye in Mandarin)


Samuel_salue_voilier_Universite_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2210160Samuel Audrain, captain, salutes the volunteers. © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Noëlie Pansiot

Kikaijima, between past and present

Arriving by boat offers a different way of getting to know a place: you have the time to discover it. First the profile, then colors and finally its geology. From far away, the tiny island of Kikai doesn’t reveal all its assets: limestone cliffs, a flat surface, fields of sugar cane, and a climate indicating arrival in the tropics. Anchored off the coast for 2 days, Taranauts had time to observe the island from a distance. 48 hours of waiting before stepping on land, or rather on coral debris. The time required for scientists to perform their sub-aquatic ballet, repeating the same gestures as on each coral reef.


At_sea_credit_Nicolas_FlochTara left the main Japanese island heading for Kikaijima  © Nicolas Floc’h / Fondation Tara Expéditions


In Japanese, Kikaijima means “the island of pleasure”– just right to stir up the curiosity of a team of sailors! Located between the eastern China Sea and the Pacific, between temperate zone and tropical zone, Kikaijima is quite unusual. Each year the coral plateau constituting this small island rises a little more. Beneath the feet of its 7,600 inhabitants, tectonic plates are discreetly moving.

100,000 years ago Kikaijima was a coral reef like any other: a colony of animals building an oasis of biodiversity below the surface. Then, pushed by telluric* forces for millennia, the reef reached the surface and now rises 214 meters above sea level. No wonder this remote island in the Amani archipelago attracts the attention of geologists. The current speed of elevation is impressive: 2 mm per year — one of the fastest in the world, along with the Caribbean island of Barbados, or the Huon Peninsula in Papua New Guinea

Today life in Kikaijima has nothing to do with the frenzy of large Japanese cities. For the islanders living on these 53 square kilometers of limestone, daily concerns are more important than the geological originalities of the island. Landing on Kikai, you immediately feel the peaceful rhythm of life. Some fishing, some agriculture. Only one big supermarket, with a poster announcing Tara’s arrival. Two years ago a new structure was built on the fishing port — the Coral Reef Institute — conceived by Tsuyoshi Watanabe and Atsuko Yamazaki, whom the Taranauts met at a party organized in their honor at the Institute.


Comité_accueil_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2190107Warm welcome committee for Tara’s arrival at Kikaijima island © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Tsuyoshi Watanabe, specialist in paleoclimatology and geology, is a lecturer at Hokkaido University. “After traveling around the world, we realized that people here knew nothing about coral. In general, scientists visit a site, collect a few samples, and take them back to their laboratories. So we decided to establish this institute to share our knowledge. Now the children of Kikaijima are familiar with coral and this makes us feel proud.”

We have to delve into the past, look at the geology of the island or to take an interest in its geography to understand its uniqueness. “The coral shelf here has been through different climatic periods”, explains Tsuyoshi. “By studying it, we can go back in time and better understand the past ecosystem of coral, its palaeo-biodiversity…This could give us valuable information on the future of our environment. Kikaijima is situated on a border between past and present. It’s a unique island!”


Noëlie Pansiot


*telluric: concerning the Earth

Tsukiji, the world’s biggest fish market

The city of Tokyo is home to the world’s largest wholesale fish market, located in the Tsukiji district since 1935.

Five days out of seven, professionals are at work in the gigantic halls, buying and selling tons of fish and seafood caught in oceans around the world. Bluefin tuna is sold for extremely high prices at the morning auction where only a few tourists (without cameras!) are welcome.

Kazuki Miyaji goes to the Tsukiji market every week just for fun. This fish enthusiast guides us through the stalls filled with quantities of fish from all over the world

Takeshi Kitano, Ambassador of Tara

A new chapter of Tara’s story is beginning in Japan. The Tara project radiates far beyond French borders and is now officially recognized as a public interest group. None of this would have been possible without the support of Tara’s friends and partners: agnès b., Véolia Foundation, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, and many others.

In the Japanese archipelago, the schooner is sponsored by a well-known personality — actor/film director Takeshi Kitano. As a young boy, he discovered Cousteau and developed a passionate interest in the ocean. For more than 2 years, Takeshi Kitano has been Tara’s Ambassador in Japan. Now he is finally able to discover the schooner on the occasion of Tara’s first visit to the archipelago.


Message from a grandfather to all Taranauts

You’ve had the opportunity to follow the stories of Flora Vincent, a marine biologist, during her leg aboard Tara between Wallis and Fukuoka. Through her easy writing style, the scientist shared her experience in the form of a log book. Flora loves passing on her knowledge and has proven herself to be a good teacher. At 27, she is currently completing her PhD on plankton and overseeing the transfer of responsibility of WAX Science, an organization dedicated to the promotion of science she co-founded. On board, everyone agrees Flora has energy to spare! When Tara arrived in Fukuoka, Flora said she was feeling quite “at home”: “I am part French, part Japanese. Thirty-five years ago, my mother left Japan to settle in France. Part of my family still lives here in Japan. My grandfather may visit us”

A few days later, Minoru Fujii traveled 3 hours from Osaka to join Tara in Onomichi. On this occasion, Flora requested the assistance of Maki, a Japanese artist-in-residence, to talk with her grandfather.


Salut_Minoru_credit_NPansiot-2150178Visit aboard Tara of Minoru Fujii, grandfather of marine biologist Flora Vincent. ©  Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Then began a trialogue between Flora, who speaks little Japanese, Maki, an improvised interpreter and Minoru San, 91. After visiting the schooner, putting on a sailing jacket and lying down on his granddaughter’s bunk to assess its degree of comfort, Minoru San sat down in the mess room.

After lunch, Minoru San addressed the crew:

“I am truly very happy and very honored to be so warmly welcomed aboard, thanks to the Captain’s permission. I am really lucky to be here. I received Tara’s journal through my granddaughter Flora and I read every article! Now, I know your project: it’s a great mission for the planet. I understand we must really try to preserve our oceans for future generations: this is very important because without plankton we won’t be able to breathe. Corals are also endangered. It’s all wrong! I’ve learned all these things thanks to Tara’s project, Flora and your newspaper. You really do a fantastic job. But I’m only an old man speaking.»


Taranautes_Minoru_credit_NPansiot-215017Exchange with Taranauts. © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation 


“Here, in Japan, when we reach a certain age and we get a chance like mine today to be at your side, we say: “I was given a gift for the next life.” Thanks to you, I leave with beautiful memories. I thank you with all my heart for this warm welcome.”

Before Tara cast off towards Kobe, Minoru San disembarked with a second gift drawn by Maki in the palm of his hand …


Tara_henne_Minoru_credit_NPansiot-2150138Henna tattoo designed by Maki at Minoru Fujii’s request. © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

On land and looking back

[After finishing her thesis on data from the Tara Oceans expedition in Chris Bowler’s lab at ENS d’Ulm, Flora Vincent embarked on Tara for the first time at Wallis to sample plankton during the Tara Pacific expedition. She debarked at Fukuoka, JAPAN. ]

We’ve finally arrived on the main archipelago of Japan, where Tara is making an extended stopover for historical and scientific reasons: Japan has been a fan of agnès b for 30 years and is home to a wide variety of coral reefs. For the occasion they don’t do things half-way: we raised the sails under a brilliant sun and our entrance into the bay of Fukuoka was accompanied by a NHK television helicopter that circled around us! Perched on Tara’s mast, I was ecstatic to see the modern world again, lost from view for 2 months.


Visite_Flora_credit_NPansiot_P2140206Marin biologist, Flora Vincent, getting interviewed by NHK,  Japanese television channel at her arrival in Fukuoka © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


For 3 days we’ve been reconnected. The day after our arrival in Fukuoka, Japanese television came on board and a report was broadcast on the main channel that same evening. Some of the scientists and sailors disembarked, relayed by part of the Paris team that came as reinforcement for the numerous stopovers, and they brought along something very bizarre: a WiFi box. After waiting for the 2,300 WhatsApp messages to synchronize, I became aware of the time spent on board because it caught up with us. An announcement of pregnancy, a split-up, a birth, many parties — in short a parallel life that continued without us.

For the school visits, I was grouped with Till, another scientist, Maki the artist-in-residence and Nico the first mate. 120 students in one morning, 4 hours to explain the history of the schooner, the research, Tara’s missions, personal anecdotes, accompanied by Maki’s first paintings that recall the real creative links between art and science.

Sharing my new experience with high school students, raising public awareness – these have replaced the imperatives of science and navigation. I slowly realize that I am participating in something that surpasses me completely: a unique synthesis of 3 poles which converge around a shared passion for the marine world.



P2140490Biologist Flora Vincent introduces school children to Tara using drawings by Maki, artist-in-residence aboard © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


I spent 2 months talking to the same 14 people, and in 4 hours I reconnected thanks to visitors and journalists on board as well as the out-of-phase WhatsApp notifications. For 2 months, my life has been patterned by science, navigation and community life away from all terrestrial pre-occupations. It’s perhaps the most bizarre feeling I’ve had in recent days: creating the bridge between my life of the last 2 months and “before”. It’s like a vine that weaves itself between life on land and this universe that I’ve discovered. I admire the sailors who find their balance between these 2 worlds, for whom embarkations can last 6 months, because for now my brain still hasn’t understood what’s taking place.

Today, what brings me back to earth is precisely what Tara has been doing for years. The desire to share an adventure, to witness, understand and preserve a wonderful treasure. Above all, we must take on our responsibility as scientists, sailors and citizens to raise awareness of the changes taking place on this Blue Planet. I’ve become a Taranaut.

Flora Vincent

« Bye Bye Sarah ! »

Over the months, the crew changes. During certain stopovers, new team members come aboard Tara and others disembark. New faces appear, and sometimes former Taranauts return. Scientists and crew members take turns continuously. In all, there will be 70 scientists participating in the Tara Pacific expedition. I just relayed Sarah Fretwell as journalist/correspondent aboard.

Sarah is American, more specifically from California, and during our interview she wished to clarify a point: “I didn’t vote for Donald Trump”, she says with a laugh. Multimedia journalist by profession, Sarah is the first English-speaking on board correspondent to embark on Tara. Here is what she will remember from her 2-month stay aboard the schooner:


Sunset in Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellSunset in Kiribati © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


How did your arrival aboard Tara go?

I had just finished another project in Africa and I was working until the day I left. So I didn’t really have a mental transition. I had done a virtual tour online, and I had some information as far as the protocol and about the Tara philosophy. I just knew I was in for a big adventure. I just said ok, it’s going to be a life experience no matter what happens. I was really surprised when they showed me the islands that I’d been assigned to: Tuvalu and Kiribati. Because at the beginning of every year, I make a kind of “vision board”, and 2 years ago I found pictures of those same islands in a travel magazine and I had put them on my board!

Was it difficult to adapt to this job?

I was learning about the organization and the job position; I was also learning the culture of the boat, figuring out how it works. It was a steep learning curve. But I feel like the way I dealt with it was OK. “There are going to be challenges every day and I’ll just figure them out.” And so every day, it was just problem-solving all day. But I learned that’s how it is on a boat for everyone, no matter what. Daniel Cron was the chief engineer when I was aboard, and I saw that he was continually problem-solving and fixing things. And Martin was too, with customs and immigration.


sarah-credit noelie3© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expéditions Foundation


When one evokes the job of correspondent aboard Tara, people often romanticize and imagine a situation resembling much more a holiday than work. What do you think of this legend?

It’s definitely not a vacation! I’ve come off other projects feeling tired before, but really I don’t know if I’ve ever been this tired. Everyone is always working: 24h a day, 7 days a week. That was the most challenging part. It’s a difficult position because everything that I was doing, I usually have a team of people that I work with to do it. So it was interesting to suddenly be doing it by myself. Luckily I had the skills for it. My favorite aspect of the job was going to the different islands and having the chance to go ashore and get different stories.

What was your most amazing experience as a reporter?

One of my favorites was Tuvalu because I showed up on New Year’s day and no banks were open. I had no money and I really wanted to interview the Prime Minister, but his secretary hadn’t responded. Martin dropped me off with the dingy. I was carrying the equipment and the tripod with me to the shore and I just walked out of the ocean with my clothes. And I finally had the most beautiful experience there and I managed to get the interview!


 © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expéditions Foundation


I feel incredibly honored and lucky to have worked with the people I met during my time aboard Tara, and to have shared the experiences we had together. Something that’s funny for me: In my job I go to so many places, and my friends at home are interested, but can never fully understand. It’s so cool to have 15 “strangers” and now friends to have shared these lifetime adventures with.


Interview by Noëlie Pansiot,
On board correspondent embarked in Fukuoka (Japan) on February 19, 2017

“85,000 liters for Science”

A month and a half ago I embarked aboard Tara at Wallis, the most distant place from Paris I’ve ever traveled.

[After finishing her thesis on data from the Tara Oceans expedition in Chris Bowler’s lab at ENS d’Ulm, Flora Vincent embarked on Tara for the first time at Wallis to sample plankton during the Tara Pacific expedition. She will debark at Fukuoka, JAPAN. ]


8-Scientist Flora Vincent shaking her 1,801 sample bottle of this leg of the expedition_Photo Credit Sarah Fretwell_0Q8A5357Scientist Flora Vincent shaking her 1,801 sample bottle of this leg of the expedition © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions 


I had just finished my PhD at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris) in Chris Bowler’s laboratory, where I was working for 3 years on data collected during the Tara Oceans expedition. As incredible as it may seem, one can do an entire thesis based on the data from Tara Oceans and never have embarked on the schooner. So quite naturally when Colomban de Vargas and Sarah Romac – responsible for plankton research on Tara Pacific – proposed that I come aboard to collect plankton between Wallis and Fukuoka, I jumped at the opportunity.

The majority of scientists aboard Tara are busy analyzing coral, but Guillaume (the bridge engineer) and I are interested in everything that happens around the coral. What are the physico-chemical parameters of the surrounding water? Which micro-organisms invisible to the naked eye populate the reef? What do they do and how are they different from the ones we find directly on the corals or further out to sea? What is the influence of an island and its population in the middle of the Pacific on the planktonic ecosystem?

Concretely our scientific work is divided into 2 stages. There’s the so-called ‘island phase’: twice a day I go on a zodiac to collect seawater near the coral reefs with the help of the crew – often Julie, Nico, Martin and Jon. Once we’re back on Tara, we do a battery of genetic, morphological and physico-chemical analyses. I had a chance to take samples from the Tuvalus, the Kiribati, Chuuk, Guam and Ogasawara – exceptional places that before I could hardly have pinpointed on a map – unfortunately now threatened by climate change.


Guillame Bourdin Flora Vinent Sarah Fretwell 0Q8A1917Tara scientists Guillaume Bourdin and Flora Vinent confer over sample results during their nigh time sample © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Between 2 islands is the so-called ‘Ocean phase’. During daily voyages in the open sea, Guillaume and I collect water directly as the boat advances, thanks to a series of nets, pumps, and pipes which we put into the water at precise places of interest, with the help of the sailors, by day or by night, in the sun or rain. Afterwards we perform all the manipulations necessary to harvest the micro-organisms present in the water.

This experience in the field is exhilarating: from the 85,000 liters of seawater we collected in just 2 months (of a 2-year expedition!), several years of research and new discoveries will result. Thanks to Tara we can develop approaches and answer questions that only such a large scale of sampling and interdisciplinarity allow. My adventure on board will soon be over, but for Tara Pacific, it’s just the beginning.


Flora Vincent

Questions and Answers with Tara Captain Martin Hertau

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


For everyone aboard Tara, departing from Guam was sweet sorrow, saying goodbye to valued crew and friends, meeting new crew, and excitedly heading to Japan.

Tara scientists completed their research in Guam and were able to sample only a small area because of weather. They noted good coral cover was restricted to small protected patches, yet the abundance of coral reef associated fish was surprisingly high.

The departing crew includes memorable friends.


Saying goodbyeSaying goodbye to valued crew members, Chief Engineer Daniel Cron, Deck Officer Julie Lherault, and First Mate Nicolas De La Brosse © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Deck officer Julie Lherault, the lone woman who can captain a dinghy or fix a bilge pump with the most seasoned of boat crew, then put on a dress and prepare the best sashimi dinner you will have in your entire life.
Nicolas De La Brosse, the first mate, who makes sure the boat is running smoothly with everything in its place. He can always be located on the boat laughing loudly at another joke. His love of prosciutto and chocolate cocoa puffs is so great, rumor has it he slept with them under his pillow for the past month!
Last, but not least, chief engineer Daniel Cron who must contort into the smallest, darkest, and often dirtiest places on the boat to ensure that Tara is running smoothly. His infamous dance moves and humorous scolding when you forget to turn off the lights in your room – “This is not Versailles” – will be sorely missed.


Saying goodbye to Daiel, Nico, and Julie in Guam_photo credit Sarah Fretwell_0Q8A3165-2Saying goodbye to Daniel, Nicolas, and Julie in Guam © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


While each of these crew have their titles, they all work incredibly hard, tackling any task that needs to be accomplished – even when it is not in their job duty – to ensure the success of scientists and the expedition. It has been incredible to watch them work as a team and an honor for all aboard to have worked with them.

In the port of Guam, we met with our shipping partner Rainer Friedrich of World Courier, and packed 3 months worth of scientific samples (Tahiti to Guam) for shipment to labs around the world. After saying our goodbyes, we had the joy of meeting four new crew members: first mate Nicolas Bin, deck officer Francois Aurat, chief engineer Loïc Caudan, and our artist-in-residence, Maki Ohkojima from Tokyo.


Rainer FriedrichRainer Friedrich of World Courier ensuring temperature sensitive coral samples make it to labs well preserved by packing them in thermal boxes with dry ice © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


We raised our sails for a five-day, 832 nautical mile navigation to Japan, where our first stop before we reach the mainland is the southern island of Ogasawara. One of the highlights this year for Tara are our stops in Japan. Since 2009, Tara Expeditions Foundation has collaborated with Japanese evolutionary biology and ecology of microorganisms expert Hiroyuki Ogata, senior researcher at Kyoto University. As the first Japanese scientist to have been aboard Tara, we are excited to work with him in his home country. In Japan, Tara will specifically look at the Kuroshio marine current and its role in larval dispersal of reef fish. Generated in the Western Pacific, this warm current feeds the most northerly reefs on the planet, located in Japan.

Sarah Fretwell

Video:Pacific shipwrecks: toxic leaks into the Ocean

Chuuk Lagoon, in Micronesia, is famous to divers everywhere for the 52 warships that sank there during WWII, and the spectacular corals, marine life, and diving that has resulted.

What many people don’t know is that these “treasures” are leaking fuel, as salt water corrodes the fuel tanks. They also still contain unexploded ordnance. For the marine life and communities dependent on the ocean for their survival, the ships are now – literally – “ticking time bombs.” Someone must pay the millions of dollars to remove the remaining fuel, before tanks corrode completely, devastating the lagoon and the islands’ way of life…but who?

© Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expeditions

Video : Marine biologist aboard Tara

Ever wondered what it would be like to work as a scientist in a far-off location, researching issues critical to the ocean?
Meet 27-year-old marine biologist Oceane Salles, who is currently working aboard the Tara Pacific expedition. She tells us more about her relationship to the ocean, the work she is doing, and her experience aboard the Tara schooner.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

What future for Kiribati?

Aware that climate change scientists have given their island approximately 50 years before much of it is uninhabitable, the residents of Kiribati are still looking for any way possible to preserve their sinking island nation and their way of life.


Local children have thier run of the village and served as Tara tour guides on Abaiang Island, Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellLocal children have their run of the village and served as Tara tour guides on Abaiang Island, Kiribati  © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


As the Tara dinghy coasted to the white beach, a local fishing family sauntered down to greet it. A young boy scaled a coconut tree to harvest fresh young coconuts for the Tara crew.

As Tara’s scientists took in the surroundings of this lost paradise, a lump formed in the back of some of their throats. This island, this community and this family will not be here in 50 years.

Tara scientist, Martin Desmalades from CRIOBE Lab in Perpignan, France summed up the feeling, “You know the science and hear the different opinions about where and how (impacts of climate change) will happen here. Then when you stand on the island with the people and see their life, it is a feeling of disbelief. You hope they can find a way.”


Where the green plants and palm trees meet the beach marks the backyard of most residents of Abaiang Island, Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellWhere the green plants and palm trees meet the beach marks the backyard of most residents of Abaiang Island, Kiribati © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


Located between Fiji and the Marshall Islands. the young island nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-ee-bahs) is slated for the dubious honor of being one of the first nations in the world to lose its way of life to the ravages of climate change.

To get a local perspective, Tara’s team sought the opinion of Choi Yeeting, National Climate Change Coordinator to the President for Kiribati. Yeeting tells us a common saying instilled in Kiribati youth, “Nangoa Wagm Nte Tauraoi” – Be ready at all costs.

He says, “Now with the ice sheets melting, it may give us less time to build our adaptive capacity and resilience relative to when Kiribati may disappear. It is a big question mark. We may not have enough time to do that fully.”


Fishermen from Tabontebike village in Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellFishermen from Tabontebike village in Kiribati © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


The inhabitants of Kiribati – I-Kiribati in Gilbertese – are already feeling the pressures of climate change. More severe storms lead to land disputes, as more and more people move inland after storms, encroaching on other people’s land.

Still, Yeeting says people are hopeful. “We have that fighting nature to stay in our country. You can kind of look at it like being the captain of the ship – you go down with your ship. It is about pride. It is about being who we are. Where would we go? Would we still be I-Kiribati after this? Personally speaking, that is how I see it for my country. I guess my first instinct would be I’m going to go down with it.”


Tara crew pose with the local children in Tabontebike village Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellTara crew pose with the local children in Tabontebike village, Kiribati © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


Yeeting is not in denial about the stark reality of having to leave the land that his people and heritage are so closely tied to, to go live in another country, “Who are we if we move away from our country? Are we still I-Kiribati? Do our traditional values still count when we move to another country? Personally, I would like to remain I-Kiribati and still have my own traditions and cultural values. Aside from the science. Besides the scientific fact that we do have 50 years.”

When we asked best case scenario what his future will look like he replied, “I will have kids by then, I will be married, I will live here in Kiribati all my life. That is something that I envision for myself. That is the best-case scenario at this point. The worst-case scenario? The worst-case scenario would be having to evacuate Kiribati. I don’t see a good future for our people if that day really comes.”

 Sarah Fretwell

“Like every morning”

6:15am – the alarm goes off. From my cabin, I hear the footsteps on deck of Julie and Daniel, deck officer and chief mechanic. They’re off to raise the yankee sail on Tara’s bow.

[After finishing her thesis on data from the Tara Oceans expedition in Chris Bowler’s lab at ENS d’Ulm, Flora Vincent embarked on Tara for the first time at Wallis to sample plankton during the Tara Pacific expedition. She will debark at Fukuoka, Japan. This is Flora’s logbook 1/3]


I stagger towards the main dining room and like every morning, glance at the notice board for household chores. Today, I am on duty for lunch with my usual group composed of Nico de la Brosse, the first mate and Pete West, the underwater cameraman. Each scientist is in a group of 3 with a different sailor who gets us started and guides us through life on board, especially for first timers on Tara, like me. I pick up 2 pieces of toast, my coffee and, like every morning, join Dominique the cook on deck. We enjoy our breakfast with a sea view, admiring the sunrise.

No time for daydreaming, I have to set up the wet laboratory at the back of the boat and prepare the equipment to process the daily collected samples.


11-Scientist-Flora-Vincent-in-the-wet-lab-changing-filters_photo-credit-Sarah-FretwellScientist Flora Vincent in the wet lab changing plankton filters © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Like every morning, every corner of the boat reminds me that Tara is optimized to be a lab on the ocean. From the forward to the rear hold, from the hull under the boat to the top of the mast, science is everywhere, all the time, hidden in the bowels of the schooner.

Pumping air, pumping water, measuring iron or CO2 in water, Tara is continuously collecting a series of oceanographic and atmospheric measurements that will be used to understand the link between climate change and the state of health of coral reefs.

The relationship to time and space is unique on Tara. At the slightest power cut, Guillaume, the deck engineer, rushes to check that the measuring instruments are still running because the backup batteries give him 3 minutes to react. A badly closed freezer can ruin weeks of work at sea, impossible to redo because it’s there that all the samples are stored before being sent on.  Forgetting to store tubes before going for a coffee break means running the risk of seeing them scattered everywhere because the boat is constantly pitching. Putting down a cup of coffee to pick them up runs the other risk of seeing the cup break into a thousand pieces on the deck.


7-Tara-scientists-Flora-Vincent-and-Guillame-Bourdin-sample-iron-in-the-water_photo-credit-Sarah-FretwellTara scientists Flora Vincent and Guillaume Bourdin sample iron in the water © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation


As every morning, the cohabitation between science and navigation in such a confined space obliges us to anticipate everything. And there is always something unexpected to do at the last moment and it’s already too late! We accomplish things as soon as we have time (put things away, repair, prepare, but also sleep, do a laundry or reply to emails!), especially the sailors who are constantly solicited day and night to manoeuver the boat, but also to help us with sampling. Today we are raising the mainsails. It promises to be a beautiful day for collecting samples, like every morning.

 Flora Vincent

Quality French Cooking is Key to Tara’s Success

An interview with Tara’s cook, Dominique Limbour, on the pleasures and perils of creating high-quality food for a crew of 14 people on a sailboat.

Dominique Limbourm's artisan breadp_photo credit Sarah FretwellDominique Limbourm’s artisan breadp © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


Dominique Limbour has been cooking aboard vessels from Antarctica to Tahiti. She has lots of experience in one of the most demanding jobs on the boat. Up at 5:30 am, she is cooking and planning the next meal until 9 pm. When her head hits the pillow, she is still thinking about the next meal. You can often see her smiling as she reads a cookbook, or covered in flour, baking bread.

She says, « I am here to be with scientists and better understand their work.  Before this expedition, I knew little about coral and plankton. For me, it is important because I want to know more about the health of the ocean and global warming. » 


Tara crew members Niko De La Brosse and Dominique Limbourm greeting local children in Tabontebike village_Photo Credit Sarah FretwellTara crew members Nicolas De La Brosse and Dominique Limbourm greeting local children in Tabontebike village © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Dominique’s critical contribution to this expedition is her scrumptious French cooking. « Food is so important, because we are on a French boat and it’s a major part of our culture. Meals are the few times a day the community stops working to connect, to discuss and relate to one another.  It is time to laugh and take a break. Food sets the atmosphere. Quality, taste, and quantity are very important,» she notes.

In foreign markets, she looks for great local produce, and a few exports from home she knows her crew mates will be happy to see. She also learns from locals. A woman in Tahiti showed her how to extract milk from the coconut meat, and now every time we catch a fish, she uses fresh lime and coconut to make ceviche.


Crew member and cook Dominique Limbour putting the hydraphone overboard_photo credit Sarah FretwellCrew member and cook Dominique Limbour putting the hydraphone overboard © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation


She also loves working with Tara’s hydrophone. “I love to set the hydrophone in the water overnight and listen to sounds around the reef – sometimes even whale calls. And for a few moments I do some science.” After the expedition, she will head to Australia to visit her brother and relax. And with a smile she tells me, « I won’t cook for a month. »


Sarah Fretwell




Vidéo : Happy new year 2017 !

It’s been a great year for the Tara Expeditions Foundation, full of new adventures and groundbreaking research.
Thank you for supporting us in pushing the limits of science as we make new discoveries that impact our world.
Happy new year 2017!

© Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Unique inventory of marine biodiversity in Futuna

Just a few days before Christmas, Tara finished the first complete inventory of marine biodiversity in the Wallis and Futuna archipelago — an undertaking partially accomplished for the last time  in 1990, before the impacts of warming. We also had a chance to review our 2 weeks of encounters and discoveries in the French territory furthest from the metropolis, where every enterprise depends on the agreement of the highest traditional authorities: the Kings.

About 20 people were gathered silently under the falé of the Palais de Wallis. A simple palm-roof beneath which the village chiefs and ministers awaited us, and in their midst, Patalione Kanimoa, the king of Wallis. Tara’s crew entered as if on tiptoe, under the gaze of the assembly, somewhat intimidated by the solemnity of the moment. Before starting to work in the waters of Wallis and Futuna, the schooner had to obtain the authorization of the ministers who have the power here to block any project. Kava, the traditional Pacific beverage made from the root of a shrub, was passed from hand to hand, while Serge Planes, the scientific director of the expedition, and Martin Hertau, Tara’s captain, explained to the King the reasons for our arrival in the archipelago. Following local custom, the crew came with some gifts, including a photo book recounting Tara’s Arctic drift odyssey: the images of the boat caught in the ice quickly captured the eyes of the sovereign.
Tara immediately obtained the green light and would soon set sail for Futuna, the sister island of Wallis.


L'équipage de Tara est reçu par le roi de WallisTara’s crew received by the King of Wallis © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Since the beginning of the 1990s, no inventory of biodiversity had been carried out around this island which has very steep terrain. Led by Serge Planes, the scientists on board had only 12 days to collect as much data as possible on the species inhabiting the island’s coasts, between the surface and a depth of 20 meters — a multidisciplinary mission in search of fish, corals, coralline algae, ophiures and sponges. By mapping the species here, scientists hoped to fill the information gap in this region at the intersection of Melanesia and Polynesia. Beyond the known species, Tara’s mission was to try to discover rare and endemic species.


The location of Wallis and Futuna © Fondation Tara Expéditions 

Divided into 2 kingdoms, Sigave and Alo, the island of Futuna regularly suffers the fury of the Pacific and its powerful cyclones. In 2010, cyclone Tomas left its mark, destroying many homes and fragilizing the coastal areas. At risk because of global climate change, these islanders may well be among its first victims. Tara’s mission began with this same cyclonic rainfall near the islet of Alofi, a land covered (about 80%) with  primary forest, with only one inhabitant. At the foot of the island’s cliffs and in the depths of its narrow lagoon, Tara’s teams discovered reefs that have been spared from bleaching and harbor a multitude of corals and sponges.


Tara entre dans la passe Sud de Wallis.Tara in the passage of Wallis  © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Serge Planes and Jeff Williams (from the Smithonian Institution in Washington) studied fish populations in these waters for 2 weeks. Employing local methods of poisoning or arrow-hunting, they managed to identify nearly 400 different species. “This is about a third of the species that live here. Others live in deeper zones” explains Serge Planes. “This is the first time an inventory of this type has been carried out on Futuna and Alofi and it will be interesting to compare it with those made in Wallis, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia”.

These findings will serve as a point of reference for future research in these isolated islands and will inform local people about the marine riches surrounding them.

After the invitation to meet their kings, the Futunans shared a traditional tauasu with the crew. This is an evening ceremony during which the villagers gather around a kava to discuss everyday problems. It was also an opportunity for the locals to question Tara’s crew on the results of their investigation, and to share their concerns about the island’s future.  A few notes from a ukulele soon made us forget the pouring rain and an improvised dance floor opened before our eyes. Men bowed to invite women for a few dance steps while the kava continued its round in the assembly.


imagejournalOlivier Thomas prepares a species of sponge with its precious mucus © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Aboard Tara, Olivier Thomas is a very happy man. This specialist from Ireland had embarked to inventory the sponge populations in the archipelago. He did not expect the many discoveries awaiting him here. “I was quite surprised at the diversity in sponges around Alofi and Futuna,” he says. “Here one realizes that there are real ecosystems concentrating very diverse sponges. Under the reefs are areas where corals do not extend too far,  and where many new sponge species can be observed.” Some species produce a mucus rich in chemical molecules that are of particular interest to the drug industry, especially for certain cancer treatments. A valorization of these sponges (probably endemic to Futuna) could perhaps become a significant source of income for this island in need of resources. A new adventure that Olivier Thomas will follow closely: First he will analyze these new sponges before considering a possible synthesis of the molecules of interest.

Pierre de Parscau

ITW Maren Ziegler: overview of the sites studied between Tahiti and Wallis

It’s been 5 weeks since Maren Ziegler embarked from Papeete as Tara’s head scientist. In Wallis, we had a chance to take stock of this past leg of the expedition:  TARA has been exploring and sampling around the islands of Aitutaki, Niue, and Samoa, and just reached the archipelago of Wallis and Futuna.


p13108101Maren Ziegler off the coast of Moorea  © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


After 5 weeks of sailing between Tahiti and Wallis, what’s your report on the sites you have studied? 

The mission protocol is very well established:  At every site, we find the same species and follow the identical daily procedures done throughout the whole Tara Pacific expedition. The work is sometimes very difficult since weather conditions are not always good around the islands. We started at Moorea on fairly well-known coral-rich sites, but when we got to Aitutatki in the Cook Islands, we were very disappointed. We discovered that most of the reef was dead, and we had a lot of trouble finding sampling sites. Niue had been devastated by the tsunami in 2009, but we were surprised to find a lot of diversity, good coral coverage and damaged areas that are in the process of rebuilding. The encounter with sea serpents during our dives will remain a lasting memory.

But we were very depressed at our stations in Samoa because we explored 83 km of coastline and it was difficult to find good coral reef sites. The species we are studying had mostly disappeared. It’s a very isolated area, not well-known, and the islanders do not have many resources to access and monitor the coasts. I didn’t expect such a situation.


Repérage de site sur la côte de NiueSite scouting on the coast of Niue © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


How can the islanders change this situation?

I think it depends on individual cases. In Samoa we observed some sites where the coral seems to be recovering, and we are preparing a report to send to the local authorities. This could push them to protect these fragile areas by controlling fishing and human impact which has affected the water quality in this lagoon. Many things can be done locally, but on a much broader scale, these islands can do nothing in the face of increased cyclones, unless their voices are heard internationally.


What challenges have you faced in your position as head scientist on board?

It could have been a real challenge, but everyone worked together towards the same goal. The beginning was tricky because the scientists didn’t know what to expect and weren’t totally prepared, but in the end we managed to adjust, and it was a pleasure to work with the whole scientific team on board.


L'équipe scientifique "corail" en plein protocole d'échantillonnage après les prélèvements de la matinée aux Samoa. © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


You are currently working in Saudi Arabia. What are the differences between the coral reef situation in the Red Sea and the Pacific?

The Red Sea has long been considered an area that is highly resistant to climatic changes. But last year we had a sharp increase in surface temperature, sometimes over 34° C, and we observed an important bleaching phenomenon in the southern part of the Red Sea. The reefs were fully impacted, even very far from the coasts and human influence.


What is the next step for you regarding Tara?

I would love to come back on board and I hope there will still be a place for me on this expedition (laughs). I am very curious about all these Pacific islands and next year Tara will pass through Papua New Guinea and Indonesia — all of these places will hopefully be fantastic.


Interview by Pierre de Parscau

Video: Coral takes us back in time

TARA recently arrived in the Samoan islands where sampling protocols continue aboard the schooner. Among the 3 coral species targeted by scientists during this expedition, Portites lobata is of particular interest to Guillaume Iwankow from the CRIOBE in Perpignan. Since Tara’s arrival in the Pacific, he has been in charge of collecting this species via a particular protocol.

 One morning we embarked with him on a motorized dinghy and headed for the outer coral reef. After checking a few sites, Guillaume identified a colony whose size corresponded to the sampling criteria. He had brought along an imposing compressor connected to a curious machine — a core drill. Thanks to its 45-centimeter corer,  he will be able to dig into the center of the Porites to extract valuable information. The operation is carried out in the same way at each study site throughout the expedition.

© Pierre de Parscau /  Tara Expeditions Foundation



Tara has been sailing along Niue’s coast for several days, tossed by the Pacific Ocean. On these cliffs made of coral, some inhabitants of this island, nicknamed “the Rock”, attempt to preserve the maritime heritage of their ancestors by manufacturing traditional pirogues called vaka.

It took me a few hours to go up the track leading to the man everyone here calls «Fai» and talks about with respect and pride. Tamafai Fuhiniu is waiting for me in the shade of his workshop, sitting on a simple wooden stool as a king on his throne. Bright red moota chips stand out on his dark shirt. His grand-daughters are playing under paddles lined up on a rack. Tamafai has been living on the heights of Niue since a hurricane devastated his home in 2004. Back then, his hands and strength of character were all he had left to rebuild everything from scratch.

He is the last heir to a long line of master carpenters whose origin was lost somewhere in China before reappearing on Niue’s cliffs 700 years ago. While human communities had already conquered the Pacific for 4,000 years, the «Rock» was one of the last islands in this ocean to be colonized. Among the 5 brothers who first set foot on this hostile shore, a few master carpenters kept the tradition alive by adapting it to Niue’s geography. In order to launch their boats into the water from cliffs no lagoon protects from the whims of the Pacific Ocean, they had to design light vessels a single man could carry. The first vaka was born in Niue.


credits_pdeparscau_vaka-traditionnelle-de-niueTraditional Niuevaka © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


«Even today, it makes me smile to hear people speak about our ancient kings», says Tamafai. «My ancestors weren’t idiots, they always refused this tribal and political game. In ancient times, we were cannibalistic, and in kings’ and clan leaders’ views, if you didn’t generate wealth, you were the first to die and to be eaten. This is how my family has survived for so long».

Around his house lies the domain of the master carpenter who became the first landowner in Niue. He was born on these lands 60 years ago, along with his 8 siblings. His father was then the last vaka craftsman on the island and he decided to pass on to Tamafai the knowledge of their ancestors. «My brothers may not have spent enough time listening to our bedtime stories, these legends passed down from one generation to the next. At an early stage in my life, I knew I was different from them. My father did not necessarily need to teach me things. Everything I learned was through observation. It didn’t involve words or drawings. This is why traditional knowledge is so rich: you have to learn things without being shown».

Tamafai takes me a little way away from his house to an open-air workshop sheltered by a few trees. This is where he carves out of moota trunks the vaka capable of braving offshore conditions. The curve of the hull is remarkably smooth, its length no more than 5 meters, its thickness only 4 millimeters. Through constant improvements, Tamafai has succeeded in creating a pirogue weighing only 15kg but able to hold loads of half a ton. «The method of fabrication has evolved as a result of tool modernization. At the time of my ancestors, trees were first burned. They chose a tree young enough not to ignite and split. Then they had to hollow the trunk out on site and carry it to the coast. It was very hard work. People at that time had to be giants».

Since these ancient times a bond continues to unite land and sea. Even today, the first fish caught on a new vaka is offered to the family who owns the land on which the tree was cut.


Tamafai Fuhiniu, le dernier maître-charpentier de NiueTamafai Fuhiniu, the last master carpenter in Niue  © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Tamafai will only reveal a few main principles of traditional vaka fabrication. From his ancestors, the master carpenter has inherited the tradition of keeping secrets that are passed only from father to son. «At that time, this knowledge was preserved by different people who had a very special status in the community. They were the custodians of unique knowledge», Tamafai explains. «It was a well-kept secret in our family. Today I share most of my knowledge but there are really important things that I keep for myself. My father always told me: pay attention to how you share your knowledge because when you share everything, you end up with nothing, naked. I’m trying to find a balance between his words and today’s world because if I don’t share this knowledge, it may disappear».

In addition to islanders who have long lost the passion for fishing off the coast of Niue aboard these traditional pirogues, Tamafai’s destiny may also contribute to extinguish what remains of this ancestral flame. Ironically, after generations of men in his family, the master carpenter is the father of 5 daughters.

Maika is the last one to live on Niue. She receives me in her office at the back of the tourist information center, curious to learn about my impressions after my meeting with her father. Her rapid conversation contrasts with Tamafai’s placidity. However, the same pride animates her when speaking about vaka. Long kept away from the sea and pirogues, the women of Niue have gradually set sail under the impulse of Maika and her 4 sisters. «Even though we were going against tradition, we girls grew up in this world», she remembers. «I got my first pirogue when I was 8, and our father built them adapted to our size. Many people became jealous because our father let us set sail on our pirogues and since then, we have encouraged more and more women to join us».

Today Maika encourages young people to learn this ancestral technique from her father. Among them may be the person who will continue Tamafai’s work and in turn, keep the lineage secrets. «I hope my father won’t take them with him to the grave. He must find someone who shares the same love and passion and I don’t think he’s willing to reveal his secrets as long as he doesn’t find this man. We must find this person, not only for the sake of our family but for the whole island».


Tamafai, maître charpentier, aux pieds des falaises de la crique de OpaahiTamafai below the cliffs at Opaahi Landing © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


At low tide, Tamafai asked me to join him at Opaahi Landing to board one of his «women» as he likes to call his pirogues. While loading one on his shoulders, he points at the cliff facing us. This is where, in 1774, after 3 attempts, James Cook and his men finally managed to set foot on Niue and faced the islanders’ hostility. An anecdote that makes the master carpenter smile, convinced that his ancestors were among the first islanders to throw stones at the Endeavour.

Around us, waves are breaking on the reef and our attempt to put the vaka into the water is proving to be tricky. With a thrust, the white and blue vaka leaves solid ground to slide toward the open sea, as light as a feather. «A vaka is a living object. It has a very feminine shape», Tamafai says facing Niue’s cliffs. «A vaka is as sacred as a woman. If you take good care of her, she’ll feed your family, but if you neglect her, she won’t provide you with prosperity. We don’t name them because by doing so, we would take away their sacred aura. Vakas define who I am and who we are as a people. I don’t believe we should use language to define our identity because it evolves over the course of history, just like culture. Tradition, however, is something different – a way of doing and thinking».

To become one with one’s vaka means feeling her, talking and listening to her. Tamafai is repeating the very same gestures that generations of men before him developed on these same coasts, a mixture of instinct and inheritance. In the wake of his pirogue, Niue’s history continues to write itself while waiting for someone to take over the story. At 60, Tamafai has bequeathed a vessel to his island in the form of an identity.

Better still, a life’s work to be admired.

Pierre de Parscau


Pacific sunrise: the island appeared as if escaped from a novel, a black silhouette against a red sky. Two days after leaving Niue, in the early morning Tara reached the coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa. A territory with sharp reliefs where the ghost of literary giant – Robert Louis Stevenson – hovers.


This is the same vision of the coast that the author of Treasure Island describes in his travel books. Stevenson went to the Pacific in search of a mild climate for his fragile lungs. In 1890 he settled with his family in Samoa where he spent the last 4 years of his short life. When he built the house in Vailima at the foot of Mount Vaea, he was a world famous author but totally unknown to the inhabitants of the island. Born in Edinburgh in 1850, the novelist had suffered from extremely fragile health since his childhood. This didn’t prevent him from breaking away from the family heritage (engineering lighthouses) to devote himself to writing. After getting a law degree in Scotland, he spent several years traveling, publishing essays and articles about his adventures, which included hiking across the Cevennes with a donkey. His novel Treasure Island (1883) was a huge success, followed by others: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Master of Ballantrae.


House of Robert Louis Stevenson in Vailima © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


When he arrived in Samoa, Stevenson quickly took up the defense of the islanders, caught up in colonial conflicts between Americans, Germans and English. This proximity with the local population inspired the islanders to call him “Tusitala”, the storyteller. Though Stevenson did not yet speak the Samoan language, islanders quickly observed the exuberant imagination of the writer: Pacific legends inspired him to embark on new writing projects, some of which remained unfinished. His house seems to have withstood the weather and hurricanes that battered it for many years. Constructed of wood by an Australian architect, it was for a long time the largest building on the island and welcomed illustrious visitors who came to salute the famous writer.

Mustache, emaciated face and feverish glance – in photographs hung on the turquoise paneling of his house (transformed into a museum) Stevenson looks like a character from one of his novels. Margaret Silva, curator of the museum, speaks about the author who wrote several pages of the island’s history. “Robert Louis Stevenson did a lot for our country and got deeply involved in local politics. He helped our founding fathers gain independence and was almost deported because of his commitment. He was the first European to go to the prisons to deliver food, clothing and cigarettes. That’s why Samoans had so much affection for him”.


Robert Louis Stevenson poses with family & neighbors in front of his house © Pierre de Parscau Tara Expédiitons Foundation


On December 3, 1894, Stevenson collapsed on the floor of the grand salon, victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. The doctor did not have time to come from Apia. Contrary to the Samoan tradition whereby people are buried close to their homes, the author requested in his last wishes to be laid to rest “under the immense and starry sky” at the top of Mount Vaea. The steep path that still leads there today in itself tells of the Samoans’ attachment to Tusitala. Baptized “the path of loving hearts”, it was cut through the forest with enormous effort by the islanders, in order to transport Stevenson’s coffin. By the light of torches, 200 Samoans climbed the mountain to accompany the writer to his final resting place. No foreigner had ever been so celebrated on the island: the funeral ritual was that of a royal burial and the body placed on a bed of coral surrounded by volcanic stones. “Before he died, Robert Louis Stevenson expressed 2 last wishes,” explains Margaret Silva. “The first was to be laid to rest at the top of the mountain, and the second was to be buried with his boots on his feet. When the Samoans asked him why, he replied that the boots he had worn to explore this island were the ones he wanted to take with him. This meant that he wanted to die with the people of Samoa.”


Tomb of Robert Louis Stevenson at the summit of Mount Vaea © Pierre de Parscau Tara Expediitons Foundation

After a difficult hour climbing the mountain in the blazing sun, the pilgrim arrives at a simple white tomb overlooking the bay of Apia. Engraved on a bronze plaque is the epitaph written in 1884 by Stevenson himself as his last words:

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I laid me down with a will
This be the verse you grave for me
Here he lies where he longed to be
Home is the sailor, home from sea
And the hunter home from the hill

Pierre de Parscau

Video : The green paradise

At the center of Niue Island hides Huavalu reserve, a 5000 hectare primary forest, home to century-old trees. Sionetasi Pulehetoa has fought for decades to protect and preserve this unique ecosystem around which he grew up and of which he knows every little secret. Taking advantage of TARA’s stop on his island, he takes us along to discover his “green paradise” through an audio picture.

© Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video: Shipping, a race against time

With the completion of Tara’s mission in the Tuamotu Archipelago and the schooner’s return to the port of Papeete, a new adventure has just begun in the form of a race against time. In the vessel’s holds, hundreds of samples are awaiting shipment to partner laboratories for thorough analysis.
Colombia, Easter Island, Ducie and Gambier Islands: scientists only have a few hours on Tahiti’s dock to package the results of months of work in the Pacific Ocean.

© Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

The gardener of the lagoon

Before Tara raised anchor to set off for Niue Island, the scientists on board were invited to visit Aitutaki Island and meet a surprising islander.  Dismayed at seeing the island’s lagoon slowly waste away, Charley Waters decided to take action by planting corals and giant clams.

Between the aerodrome and the Aitutaki lagoon, the marine biology research center sits amongst the wrecks of canoes and pickups corroded by rust. A long sheet-metal hangar transformed into a conference room now houses about 20 schoolchildren accompanied by a few local citizens. Smiling people are gathered around the large breeding tanks with giant clams at the bottom, accompanied by a stonefish. At Charley’s invitation, the scientists aboard Tara came to learn about the Reef Keepers’ project. With a handful of young volunteers, Charley has set out to safeguard the lagoon he fell in love with 14 years ago.

«My initial plan was to go to work in Manihiki (a neighboring island in the Cook archipelago), but when I discovered the lagoon here, I knew this was the place I’d been looking for. What convinced me was the welcome I received from the island inhabitants and the local government. They realized they could not save the lagoon with their limited resources. I had experience in marine biology and was ready to help them, so that’s how it all started.»


credits_pdeparscau_bassins-eleveage-benitiers-geantsGiant clam tanks on Aitutaki Island of © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Charley projects images of the lagoon corals to an audience of astonished children, describing the threats confronting these animals, often unfamiliar to the younger kids. Here, as in many Pacific islands, corals in the lagoon have suffered severe degradation caused by chemical spills on island soils, over-consumption of marine resources and increased waste. In the audience, a fisherman asks Charley about the need to integrate traditional knowledge into a future protection program. Because without the involvement of the island’s fishermen, a scientist could wind up working alone against everyone else.

«The tradition of fishing has a long history here and very often tradition and science come into conflict » says Charley. « The difficulty is that some traditional knowledge is not based on science but on beliefs. Some islanders, for example, think that if the giant clams have disappeared from the lagoon it’s because they’re jealous of the ones we have introduced. For years I’ve explained that giant clams are not jealous, but their belief still distorts the facts. On the other hand, without being scientists, some people here have an extraordinary knowledge of the marine ecosystem, reproductive cycles and species behavior.»


credits_pdeparscau_plantation-de-benitiers-geants-copieA Reef Keepers volunteer planting coral © Pierre de Parscau


Between local politics and willingness to change, Charley decided to go hands-on and invited young people to experiment with planting coral in the nearby lagoon. By fixing coral debris on a cement base with epoxy, these one-day gardeners are replanting the coral and will see it develop anew in 4 to 5 weeks. It’s a proven technique in the Maldives and in Australia whose promising results could help us convince young people here of the importance of the coral reef for the island’s health.

« It’s essential they understand that this is a virtuous circle,»  said Charley. « The more corals there are, the more fish there will be and the better their quality of life. I think many schoolchildren don’t know much about the lagoon simply because they can’t afford a mask and a snorkel.»


credits_pdeparscau_rencontre-avec-charley-watersTARA scientists learn how to plant coral © Pierre de Parscau

Today, however, the children of Aitutaki were able to enjoy the underwater beauty wearing snorkeling masks. But under the surface, the reefs have indeed been transformed in recent years — an upheaval that could ultimately jeopardize the local economy and the very survival of these island societies.

« We are still working against what we call the “sliding reference” syndrome, that is, what we consider today to be healthy coral was not healthy for previous generations. I think the time has come to be extremely careful about the next steps in protecting the lagoon. I would very much like to see a strategic plan set up in response to the studies done here. Very often in the Cook Islands, governments think that conducting studies is solving the problem, but as scientists we know it’s only part of the equation. We have studied enough and I think it’s time to take action »

A volunteer comes forward and gives a short prayer in Maori to invite the gods of the island to watch over these freshly replanted corals before the visitors disperse. Charley knows that the road will be long to rally the Aitutaki islanders to his cause, but he will at least have contributed his stone to the gigantic coral edifice.

Pierre de Parscau

Youth on the other side of the world

She’s been observing us for 3 days from the island’s rare hilltops  a tongue of greenery in the northwest region of the Cook Islands. From aboard Tara, anchored at the entrance of the lagoon, Aitutaki looks like the end of the earth. To encounter life on this land, you must venture beyond a deserted main street and take a familiar route: the road to school.

A wide lawn serves as a playground, classrooms open to the outside, a soggy tennis court. Located in the heights of Aitutaki, the school looks almost like a tropical campus. On porches sheltered from the rain, English language mingles with Maori in conversations and lessons. Kimi is putting a tiare flower in her hair when I call out to ask the way. Her face breaks into a big smile, then she leads me on a visit of the school.


p132013117-year-old Kimi, in front of her school © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


« We’re all related here, brothers, cousins, nephews, you can take your choice! (laughs). Everyone here  knows everybody else. You can’t walk on the island without someone shouting ‘kaiman’ –   come here – inviting you to his house.» Through the plastic shutters of classroom windows I see childrens’ faces. Drawing classes, cooking, music;  here handicrafts have an important place and can sometimes prepare kids for an active work life. Kimi has been attending these classes since she was 3, growing up with other kids her age. At 17, she has reached the end of the school curriculum in Aitutaki. Like many young people of her age, faced with a lack of professional perspectives, she will have to consider leaving the island to pursue her studies and forge a future. Far from home.

Despite Aitutaki’s attraction for tourists, its economy doesn’t allow these young people to envisage a future on the spot. A few children of fishermen or farmers will work with their families, while others might hope for a civil service job, a promise of security. At the entrance of the woodworking class we meet 16 year old Leslie, who has just finished a shelf made of recycled wood found on the coast. The teacher here, from New Zealand, talks to her students about the effects of climate change on the Aitutaki lagoon, and about the increasing pollution.



Aitutaki, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean © Wikipédia


« The lagoon has become dirtier. Foreigners who come here often leave behind their trash, » says Leslie. « It’s not their island so they don’t care.»  On one of the worktables, some drawings evoke a vision of the future for these children. Open windows and seashells stamped with ink illustrate a link with the Pacific. « My father has a small fishing boat,» says Leslie. « On weekends he sometimes takes me out in the boat, or else we go for a picnic on the motu (author’s note: islets on the edge of reefs).  I’ve decided to stay in Aitutaki, near the sea. I couldn’t live far away from here.»

The 2 friends both have family in New Zealand, and still remember their first impression when they discovered Auckland a few years ago. « My first impression was ‘Wow’ » says Kimi. « What surprised me most was all the people in the malls. You could buy lots of things for very little money, whereas here you can’t find anything for $2. My brother went to live there several years ago, but he doesn’t come to see us anymore. It’s difficult for my family.»


p1320146Aitutaki schoolboys © Pierre de Parscau /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


On the tennis court, a water-soaked ball passes from one racket to another. In this region of the Pacific, sports are also an opportunity for youth. Among the children of Aitutaki, some are regularly spotted by foreign coaches to reinforce their local and international rugby teams. An opportunity in the form of an uprooting for these island families and for those young people who, like Kimi, will have to emigrate.

« I get home-sick very quickly. Here we grow up free and safe, while on the outside, people live in closed houses like prisoners. When you leave here, you leave your family, and part of your life behind.»

Among these exiled youth, some will return to Aitutaki to found their own families and invest in the region. For the others, the island will conserve their memories of childhood and the perfume of  paradise lost.

Pierre de Parscau

Martin Hertau, returning captain

After a transatlantic crossing and more than 4 months of navigation, Samuel Audrain is relayed as Tara’s captain by Martin Hertau. Throughout the entire Tara Pacific expedition, the 2 sailors will take turns every 5-6 months in this key function.

You’re back on board. What does the position as Tara’s captain involve?

The captain is of course in charge of navigation, safety and maintenance of the vessel. He also makes sure everyone is at their workstation, that work is properly done and there’s contentment on board. All crew members have an important role to play and the captain ensures global cohesion. He’s like an orchestra conductor. The education outreach component is also crucial aboard Tara. During the stopovers – whether for visits, receptions or welcoming school groups- there is a real role to play. This is an area I had no expertise in because it has nothing to do with the seafaring profession but it’s at the very heart of the Tara project.

What do you like most about this role?

I really enjoy its versatility – very important aboard the schooner. It’s not just navigation, we also take part in refitting for example. For Tara Pacific, as for other previous expeditions, I’ve been involved since the beginning of the project. On the work site at the beginning of the year, we prepared the schooner for this mission, from the viewpoint of maritime safety, of course, but also for science: this is a multipurpose vessel and we equip it differently according to the mission. Finally, I like Tara’s aura, tangible in many ports of call. I have exceptional memories of the wonderful welcome we received during previous expeditions, in Beirut, Tangier, Naples or St. Pierre and Miquelon: there’s a human dimension that makes it all even more thrilling.

How did the handover in Tahiti go with Samuel?

When I left the work site at the beginning of the year, many parts – like the new engines and the derrick used to hoist the tender – had only been quickly tested. A lot of new equipment have been added since then, so it was important to check them all with Samuel: learn how the material held up during this half way around the world, what worked well, what needs to be improved, etc. We also talked about scientific protocols, since Samuel and I also participate in diving activities during the entire expedition to help the team in charge of plankton sampling. This is all new to us, and even if it’s really interesting, it also gives us more work and things to integrate. In the end, the handover lasted 2 whole days, and it was rather heavy!

 Interview by Yann Chavance


Tara just completed a major stopover on her long journey across the Pacific: a week in Tahiti, focused on educational outreach and meetings. After a festive welcome with garlands of flowers and smiling faces, the action started: conferences, exhibitions, tours for the public and school classes, a change of crew, and arrival of new equipment.

Friday, October 7: Tara departed from the main dock in Papeete to pursue her journey for a month in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia. Even more than elsewhere, our departure here gave rise to mixed feelings: sad to leave Tahiti and the hospitality of its inhabitants, but happy to return to a slower pace of life in a small community after this very intense port of call. Throughout the week, the schedule was posted in the main cabin, detailing hour by hour a busy program. Between public visits, welcoming local officials and journalists aboard, and introducing the expedition’s scientific partners to Tara, the deck was often crowded with people.


credits-iban-carricano-arrivee-papeete-1The Tara Pacific expedition arrives in the port of Papeete, Tahiti: a festive welcome begins this major stopover © Iban Carricano / Tara Expeditions Foundation


During this port of call, the schooner hosted more than 200 Polynesian children. To accomplish this feat in such a short time, each class followed an itinerary on the Place Vai’ete, opposite Tara, passing from one workshop to another, then going aboard to visit the schooner. Thanks to the exhibition “Tara Pacific: Biodiversity of Coral Reefs Facing Climate Change” installed in the middle of the square, and thanks also to workshops organized by local associations for environmental protection, the school children were already familiar with coral when they arrived on Tara’s deck. This port of call was especially important for educational outreach, but also for logistics.


credits-yann-chavance-expo-papeete-enfants-1A member of the Tahitian association “La pointe des pêcheurs” explains the life cycle of coral to children visiting the Tara Pacific exhibit. © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation.


Meanwhile, Tara’s crew had to deal with the arrival of a whole container filled with new equipment for scientific work and for running the boat. The front deck was overloaded with boxes to unpack. Arriving crew members and those disembarking worked together to get everything ready in time. The stopover in Papeete marked the end of the journey for many, and the beginning for others. Of the 16 crew members, only 4 will continue the journey on board. Besides a completely new scientific team, there were a few changes among the sailors: Maud Veith returned as cook, Nicolas de la Brosse as first mate, and Martin Hertau as Tara’s captain.


credits-yann-chavance-martin-hertau-1Leaving Tahiti behind, Martin Hertau is Tara’s captain for the coming months  © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Besides receiving new equipment, welcoming visitors aboard, and changing crew members, this week in Papeete was equally important for the expedition’s scientific work. Public and private conferences took place to present the goals of the expedition and provide an update on the latest research about coral. Above all, Papeete hosted the first major meeting of the Tara Pacific scientific consortium since the beginning of the expedition. Major partners came from around the world to meet for several days and review the first months of sampling. An opportunity for everybody to get to know Tara – the heart of the expedition – before she set off for the Tuamotu Islands.

Yann Chavance

Many thanks to our partners of this port of call :
Air Tahiti Nui

Présidence de la Polynésie française
• Ministère de la Santé et de la Recherche
• Ministère du tourisme et des Transports aériens internationaux, de la modernisation de l’administration et de la fonction publique
Chambre de Commerce, d’Industrie, des Services et des Métiers
Pôle d’innovation en Polynésie française Tahiti Fa’ahotu
Port autonome de Papeete
• DHL Papeete

ADEME en Polynésie française
Association Te mana o te moana
Association Tamari’i Pointe des Pêcheurs
Association Pae Pae No Te Ora
Association Mata Tohora

Tahiti welcomes Tara

After a short introduction to Polynesian hospitality last week in the Gambier Islands, Tara’s crew enjoyed a magnificent arrival in Tahiti with dance, music and necklaces of flowers. A perfect welcome to begin a busy week on this island — a major stopover of the Tara Pacific expedition.

The schooner is continuing her route through the Polynesian Windward Islands (“Iles du Vent”), the archipelago that includes Tahiti. Before arriving in the capital, Papeete, Tara spent 2 days just a few kilometers away on the island of Moorea, Tahiti’s little sister. The boat anchored in the Opunohu Bay, a fabulous setting with a lagoon surrounded by rocky peaks covered by lush vegetation. Located in this unique environment is the CRIOBE laboratory (Center for Island Research and Environmental Observatory), one of Tara Pacific’s leading partners. Serge Planes (CNRS / EPHE / UPVD), the scientific director of the expedition, members of CRIOBE and their partners came aboard to visit the schooner and learn about our mission.


Tara docking at Moorea to host school visits and meet with local politicians. © François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation


On Tuesday the crew left with regret the fabulous landscapes of Moorea for the bigger island of  Tahiti. Tara had just docked at Papeete opposite the famous Vai’ete Square when the sounds of traditional drums greeted us. On the quay, musicians and dancers offered us a perfect welcome and a lovely example of Polynesian culture. After installing the gangway, the crew finally set foot on ground, greeted by a guard of honor, loads of smiles, garlands of flowers and fresh coconuts.


credits-yann-chavance-arrivee-papeete-1-3On the main dock in Papeete, the crew is greeted with traditional dances and songs. © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


The festivities continued with a series of speeches in the kiosk on Vai’ete Square. Serge Planes and Romain Troublé presented the objectives of Tara Pacific and thanked local partners. They were followed by local representatives, including Patrick Howell, Polynesian Minister of Health and Research. He saluted the work of Tara and evoked the great explorers who also came to Tahiti — Bougainville, Cook and La Pérouse. “You’re the worthy descendants!”, he concluded in his welcoming speech. And indeed, for Tara’s crew discovering Polynesian hospitality, the feelings were certainly very close to those of the great explorers several centuries earlier. In his “Journey around the World” published in 1771, Bougainville wrote about Tahiti: “I felt transported into the garden of Eden [...] Everywhere we see hospitality, restfulness, sweet joy & all signs of happiness.” We couldn’t have said it better.

Yann Chavance

First port of call in French Polynesia

At the beginning of this week, Tara left the Gambier Islands, the most easterly archipelago of Polynesia. In addition to completing the sampling protocols, the few days spent around the small mountainous islands enabled the crew to get a first glimpse of French Polynesia’s beauty and experience the kindness of its inhabitants.

As on every Pacific island along the schooner’s route, 3 sites were studied in the Gambier Archipelago, with dives to collect samples of coral, fish and plankton. To be as close as possible to the collection sites, the vessel had to sail the full length and breadth of the large lagoon surrounding the archipelago. After an initial mooring in a small cove in Taravai, the second largest island of the archipelago, Tara anchored near Akamaru’s shore, an island harboring a single village composed of 10 families living around a church. Finally, the schooner completed this stopover docked in the village of Rikitea, the largest of the Gambier Islands.


credits-yann-chavance-panorama-gambier-1-1From Mount Duff, overlooking the village of Rikitea, stunning views of coral reefs and pearl farms along the coast © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


This winding route between the different islands, motivated by scientific imperatives, was an opportunity for the crew to enjoy an overview of the Gambier archipelago. Far from others French Polynesian islands (Tahiti is 1,700 km away) and served by a single weekly flight, the archipelago’s stunning beauty remains inaccessible to most tourists. Few people can admire the incredible contrasts of these small islands, where white sand beaches and coconut trees give way to coniferous forests on the mountainside. To complete the picture, several small churches (and even a cathedral!) dot the amazing landscape.


The coral team gets ready to dive to collect samples © François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation


After collecting samples, Tara’s crew spent 2 days in Rikitea to meet the locals. About 120 children visited the schooner, listening carefully to scientists on the rear deck and sailors in the mess room. In the evening, at a conference in the town hall, the crew presented the research conducted aboard the vessel in the Pacific Ocean, as well as previous missions, including Tara Oceans. Tara had previously anchored in 2011 in the waters of the Gambier Islands to study coral reefs. It was therefore natural that the scientific team present the findings of this first visit: the discovery of 2 new species of coral, previously unknown. One has been named Echinophyllia tarae with reference to the schooner.


credits-yann-chavance-visites-gambier-1-1Dozens of visitors and school children visited the schooner while Tara was docked in Rikitea © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Besides the conference, exchanges between the crew and the Gambier Islands’ inhabitants continued in a more informal way through chance encounters. Just walking down the streets, we enjoyed the hospitality and simplicity of discussions with the Polynesians. Coming across someone often means stopping for a few minutes to chat, talk about life aboard Tara or the islanders’ concerns. Friendly exchanges sometimes led to an invitation to visit a pearl farm or a gift of some fresh fruit. The 5 scientists who caught their return flight here, and the 11 Taranauts remaining on board to reach Tahiti in a few days, could not have dreamed of a better welcome in French Polynesia.

Yann Chavance


Island after Island, Tara continues her course across the Pacific Ocean. This week, the vessel stopped in the Gambier Archipelago in French Polynesia. The schooner’s route draws a straight line from South America to Japan: a crossing from East to West, particularly interesting for scientists.

After the Panama Canal, gateway to the Pacific, and Malpelo, the Colombian interlude, the route to the West began in Rapa Nui (Easter Island), then continued to Ducie Island, and now to the Gambier Islands. Later on the schooner will pursue this path and sail towards Tahiti, Samoa, Wallis and Futuna, the Marianas and other islands, before arriving in Japan in February 2017. As a result, Tara keeps crossing time zones: since our departure from Easter Island, we have already changed the time 4 times, stretching days to 25 hours. And it’s not about to stop: when Tara arrives in Japan, the vessel will have crossed about 15 time zones since her departure from Lorient.

The schooner is heading towards a mooring site, safe from strong winds and waves, in Taravai, the second largest island of the Gambier Archipelago © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Besides this race against the setting Sun, the route to the West presents a real scientific interest. « Pacific coral reefs have a very strong biodiversity gradient from East to West», explains Emilie Boissin, one of the scientific coordinators of the expedition. «The further West we go, the richer the reefs will get in terms of species diversity.» A statement already verified by the first divers’ observations: in Rapa Nui, the sea floor showed mainly 2 species of coral. In Ducie Island, the number of species had already increased and here, in the Gambier Archipelago, the first dive seemed to confirm even greater biodiversity.

The relative barrenness of the first islands visited has forced scientists to lower their ambitions: of the 3 coral species studied during the expedition, only 2 were observed in Rapa Nui and Ducie Island. The same is true for the 2 kinds of fish targeted: none was found in Rapa Nui and only one in Ducie Island. But, according to scientists on board, everything should change now: if all goes well, this stopover in the Gambier Islands should finally lead to the observation of all study subjects. Even in the absence of some species, this crossing from East to West is still very interesting. «We are studying the coral microbiome, all microorganisms living with corals», describes Emilie Boissin (CRIOBE). «One of the important questions is whether this microbiome also follows the same biodiversity gradient from East to West». Part of the answer surely lies within the thousands of samples in Tara’s fridges.

Yann Chavance

Alone on Ducie Island

A desert island like Ducie, far away from everything, is always fascinating – catching sight of its shores after several days at sea, dropping anchor and smelling the fragrance of land. But to fully appreciate the character of an island, there’s nothing like setting foot on land and spending a night there.

After 3 days spent off the coast of Ducie Island, the scientific sampling program is coming to an end. We expected to leave behind this tiny piece of land, never having set foot there. The archipelago is so secluded and far away from any other land that you’d never come here by chance. So far, we had to content ourselves by looking at the island from Tara’s deck with binoculars or with images recorded by our drone. Ducie is a thin strip of land shaped in an arc, 2 kilometers long and a few hundred meters wide. An immense coral reef and some islets complete the circle. The limited – and imprecise – maps of the island indicate a passage to enter the atoll within this circle. Not knowing the tides, and seeing the huge waves crashing on the reef around the island, we quickly dismissed the option of being dropped on land from a dinghy.


credits-yann-chavance-rivage-ducie-1© Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

To have no regrets, I decided to try one last possibility. After lunch I found a big plastic waterproof container and stuffed inside it my hammock, warm clothes, camera (the main companion of a correspondent), some gingerbread and a few essential tools — string, flint and a knife. I then completed my equipment by filling a bag with everything that was waterproof, including water bottles and a plastic tarp. In a wetsuit (the water here is only about 20°), we set off in the dinghy. Monch, the dive master, took me to the other side of the island, where the waves seemed less strong, almost disappearing after a few meters: it’s my entry.

We stopped about 50 meters from shore without being able to go further because of the reef. I then jumped into the water and swam to shore while pushing with difficulty the container before me.  Regularly glancing beneath the surface, I saw the bottom coming into view. Here, as all around Ducie, everything is covered with corals. No rocks, no sand, just coral as far as you can see. Impressive. Finally, I set foot on the beach, which is actually a huge pile of coral debris. After a final signal to Monch, the dinghy takes off. This is it. I’m finally alone on this deserted island. After stowing most of my equipment in the shade and taking off my wetsuit, I began exploring the island along the shore.


© Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Though we’re hundreds of kilometers from any inhabited land, the beach is littered with trash carried by the currents: bottles, plastic crates, buoys and mooring ropes, etc. Despite this, the place is teeming with life. In addition to hermits and other crabs,  birds are everywhere, in the air and on land: massive frigates, masked boobies, petrels and sublime small white terns. In the shade of frail shrubs, on almost every square meter is a big fluffy ball of a fledgling bird. These are Murphy’s petrels: 90% of the global population of this species breeds on Ducie.

I took many photos, including plants: the Council of Pitcairn, which brings together 6 of the 50 inhabitants of the archipelago, asked us specifically to photograph the flora of Ducie if we made it ashore. Mission accomplished. Even for them, the natural wealth of this island remains largely unknown. Another request from Tara’s dive team was to film under the lagoon’s surface. Everyone wanted to know what the bottom looked like. So I finally went back to get my diving equipment and prepared to cross the thin strip of forest to reach the lagoon on the other side.


credits-elsa-guillaume-requins-ducie-1© Elsa Guillaume / Tara Expeditions Foundation

This was actually more complicated than expected: I had to cross a tangle of branches, being careful not to step on an egg or a baby bird chirping at being disturbed. With the help of a compass, it took me a good 15 minutes to traverse the 100 meters of vegetation before reaching the lagoon. On a beach of gray coral petrified by the sun, I put on my fins, mask and snorkel. Even before putting my head under water, I saw a dozen sharks around me.

The sharks were less than 2 meters long, but their number and curiosity just bordering on aggression were not particularly reassuring. I chose not to go too far into the lagoon after noticing even bigger sharks further out. They certainly had never seen a human being, and I had no idea how they’d react. After 15 minutes I decided to turn around. There were still many sharks coming closer and closer as soon as I had my back turned.

Daylight was waning so I hurried back over the vegetation to recover my belongings near the beach. I found a clear space between shrubs, with branches strong enough to set up my hammock, and a tarp to protect myself from the rain. I finished my bivouac with the light from my head lamp as night fell under a light rain. Finally I had a few minutes to eat a bite with a beautiful full moon and the cries of thousands of birds around me.

credits-yann-chavance-gygis-blanche-1The white gygis has the particularity of laying a single egg, balanced on a branch © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

The night was short and very chilly. I woke up almost every hour: once because of birds fighting right under my hammock, and another time to verify that my bivouac was holding up since the tarp was flapping in the gusty wind. As daylight finally broke, I was about to close my eyes for a few minutes when all the birds of the island decided to celebrate sunrise by chirping. I got up and lit a fire on the beach to warm up. A dozen masked boobies watched me with an air of astonishment as I nibbled gingerbread by the fire, enjoying the sunrise and relishing the chance I had: for one night I was the only inhabitant of Ducie Island.

Yann Chavance

Pitcairn – history of a legend

When Tara dropped anchor for a short week near the shores of Ducie Island in the Pitcairn archipelago, everyone on board enjoyed the unique opportunity of being in one of the most isolated places in the world.

The archipelago of Pitcairn had no reason to become famous. Four small uninviting islands, far from any other land, lying due east of Polynesia, with the Gambier Islands about 500 kilometers away. There are few natural resources to invite settlement. Henderson, the largest of the 4 islands, measures 36 square kilometers, but has no source of fresh water. There is water on Pitcairn, but the island is smaller and very steep, limiting agriculture. Finally, Oeno and Ducie are tiny coral atolls emerging from the ocean, unfit for human settlement.




Despite these uninviting features, a few dozen Polynesians lived – or more likely, survived – on Pitcairn and Henderson for several centuries, thanks to trade with the Gambier Islands. A serious crisis around the 15th century led to the end of trade and the subsequent decline of Pitcairn’s small population. These inhospitable islands again became deserted. The story could have ended there, with Pitcairn falling into oblivion, but History with a capital H  decided otherwise.

It all began 2,000 kilometers from there, in 1788. After a grueling journey from England  lasting a year, the 28-meter yacht — the HMS Bounty with 46 sailors, anchored in Tahiti. The crew spent 5 months of relaxation enjoying the charms of Polynesia and Polynesian women. When they were forced to return to life at sea under the orders of a captain who had become increasingly tyrannical, abusing corporal punishment, more than half of the crew declared mutiny.


L’équipage se prépare à un apéritif sur le pont pour fêter les premières plongées à Ducie Island sur fond de coucher de soleil.With the sunset for backdrop, the crew prepares to have drinks on deck in celebration of the first dives at Ducie Island © Yann Chavance / Fondation Tara Expéditions


The captain and the 20 sailors remaining faithful were cast into a boat with 5 days of food – which allowed them all to reach land alive. The rest of the crew took control of the Bounty. The mutineers abducted over a dozen Tahitian women and eventually hid themselves on Pitcairn Island. They set the Bounty aflame to prevent its discovery, and then found themselves trapped on their island. Ten years later after incessant quarreling and fighting, only 1 adult man, 8 women and 19 children remained. Today, 2 centuries have passed, and the descendants of this small group still live on Pitcairn Island. Only about 50 people make up the total number of inhabitants on this archipelago, passed on to posterity, almost a bit reluctantly.

  Yann Chavance

From one island to another

Tara left Rapa Nui – Easter Island – last Wednesday, due west toward Pitcairn Islands (Great Britain) and specifically to the small deserted Ducie Island. Only a few  days sailing for a crew mostly renewed began under the fury of the winds.

The one week stopover at Rapa Nui (Chile) was clearly not easy. The already intense program had to be adapted hourly depending on weather conditions. The island’s only port was not sufficiently large to accommodate Tara and the schooner kept changing anchorage according to wind and swell. Despite these conditions which made embarking difficult, all newcomers took up residence before departure on Wednesday night. Thus in complete occupancy – 16 people – the schooner left behind the Moais and their mysteries for the open sea.


The new full crew gathered in the mess room for a security briefing © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Among the newcomers, the Australian Pete West, specialist in macroscopic coral photography, replacing David Hannan as underwater cinematographer. Calixte Berger, oceanographer engineer, assists Guillaume Bourdin on the rear deck for daily plankton sampling. The five other newcomers make up the coral team: Emilie Boissin, one of the scientific coordinators of the expedition will dive with Becky Vergathurber, University of Oregon. Christian Voolstra is a biologist at KAUST (Saudi Arabia ) and Pascal Conan, a biogeochemist in Banyuls-sur-Mer. Guillaume Iwankow (CNRS) will be in charge of fish sampling. Finally, the visual artist Elsa Guillaume completes this new crew.


For this newly embarked crew, the schooner was not gentle with the weakest stomachs: deep troughs over six meters and wind gusts exceeding 40 knots. The first two days of sailing from Rapa Nui shook up all occupants of the schooner before the weather calmed down to offer brilliant sunshine and a deep blue sea.


David “Monch” Monmarché, divemaster, enjoying the return of good weather on Tara © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


This peaceful landscape delighted the 16 Taranauts before arriving at deserted Ducie Island, a part of the Pitcairn Archipelago. Tara will stay for an exciting short week – rarely have divers ventured this far to the small island lost in the middle of the Pacific: full of corals but also sharks.

Yann Chavance

Tara is back in Rapa Nui

The schooner and her crew finally arrived on Wednesday in Easter Island – here called Rapa Nui. The few hours gained over the last days thanks to favorable winds will be put to good use during the upcoming week to complete the busy schedule awaiting us.

Tara has actually been in the vicinity of Easter Island for a while. Since Tuesday evening, the small island has been displayed on the radar screen, but the wait was extended by a succession of sampling stations at various distances from shore. For the scientific team, the objective was to study the island influence on plankton composition: a protocol dedicated to this “island effect” that will be reproduced each time Tara approaches new land during her expedition in the Pacific Ocean. At the last sampling station at dawn on Wednesday, scientists had the pleasure between 2 net immersions in the water, to discover the first rays of sunlight gradually illuminating Rapa Nui.


Credits Yann Chavance - Rapa Nui-1
On Wednesday, August 31, 2016, Tara arrived within view of Easter Island in the South Pacific © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


It wasn’t until the afternoon, after completing the scientific protocols, that Tara anchored in front of Hanga Roa, the only town on the Chilean island. After the day’s end solely dedicated to administrative and customs formalities, the crew finally set foot on land the next morning and discovered their first Moais, the island iconic statues sculpted in gigantic granite monoliths. A few hours of respite to discover the beauty of this remote island – one of the most isolated inhabited lands in the world – and its archaeological treasures. Some leisure time that will become rarer in the next few days: the planned agenda for the week is extremely busy.


© François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation


This port of call is an opportunity to welcome new members on board: no fewer than 7 newcomers are expected this week, including the dive team. The divers will need to recover quickly from their 30 hours of flight as they have to start working underwater this week-end to study Rapa Nui’s corals. In parallel to the scientific dives, the stopover will also be an opportunity to welcome children on board: Thanks to Rapa Nui Ocean, a local NGO, a group of students working on conservation of ocean and island resources will visit the schooner if the weather conditions allow them to board.

With the same goal of sharing knowledge with the populations encountered during the Tara Pacific expedition, a public lecture will be held on shore next Tuesday. The objective is of course to present the scientific purposes of our visit to Rapa Nui, but also to present the first results of the Tara Oceans expedition: in 2011, Tara had already anchored in these waters during her 21/2-year round-the-world tour studying plankton. On the occasion of this “Past & Present” conference, the crew will be joined by biologist Eric Karsenti (EMBL-CNRS) – Tara Oceans’ scientific “father” – and André Abreu, in charge of Climate & Environment Policy, who came especially for the occasion. Once this busy program is completed, Tara will resume her course next Wednesday evening, heading due west.

Yann Chavance

To Easter Island, carried by winds

Tara’s arrival at Easter Island, originally planned for September 1st, could well be a few hours in advance thanks to particularly favorable winds. After leaving Colombia with the din of engines, Aeolus finally gifted us with a crossing under sail.

The trip didn’t start with favorable weather conditions. “The first week we had headwinds all the way”, explains Samuel Audrain, Tara’s captain. “We first had to wait until passing the Galapagos to catch trade winds from the southeast at 20 to 25 knots”. A welcome change in weather since the engines had used up almost all the fuel necessary for the Colombia-Easter Island crossing. It was time to hoist the sails!


Tara sous voiles, vue du haut des 27 mètres de mât.Tara under sail, seen from the top of the 27-meter mast – © Yann Chavance – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Since the arrival of these crosswinds, Tara regained her tranquility, under full sail with the engines turned off. You don’t have to raise your voice to be heard in the wheelhouse or on the rear deck. Discussions at meals are troubled only by the creaking of the boat surfing on the waves. Temperatures are cooler since we crossed the equator: we no longer need to sleep with our heads glued to noisy cabin fans. In the evening pants and sweatshirts have re-appeared. « In the past few days the conditions are ideal» résume le capitaine. « It’s beautiful weather, the boat is stable and above all we are advancing quickly: we couldn’t have hoped for more! »


Les voiles de Tara portent leurs ombres sur le spi gonflé à l’avant.Shadows of Tara’s sails on the spinnaker – Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Estimated navigation times are based on a speed of 7 knots, obliging us to push the engines when the wind drops. For the last few days, Tara has averaged 8 to 9 knots. During the quarter watches, the sailors are competing to see who records the highest speed. The record at the moment is 13 knots. Finally, in the best case scenario and if Aeolus continues to spoil us, we might arrive at Easter Island earlier, on the morning of August 31st. After 2 weeks at sea, this prospect delights the crew, eager to meet the island’s legendary giants.

Yann Chavance

ITW : David Monmarché, Divemaster

During this 2-year expedition to the Pacific, hundreds of dives will take place from Tara’s deck. The crucial issues of logistics and security have been organized from the beginning by David Monmarché, divemaster, whom everyone aboard has nicknamed “Monch”. “My middle name!”, he jokes.


© David Hannan / OceanArkAlliance


What is your background and how did you arrive on Tara

It all started with a meeting in Lorient! But first of all I’ve had state-issued scuba diving certification for 14 years. I was a diving instructor in a Corsican school, and then in Tignes (Savoie) teaching under-ice diving. For years I followed the seasons – winter in Tignes, then summer in Corsica and also in Brittany. In the winter of 2015, I decided to stop doing the winter season and enrolled in a sailing program. I obtained the Captain 200 certificate to complement my diver’s qualifications. In Lorient where I was teaching some courses, I met the Tara team and heard about the future Tara Pacific expedition. I then sent them my application. At the time Tara was in dry dock being overhauled. First I helped with the renovation work, from January to April, preparing the boat; then I boarded in Panama for the first dives over a period of 3 months. I will remain on board until Papeete in early November 2016 and will re-embark in July 2017.


What is your work on board?

I take care of equipment maintenance and provide divers with the material they’ll need before a dive. After each dive, I refill the scuba tanks in preparation for subsequent dives. During the dive, all divers, scientists and cameramen are autonomous under the surface. My role is to ensure diver safety from the tender-boat which takes them to the sampling sites and to see that the planned dive time is respected. I also dive myself to collect plankton samples for the Roscoff Biology Station. Last but not least, when we’re sailing, I take care of maintenance and inventory of equipment, and of course I participate in maneuvers and life on board, like all sailors.

What goes on during this expedition?

The team members here are diving professionally, for their work. They’re experienced and autonomous. So there’s less supervising to do, even for occasional recreational dives with artists-in-residence or on board correspondents. On an expedition like this, the dives are consecutive: 2 groups in the morning and 2 in the afternoon, one for coral and the other for plankton — so we have to be especially vigilant. The dives are limited to 2 per day and per person, and when there are deep dives with potential risks, we deploy a re-compression chamber on deck to be ready in case of problems. Once the scientists are in the water, between the instructions I’ve given them, the choice of site and external conditions such as currents and waves, I am directly responsible.

Interview by Yann Chavance

Crossing the Equator

This Thursday, August 18, 2016, at 14:00 UTC, for the 9th time in her existence Tara crossed the mythical frontier of the equator – the occasion for a festive celebration, “baptizing” the neophytes as sailors traditionally do.

Since leaving Buenaventura a few days ago, the subject came up more frequently in discussions.The equator, “The Line,” as it’s called at sea. More important than knowing exactly when we would get there, our focus was to identify neophytes, those who had never crossed the line. Obviously, passing the equator in an airplane doesn’t count. “That’s too easy.” Of the 10 people aboard Tara today, 6 would be undergoing the initiation for the first time.

The ritual of the line has been firmly rooted among sailors for centuries. At an epoch when passing into the other hemisphere meant diving into the unknown, initiating inexperienced sailors helped reduce fears, and at the same time united the crew. In changing hemispheres, apprentices entered the circle of experienced sailors as if joining a brotherhood.


Credits Yann Chavance - passage ligne-1This Thursday, August 18, 2016, everyone gathered in the wheelhouse to see the GPS switch to 0 ° 00.000 N, indication of crossing the equator. – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Over the centuries the passage ceremony has evolved, taking different forms according to the ships and trades. But certain essential rites were always maintained: the presence of Neptune, god of the sea and oceans, and his wife Amphitrite, and also a ceremony of purification with sea water. On some ships the celebration lasts several days, resembling a joyful carnival for old-timers, and a series of challenging tests for newcomers. Aboard Tara on August 18th, the 6 baptisms took place in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.


Les six néophytes ont eu le droit, après un rituel soigné, d’obtenir un diplôme attestant de leur premier passage de l’équateur.After a special ritual, the 6 neophytes obtained a diploma certifying their first crossing of the equator. © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Once the “bizus” were installed on the back deck behind a tape symbolizing The Line, a potbellied Neptune led the ceremony, assisted by an improvised Amphitrite and a masked executioner. Like for a secret society, the rituals of the equator-baptism must remain confidential, hidden from the outside world. Let’s just say that the rite of passage this time included, among other things, raw fish, a smelly mixture to be eaten (as required by tradition) and a lot of sea water.


Fabien Lombard, l’un des six taranautes à passer l’équateur pour la première fois, récupère son diplôme tout en haut du mât.Fabien Lombard, one of 6 Taranauts crossing the equator for the first time, gets his diploma at the top of the mast. – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


After passing many challenging tests, each of the 6 ex-neophytes got a diploma certified by Neptune that he was now an experienced sailor. The diploma had to be retrieved at the top of the mast, 27 meters above the deck, an appropriate way to close this rite of passage. During the 2 years of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner will cross the equator a total of 4 times. And each time Tara’s deck will welcome this joyous ritual.


Yann Chavance

From sea giants to sculpted monoliths

After Malpelo and its discrete whale sharks, Tara continues her journey in the Pacific Ocean. The schooner left the port of Buenaventura (Colombia) on Monday and headed for Easter Island (Chile) and its enigmatic statues. The stopover in Malpelo ended with a partial disappointment: no whale sharks were sighted by the dive team. But even their absence enables scientists to better understand the habits of these large sharks around the small Colombian island. Sandra Bessudo, director of the Malpelo Foundation, plans on returning there as soon as November to finally tag the animals that didn’t show up this week. Despite our disappointment, the few days spent in Malpelo made a strong impression on the team thanks to many superb dives amid hammerhead sharks.



L’équipage profite des quelques jours à Buenaventura, Colombie, pour remplir les cuves de carburant avant deux semaines de mer.The crew takes advantage of a few days in Buenaventura, Colombia to refill the fuel tanks before  heading out to sea for 2 weeks. -  © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Back in Buenaventura for 4 days, the crew was gradually downsized by the departure of the Colombian team and all the other divers. The stopover with a reduced team was an opportunity to welcome aboard some 240 schoolchildren from Buenaventura, as well as several distinguished guests, including the Colombian Minister of the Environment, Mr Luis Gilberto Murillo, and the Commander of the National Navy.


Tara a accueilli les enfants des écoles de Buenaventura, Colombie, avant de reprendre le large le 15 août. Tara welcomed aboard schoolchildren from Buenaventura, Colombia, before heading out to sea on  August 15. – © Yann Chavance /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


These few days were also used to refuel and provision Tara with fresh produce. The schooner welcomed aboard Guillaume Bourdin (deck/engineer officer); Fabien Lombard (university lecturer at Villefranche Oceanographic Laboratory, France) – who will sample plankton around coral reefs – and James Herlan (biologist at Universidad Católica del Norte, Chile). Even with these newcomers, we will be only 10 aboard, sailing to our next destination: Easter Island.


Samuel Audrain, capitaine de Tara, sort du chenal menant à Buenaventura pour emmener la goélette vers le large et l’île de Pâques.Captain Samuel Audrain navigates Tara through the Buenaventura channel, heading for the open sea  and Easter Island. – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


From the Colombian port we left on Monday, it will take us 2 weeks to cross the equator and eventually reach the small Chilean island and its Moaïs – the famous statues erected along the coast. The presence on board of James Herlan – graduate student researcher at ESMOI, the Millenium Nucleus for Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands in Chile) who worked for many years on Easter Island and studied the surrounding seabed, means the entire crew will take advantage of the crossing to learn more about this new stage of our journey in the Pacific Ocean.

Yann Chavance

Video: The giants of Malpelo

Reaching the marine sanctuary of Malpelo Island takes 20 hours of sailing from the coast of Colombia. The Tara team began collecting coral specimens in the Gulf of Panama, and also lent a hand to the Malpelo Foundation in their long-term study of whale sharks and the ecosystem of the area. This was an unusual activity for the crew — attempting to put GPS tags on whale sharks. Not much is known about these giants of the sea, which share the environment with hammerhead and silky sharks. Migration, behavior, reproduction. Will we actually encounter the whale sharks? Meeting with Romain Troublé, director of the Tara Foundation, and Sandra Bessudo, initiator and director of the Malpelo Foundation.



© Yann Chavance – Tara Expeditions Foundation
David Hannan – OceanArkAlliance

Whale sharks: the quest continues

Halfway through this special week around Malpelo Island – trying to locate and tag whale sharks – the team is as motivated as ever. Though we’ve seen no sign of the island’s giants, everyone still has hope.

Since Tara’s arrival in the Malpelo Wildlife Sanctuary, there’s been a sense of excitement aboard. Each morning at 7 o’clock, breakfast is quickly gobbled down and everybody goes to the work area on the rear deck. The 2 teams – 3 divers for coral sampling coral, 3 divers searching for whale sharks – constantly cross paths on deck, filling scuba tanks or checking underwater cameras. The 2 dinghies carry passengers to diving spots with evocative names such as Acuario, one of the sites teeming with marine life including hammer sharks and colorful fish.


 Plongeurs MalpeloThe whale shark team preparing to dive – © Foundation Tara Expeditions


The team tagging whale sharks, led by Sandra Bessudo (founder of the Malpelo Foundation) uses poles to collect a small piece of skin for DNA analysis, as well as underwater rifles especially adapted for shooting a tiny GPS device just below the dorsal fin of the giant sharks. 2 sailors in charge of safety follow the divers in the dinghy, scanning the surface for bubbles indicating their presence. In case of problems, we must react quickly, especially since the rotating teams perform up to 4 dives a day.


PAT Tag-1Tane Taylor Sinclair (marine biologist, KAUST) attaches the GPS device on a modified harpoon – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


“The more time we spend in the water, the greater the chance of seeing whale sharks”, says Sandra Bessudo. “These are not static animals. They move all the time, so we have to stay underwater and just wait for the chance to see one pass by.” For the director of the Malpelo Foundation, who has already tagged 12 whale sharks in recent months, we must keep believing. “This is the right time of year. Whale sharks begin arriving in Malpelo in May and leave again in October or November, so they are certainly here. Now it’s just a matter of luck. We can never be sure of succeeding, but we have to continue.” Everyone here hopes our enthusiasm will soon be rewarded.

Yann Chavance

Below the cliffs of Malpelo

At dawn on Tuesday morning, after 36 hours at sea, Tara arrived at the island of Malpelo (Colombia) to begin a week of daily dives. The new team will be observing the biggest fish in the world – the whale shark.

After 2 days of calm navigation between Panama and Colombia with a small crew (10 people on board) everything speeded up when Tara dropped anchor in Colombian waters. We moored for only a few hours at Buenaventura, the country’s main port – just enough time to embark fresh food, diving equipment, and some new crew members. We spent a minimum amount of time on land. Given the city’s bad reputation (considered the most dangerous in the country) the team preferred not to dwell here for sightseeing.


CREDITS YANN CHAVANCE - Samuel Audrain - Buenaventura-1
Samuel Audrain, captain, preparing the route to Malpelo Island © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


The day after arrival, Tara revved up the engines again with some new faces on board, including Roman Troublé, director of the Tara Foundation. Among the newcomers, Tane Sinclair-Taylor, a marine biologist (KAUST, Saudi Arabia) who will do the tagging of whale sharks, one of our objectives here in Malpelo. Equipped with a speargun, he will attach to the base of each giant shark’s fin a small GPS tag that will transmit valuable information on the lifestyle and movements of the sharks.

Alongside him underwater will be Erika Lopez, Colombian diver, and of course Sandra Bessudo, the French-Colombian “soul” of Malpelo who initiated the protection of this site. In 1999 Sandra created the Malpelo Foundation and for 30 years has devoted her life to preserving the archipelago. Of course we’ll also take the opportunity to study the reefs of this underwater sanctuary: Laetitia Hedouin (CNRS researcher, Criobe) and Luis Chasqui (Colombian marine biologist at INVEMAR) will assist Emilie Boissin in making an inventory of Malpelo corals.


CREDITS YANN CHAVANCE - Départ Plongée - Malpelo-1
One of the two annexes leaves Tara for the first dive of the week in Malpelo © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


So, on Tuesday morning we all came face to face with the huge cliffs of the Colombian island, accompanied by the cries of thousands of seabirds nesting in the rocks. Just enough time to put the 2 dinghies in the water and anchor Tara below the cliffs, and the team had already donned wetsuits, ready to test the equipment and diving conditions around the island. We don’t know if the whale sharks will come here to meet us. Answer in a few days.

Yann Chavance

Video: First coral sampling in Panama

During a brief stopover in Panama City, coral reef scientists arrive on board: the first Tara Pacific expedition sampling can begin. Between dives, photographs, coral and surrounding water sampling and processing, discover the first moments of the expedition in the Pacific Ocean.


© Maéva Bardy – Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video: The Panama Canal aboard Tara

Tara passed through the famous Panama Canal to reach the Pacific Ocean where scientists will begin collecting the expedition’s first coral samples. Captain Samuel Audrain followed the instructions of a pilot who came aboard the schooner to supervise the maneuvers. On deck the crew assisted in passing through a series of locks to reach the highest point of the Canal, about 20 meters above sea level. During the hours of our passage, we met huge cargo ships slowly moving through the locks, pulled by locomotives.

The construction of the Canal, completed a little over a century ago, was a real feat for the time. It opened a new route to maritime trade which continues to gain momentum today. The recent enlargement of the Canal enables even bigger cargo ships to cross the Isthmus of Panama.


© Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Diving at the heart of Tara Pacific

Scuba diving will be the main approach to study coral reefs during this 21/2-year expedition in the Pacific Ocean. This activity required the implementation of a rigorous framework to ensure a high level of security.

During the expedition, the schooner will visit about 40 islands in the Pacific. Coral reefs surrounding each island will be sampled and observed (coral, sea grass, sediments, plankton and fish). This work therefore involves scuba diving. The collection of scientific data will require 4-5 days of work at each island with 4 dives a day involving in total up to 8 people, each of them diving twice a day.


Les bouteilles de plongée, neuves et prêtes à l’emploi
© Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Considering the frequency of dives, priority has been given to safety. A rigorous protocol has been implemented which defines the rotations of the dive teams, lists details of the nearest hyperbaric facilities, evacuation and re-immersion procedures, etc. Most dives will be performed at shallow depths (10 meters max) to minimize nitrogen saturation and decompression stops. In case dives deeper than 40 meters are considered, a hyperbaric physician will embark aboard Tara. If necessary, he will be able to operate the inflatable hyperbaric chamber set up aboard the schooner in Lorient with the support of the French Defense Health service.

The dives are under the responsibility of both the hyperbaric chief operator and the Captain. During the Tara Pacific expedition, 2 professional divers and diving instructors, David Monmarche and Jonathan Lancelot, will take turns as hyperbaric chief operator. They will establish a routine around these days of diving, security and maintenance of diving equipment (completely renewed for the occasion). They will also be the link between the scientific teams to ensure continuity of routines and sampling protocols. Therefore, whether in Panama or in Samoa, samples will always be collected in the same way.


David Monmarche (chef opérateur hyperbare) prépare les valises de sécurité pour la plongée
David Monmarche (hyperbaric chief operator) © Maéva Bardy / Fondation Tara Expéditions


As a professional diver (class II mention B), the hyperbaric chief operator will oversee the scientific dives carried out in a professional setting. This concerns scientists and sailors with a valid certificate of qualification to work under hyperbaric conditions. These dives are subject to the Labor Code and will comply with MT92 tables (issued by the Ministry of Labor in 1992) regarding the number and depth of decompression stops to be performed, depending on the dive maximum depth and duration.

The hyperbaric chief, as a diving instructor (Brevet d’Etat d’Educateur Sportif 1er degré – BEES1), will also oversee recreational dives that relate to all persons on board without a professional certificate.  For instance, artists-in-residence, journalists or local scientists who will need to go underwater for their work. These recreational dives will be conducted under the responsibility of the diving instructor on board, in the same conditions as in a French diving club.

Maéva Bardy

Stopover in Panama City

After traversing the Panama Canal, Tara made a 48-hour stopover in Panama City. A short stop to resolve some technical problems and welcome aboard new team members, including scientists who will study the first coral reefs of the expedition.

Tara set sail in the night to head for the Las Perlas archipelago, or more exactly the outskirts of Saboga, a Panamanian island a few hours from Panama City. This archipelago will be the expedition’s first site for coral sampling. The short stopover in Panama City officially marks the start of the Tara Pacific expedition and required good coordination to prepare this first leg.


Sarah Roman (sampling coordinator) prepares the material for the first sampling off Saboga Island, Panama © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


A taxi boat called “lancha” runs between the dock and boats anchored offshore, bringing the new team to Tara. Among them are the scientists in charge of collecting the first coral reef samples of the Tara Pacific expedition. After a few minutes devoted to presenting the crew and life aboard the boat, they set up their equipment and prepare for the first underwater sampling, scheduled for the next morning.

David Hannan, underwater cameraman, and David Monmarche, in charge of hyperbaric operations are two of the new arrivals. David Monmarche wastes no time since the first dives begin the next day. He is busy preparing the diving equipment on Tara’s aft deck. He turns on the compressor, checks the light and sound of the safety equipment, and prepares scuba tanks. As for François Aurat, he replaces Julie Lhérault as deck officer.


David Monmarche (head hyperbaric operator) prepares safety kits for the dive © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Meanwhile other crew members are repairing equipment damaged by lightning. The “lancha” arrives with another delivery for Tara. It’s liquid nitrogen for sample preservation and fresh produce to feed the 17 team members before Tara’s return to Panama City in 10 days.


Stéphane Pesant (scientist in charge of data management) is responsible for liquid nitrogen supply © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Provisions were pre-ordered to be delivered before departure. The liquid nitrogen supply was coordinated by the Smithsonian Research Institute located in Panama. This organization worked with Tara scientists to facilitate access to resources and manage sampling permits in Panamanian waters. The fresh produce was also pre-ordered, by sailor-cook Marion Lauters, before Tara’s arrival in Panama City.

The whole team is ready. Tara Pacific can begin!

Maéva Bardy

Panama Canal: from the Atlantic to the Pacific

In a few days, Tara will cross the Panama Canal, a legendary passage for global navigation. Recent widening works ensure the supremacy of this construction by tripling its transit capacity between Asia and the eastern United States.

For the 4th time in its existence, the schooner will cross the Panama Canal. This will be her 2nd passage under the name Tara, the first one having occurred during the Tara Oceans expedition. This canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and facilitates maritime transit to thousands of ships, ranging from private crafts to large commercial vessels, called “Panamax” (term referring to vessels having the largest eligible size in the canal).


Tara transiting the Panama Canal, 2011 © C. Blanchard / Tara Expeditions Foundation


“Panama, a major rendez-vous”

Tara’s passage has been in preparation for some time. Port formalities are numerous. “Size of the boat, crew on board, engine power, etc. Everything is declared to enable the best possible transit” says Clémentine Moulin, logistics coordinator on land, who prepared Tara’s passage with the Captain. “Going from one ocean to another through one of the busiest canals in the world is a major undertaking! Everything has to be organized with a port agent, an indispensable intermediary.”

The passage is expected to take 24-36 hours at an average speed of 8 knots between each lock and Tara will embark an accompanying pilot. Tara’s maneuvers will be quite easy compared to those of large cargo ships and won’t require towing by electric locomotives. At wharf, the docking pilots, in charge of mooring operations, will oversee Tara and her crew during the passage through each lock.

The cost of the passage depends on the volume of the ship (its tonnage) – a few thousand dollars for Tara and hundreds of thousands of dollars for large cargo ships. A substantial sum to sail up to Lake Gatun and then back down to the Pacific Ocean but it’s ultimately little compared to the detour via Cape Horn.

© Thomas Römer/OpenStreetMap data CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


A seaway crucial to global trade

This construction has impacted considerably maritime commerce. Since its opening in 1914, ships no longer have had to navigate down to Cape Horn or the Strait of Magellan, located on the southern tip of Chile – a region well known for its rough seas and high winds. Thus, each year, more than 14,000 vessels transit through this route, representing 5% of world trade.

Titanic works were required to develop this 77 km-long strip of land separating the 2 oceans. A series of locks, whose dimensions determine the “Panamax”, enable passage to an artificial lake located 26 m above sea level. This lake is essential for the transit of vessels and also serves as a water reservoir for the proper functioning of the locks during the dry season.

Recently, with the development of maritime commerce, the privileged position of the Panama Canal was challenged by the Suez Canal and a new canal construction project in Nicaragua by 2020. The size of its locks was becoming limiting. In 2011, 37% of the container ships were estimated too large (post-panamax) to take this route and nearly 50% of the vessels transiting the canal were already at the maximum width of the locks.

Expansion works were completed this year on June 26. They now enable the passage of longer and larger ships that can carry up to 12,000 containers – more than double the charge authorized for the original canal. More than 100 years after its opening, the Panama Canal has retained its supremacy on the seaway connecting Asia to the east coast of the United States.


Miraflores Lock - 10 Nov 1912
Construction of the Miraflores lock, 1912


The Panama Canal in numbers

Extension of the canal:
- 9 years of work (from Sept. 2007 to June 2016)
- 5.2 billion dollars: final cost of enlargement
- 24,000 workers on the construction site
- 49 ships transit daily through the canal
- 510 to 600 million tons of freight per year by 2025
- Dimensions of vessels: 49 m large, 366 m long
- Giant lock basins: 55 m large, 420 m long and more than 18 m deep

First canal:
- 32 years of work (from 1882 to 1914)
- 20,000 workers allegedly died during the construction from malaria and yellow fever
- 39 ships transited daily through the canal
- 203 million tons of transported freight per year
- Panamax dimensions: 32.3 m large, 294.1 m long
- Giant lock basins: 33.53 m large, 304.8 m long and more than 12.55 m deep

Maéva Bardy

Tara en route for the Panama Canal

Three days since Tara left Miami. Onboard, life resumed the rhythm of navigation at sea. Each person is busy doing his daily work, but the whole crew gathers together for meals, to share household chores, and to do night-watch, monitoring navigation and maritime traffic.


Captain Samuel Audrain checks the wiring of the wheelhouse from the main cabin © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


We are 9 crew members aboard: 6 sailors, 2 scientists and a journalist. The crew is smaller than during the transatlantic crossing. Everyone is expected to participate in the night watch, taking turns to ensure the smooth running of the boat.


Julie Lherault on the boom helping take down the mainsail © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


The schooner passed the coast of western Cuba last night. To arrive on time at the mouth of the Panama Canal, we maintain a speed of 6.7 knots. Tara will pass through the Canal between July 14th and 15th , a mythical passage in the history of navigation. Once in Panama City the new scientific team will come aboard and on July 16, begin to collect coral samples in the Gulf of Panama.


Stephane Pesant (scientist in charge of data management) prepares the tubes used for preserving aerosol filters © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Scientific sampling across the Atlantic

The first leg of the Tara Pacific expedition — the Atlantic crossing — is a “can’t miss” opportunity for scientists from the Oceanographic Laboratory of Villefranche-sur-Mer (France) and the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israël). This first period of sailing is put to use collecting as much data as possible and completing the already colossal data basis on plankton established during the Tara Oceans expedition. These new samples will allow further analysis of living organisms and the incredible biodiversity of plankton.

But the presence of plastic at sea is also revealed. The fragments collected will be analyzed, including the bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that colonize microplastics.
Discover a series of sampling instruments:
- A peristaltic pump, designed to avoid damaging the organisms collected
- A “high speed” net to collect surface water without having to reduce the speed of the schooner
- A bottle to collect iron (nutrient essential for plankton) installed at the bow of the boat in order not to be contaminated by the aluminum hull.

These operations are complemented by various automated and continuous samplings such as collecting atmospheric particles, and survey work made by the mass spectrometer in the dry lab.


Credits Maeva Bardy – Foundation Tara Expéditions


Transatlantic: navigation and autonomy

After departing from lorient on may 28, Tara will take  30 days to arrive in miami (Florida) on the east coast of the United States. A flexible route determined by weather conditions and the requirements of scientific research.


Centrale de navigation reliée au GPS, au sondeur et à l’AIS (Automatique Identification System).Navigation unit connected to GPS, sounder and AIS (Automatic Identification System) © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Friday, June 10, our current position is 33°35′ N – 37°31′ W, a point in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The “route fond” which indicates the actual progress on the map in relation to the seabed is 195 ° (heading southwest) and we are moving at a speed of 6 knots, or about 11 km/h. The 3 sails – foresail, staysail and mainsail – stretch into the sky. But with the wind at only 16 knots, sails are not enough to move Tara’s 140 tons. One of the motors must be used in order for us to arrive on time in Miami where Tara is expected on June 28th. Still 2,270 nautical miles (4,200 km) to go, along a route that is adjusted each day to find the best way to meet the imperatives of the whole expedition. Contrary to what one might imagine, the major challenge of this crossing is neither food nor water, but fuel: the desalinator is capable of delivering up to 270 litres per hour. As for food, during the Arctic drift 8 tons were stored on board. Clearly Tara’s capacity is more than enough for the 2 tons of food stocked for our Atlantic crossing.


Daniel Cron, chef mécanicien, effectue la première vidange des nouveaux moteurs.Daniel Cron, chief engineer, performs the first oil change of the new engines © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


At Lorient, the tanks were filled half-way with 20,000 litres of diesel fuel — enough to navigate for 25 days with both engines at cruising speed. This corresponds in principle to a maximum consumption of 800 litres per day if there’s no wind. “This may sound like a lot, but it’s very little compared to conventional oceanographic vessels. Tara’s strength is her low operating costs and reduced environmental impact,” says Captain Samuel Audrain. This estimate takes into account the production of electricity stored in batteries and used by the navigation instruments and scientific equipment: refrigerator and freezer (where samples are stored), measuring devices running continuously 24 hours per day. For example, the particulate air sampling requires a pump which alone consumes 25 amp-hours of the 240 amp-hours supplied by the batteries. Autonomy is limited to about 2 hours when the boat uses wind power, but this will probably increase because the idea is to introduce more renewable energy.


Nicolas Bin, second, monte au mat avant pour remettre en place les écoutes de la voile (misaine).Nicolas Bin, first mate, climbs the mast to adjust the ropes © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Ideally, the trade winds — blowing continuously from east to west, north of Ecuador, could push us to the coast of the US, but this would mean heading south and lengthening our route with the risk of not finding powerful enough winds. Indeed, in this season winds are not favorable. We must find a compromise to meet the timetable of this 2½ year expedition. The choice of course is based on weather forecasts downloaded daily via satellite. These surveys provide information on changes and anticyclonic storm systems and thus on the strength and direction of the wind. An indispensable tool for the captain to maximize wind power while optimizing the distance. Hopefully Eole will blow a little harder!

Maéva BARDY, correspondent on board


Julie Lhérault, woman, sailor and deck officer

First time aboard Tara for Julie Lhérault, sailor and deck officer. 27 years old and a dream come true. She gladly talks about her passions and her career path.

A few days before the departure of the Tara Pacific expedition, Julie Lhérault boarded Tara for the first time as deck officer. On board, the schooner was like an anthill, everyone rushing to finish preparations. Julie was busy sealing portholes, verifying deck fittings, tidying up rigging in the forward hold and climbing the mast to control splice ropes and pulleys. “Everything has to be checked to make sure all is clean and organized in case we need to maneuver quickly.” Work is sometimes physical but a deck officer is always joyful and energetic: “I don’t know how to rest anyway. I need to keep busy.”


Julie Lherault, deck officer, checks the fittings on Tara bridge © Maéva Bardy


Sailing is a passion inherited from her father since childhood. At the age of 13, Julie already knew she wanted to make it her career. She dropped out of college when she was 18 to become a volunteer at the Glénans sailing school where she qualified as an instructor specializing in cruising. At 21, she worked on charter vessels between the roaring 40s and the furious 50s, one of the most dangerous regions for navigation. Yet, despite the cold, frostbite to the fingers, hazardous sailing conditions, fog and icebergs, there were 5 years of unforgettable memories on a human level. “It was like being in a cocoon.” Moreover, the sumptuous landscapes make you forget everything else. Last winter when she returned from this region with a water temperature of 5°C, it was the first time she’d seen rain in years. Bringing tourists to discover this particularly threatened environment wasn’t enough: “I couldn’t remain passive and just watch.


Julie Lherault, deck officer, at the bow of the boat to fix the yankee’s clew. © Maéva Bardy


Tara first crossed her path in Ushuaia in 2010. She celebrated Christmas Eve aboard the schooner with part of the crew who stayed there for the festive season. A friendly atmosphere reigned aboard. In the mess room, blinking headlamps were serving as Christmas lights. She immediately felt like part of a family. It’s not always the case in the world of sailing where a woman “often has to do twice as much as a man, and isn’t allowed to make any mistakes” she confides. From then on, she made every effort to become a member of the crew. After obtaining her Capitaine 200 license and Yacht Master certificate, she applied twice and succeeded. Now aboard Tara until the exit of the Panama Canal, she has a sense of accomplishment having brought together her values, passions and environmental sensitivity.

Maéva BARDY, On board correspondent

Tara Pacific’s first moments

Tara left Lorient on Saturday night to the cheers of a crowd gathered for departure. Among the supporters, some families and friends travelled long distances for a final goodbye. After the farewell, sailors and scientists aboard the schooner savor the first moments of the adventure. While the sailors ensure proper functioning of the boat heading for Miami, the first seawater sampling is already in progress. The expedition is under way!


28 Mai 2016, départ du Tara du port de Lorient.
May 28, departure of Tara from the port of Lorient © Fanch Galivel

After the deacon’s blessing and a last farewell to the cortege of boats accompanying Tara past Groix Island, only the 12 crew members remained on board: 6 sailors, 4 scientists, a member of the team from Tara Base in Paris, and an on board correspondent. Suddenly the atmosphere on the boat changed. All crew members experienced these first magical moments and realized that the expedition had actually started. Mild weather offered a magnificent sunset that chased away the impatience and excitement of the past weeks’ intense preparations. Smiles were on everyone’s lips.

Michel Flores and Yajuan Lin sitting above the igloo, enjoying the first sunset after the departure from Lorient.
Michel Flores and Yajuan Lin sitting above the igloo, enjoying the first sunset after the departure from Lorient © Maeva Bardy

Everybody quickly took up their duties. Marion Lauters, sailor-cook aboard Tara, was already preparing the evening meal. Captain Samuel Audrain organized the quarter watch teams for the first night: sailors take turns in the wheel house every 4 hours. As for the scientists, they are preparing the equipment for collecting the first open sea samples as soon as possible. Certain procedures have to be confirmed and protocols refined. There is no time to lose “because at sea everything takes 2 to 3 times longer than on land,” comments Michel Flores, scientist in charge of atmospheric particle sampling.

Working at sea is very different. The rolling of the boat hinders gestures and movements. Safety instructions are announced in English by first mate Nicolas Bin, so that everyone can understand. On board are 4 nationalities living together: Mexican, American, Chinese, and a majority of French, all with very different backgrounds and experiences at sea. This expedition promises to be a beautiful human challenge, learning to live and work together in close quarters for several months, or even a year for oceanographic engineer Guilaume Bourdin, who until now had spent only one week on a boat at sea.


L’équipe Tara Pacific au départ de Lorient
The Tara Pacific team at the departure from Lorient © Maeva Bardy

Presentation of the crew (pictured from left to right from top to bottom):
- Samuel Audrain (captain)
- Nicolas Bin (first mate)
- Daniel Cron (chief engineer)
- Marion Lauters (sailor-cook)
- Julie Lherault (deck officer)
- Louis Wilmotte (sailor-electrician aka “Fuse”)
- Leah GODIVEAU (volunteer)
- Maéva Bardy (on-board correspondent)

The scientists:
- Thomas Leeuw (optical engineer)
- Michel Flores (atmospheric sampling system developer)
- Yajuan Lin (in charge of the mass spectrometer installation)
- Guillaume Bourdin (oceanographic engineer – in charge of high-speed sea water sampling)


L’équipe Tara Pacific au départ de Lorient
The Tara Pacific team at the departure from Lorient © Maeva Bardy

Maéva BARDY, correspondante de bord

3 days before departure

Three days before the departure of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner is a hive where each crew member puts all his energy and good humor for final preparations.


© Tara Expeditions Foundation – Maeva Bardy

Farewell Theresa

In the technical area of the Keroman port in Lorient, Tara’s masts are silhouetted against a wet sky. Undergoing renovation in preparation for the Tara PACIFIC expedition 2016-2018 (departure scheduled for May 28), the big gray whale is suspended 10 meters above the ground with her fins hanging loose.

Three levels of portable stairs are required to access the rear deck. On board, the 6 crew members have taken apart the bubble that protects the central living area otherwise known as the carré.  Gone is the large table where everyone usually gathers for meals and meetings. The kitchen is reduced to a simple trench, the corridor is ripped open and reveals a tangle of tubes like the large black bowels of an animal. Seats and flooring have also been taken out.


Wednesday, February 17th is the big day for removing the engines. Captain Martin Hertau oversees 4 helmeted workers hidden in the gaping hole where Tara’s original starboard engine (fondly nicknamed “Theresa”) is located. Hoists and pulleys rotate with a deafening sound of chains. Everyone is occupied, carefully lifting the big blue engine out of the carré. The crane operator, remote control in hand, listens attentively to orders. Theresa just barely passes through the opening, swaying slightly as she rises into the air, then descends onto a pallet located 10 meters below. The empty hole left behind is enormous. “It’s big enough to accommodate a beautiful cabin!” Martin jokes. Jean Collet, technical director of Tara’s overhaul, is filming the entire scene. He was the captain of the boat when it was first built in 1989 and called “Antarctica”.  The collector still needs to be removed. “It must weigh at least 900 kilos. Only metal gears in there!” says Jean. The operation is tricky since the huge compact block must first be moved to the height of the hole, then hoisted outside. Chief engineer Loïc Caudan is standing in the entryway where he has passed hundreds of times. He observes the scene: “I feel like crying. It’s strange to see these machines leaving us. We worked so hard on them!” The collector is now safely outside of its niche and joins Theresa on a nearby pallet.

Rain begins to fall. The opening of the carré is quickly covered with a tarp. Everyone takes refuge inside since the cold has descended on Lorient. It’s raining too hard to begin the scheduled work of removing Brigitte, the port engine. “We’ll have to wait for better weather,” says Jean Collet. “Yes, in July!” one of the workers jokes about the weather in Brittany. The operation of cleaning the engine compartment can begin while we wait for the sky to clear over Lorient.

Dino Di Meo, in Lorient



This time it’s inevitable: Brigitte and Thérèse, Tara’s 2 original engines will retire after 25 years of loyal service. They will be recycled for use on other boats.

Back from Paris where she proudly led the “Ocean and Climate” campaign  at the COP2, the schooner Tara was moved to dry-dock for major renovation in preparation for the upcoming expedition to the Pacific, scheduled for 2016 – 2018. The renovation had been programmed for a long time  by Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditions, and Romain Troublé, Secretary General.

AV0O3109After the long process of re-installing the masts, on January 9th  Tara finally left the port of Le Havre for Lorient. On January 22nd, the boat was hoisted onto the quay at  Keroman fishing port in Lorient for a major overhaul. The captain and crew have moved temporarily to a house in Larmor Plage. Captain Martin Hertau lists the many tasks to be accomplished by the month of May. “We will take advantage of the absence of the 2 original motors to completely overhaul the engine room”, he said. “We’ll remove the engines, verify the gearboxes, and replace them with 2 new motors that meet current standards for pollution control, so that Tara will be more in line with our environmental commitments and scientific missions. We often use the sails during expeditions, but we use the motors to approach  sampling stations”.

Tara’s overhaul is being directed by Jean Collet, captain of the schooner when it was first launched (and called “Antarctica”) by Jean-Louis Etienne. The replacement of the engines will be done by Meunier, a company large enough to put extra staff on site in case of a delay. “These engines are manufactured by Cummins”, said Jean Collet. This new generation requires a better cooling system, and better filtration of diesel fuel. So, a transformation is necessary on this level”. Jean Collet is primarily responsible for relations between the different suppliers and for overall management of the site, in liaison with the Tara Base in Paris.

The new engines will have the same power as the old ones, but their displacement decreases from 14 liters to 10 liters each. Tara will thus benefit from technical progress made since 1989 when the boat was first launched. Her motors will be less polluting and more efficient, thanks to better adapted propellers. “We’ll change the propellers too”, explains Jean Collet. We’re working with a specialist to improve their performance and consumption in general. They’ll be more efficient: less fuel for greater speed”. But this new type of engine requires a larger cooling system, necessitating some structural changes not originally planned. The team will take this opportunity to redo the entire insulation of the machine room, improve ventilation, change all the hoses. “The engine room has not been empty for a very long time. This is an occasion to optimize it,” explains Tara’s captain.


In the port of Keroman, crew members have already begun to dismantle the ship, covering-up and  protecting to get ready for painting They’ll also prepare the panels which will be moved onto the deck in order to remove the engines. For the moment, rainy weather has hindered this delicate operation. The propeller shaft lines were also taken apart and sent to the repair shop. In a shed converted into a workshop, everything has been stored and inventoried, ready to be analyzed, cleaned and reassembled later.

This major cleanup combines with another aspect of this exceptional operation: setting up the boat for Tara Pacific – a 2-year expedition to study the coral reefs of Asia. “We need to build a lab bench for handling coral samples. This requires installations on deck”, explains Martin Hertau. But there will also be a bench for working inside the boat. One cabin was redone last summer and a dry lab is now set up in le petit carré. Another lab will be installed in the rear hold for the coral.”

The scientific program is currently being developed, so we’ll adapt the schooner progressively to the needs of the scientists.The expedition will involve lots of scuba diving. To ensure the safety of the divers, Tara will be equipped with an inflatable hyperbaric chamber* and a compressor for filling scuba tanks. “There was no room on deck to put a hyperbaric chamber”,  explains Jean Collet. “This one is inflatable and can accommodate 2 people in case something happens. It will be installed on the deck during underwater dives, then folded up and stored in the hold the rest of the time”.



Built for polar ice, Tara is now ready to set sail in warmer seas. Expeditions in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean were trial runs. The crew already knows what improvements are needed to make the boat livable at high temperatures. Every new expedition requires certain procedures, renewal of documents and security-related equipment.

This major renovation is entirely funded by agnès b., Tara’s founder and main sponsor, with help from other loyal partners. The engine-removal work will continue until mid-March. A cooling system will be installed in late March, and the new engines in early April. Finally a rejuvenated Tara will be launched on  April 20th.

Dino Di Meo

* The recompression chamber — or hyperbaric chamber — is a medico-technical facility for exposing divers to higher pressure than that of the surface. Recompression, defined by the depth of their last dive, restores a normal cycle of decompression if it was interrupted.


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Back in Lorient

After the COP21, Tara left Paris and sailed down the Seine, arriving in Le Havre on the evening of December 29. The very next day, the masts were delicately unloaded on the dock, then over the next week checked, repainted and inspected by the crew to give Tara a clean new look.


Two days of work on the rigging followed, tightening the shrouds and reconnecting navigation instruments. These tasks were carried out under Captain Samuel Audrain’s watchful eye. The spectacular process of setting up the masts using cranes was made even more complex by the wind. “You’d think we were on an expedition” says Daniel Cron, chief engineer, with a smile.

In the morning, the wind finally calmed down and the sails were hoisted too. The day’s work was intense but carried out in a good spirit. The crew was eager to return to sea and the atmosphere cheerful. In the evening, everyone gathered in the messroom to review security measures, and final preparations before sailing.



Saturday, January 9 at 6am, Tara left the dock in Le Havre. The crew was happy to reach the open ocean despite a little apprehension due to the forecast of very inclement weather and rough seas. The voyage started in bright sunlight and strong wind; a sail was hoisted. Then we hit the predicted high winds (gusts at Beaufort force 8-9) and rough seas. Navigation became very difficult, then impossible off the coast of Cap de La Hague due to a counter current generated by the rising tide. Shipping lanes to the north limited tacking maneuvers and forced Tara into the counter current where the wind sent her off course. The crew decided to turn back and take shelter in Cherbourg. After some necessary repairs on the sails and a few hours of sleep, we departed with the tide. The passage of the Raz Blanchard – against the wind, with one of the strongest currents in Europe – was no pleasure cruise.




The island of Ouessant soon appeared in the distance, promising calmer navigation. Tara could finally sail downwind and head straight towards Lorient. We sailed past Ouessant on Monday night, then set course towards the island of Sein. The pace was brisk and the crew was glad when the rumble of engines shut down around 9am on Tuesday. Sailing full speed on a rough sea, a dozen dolphins came to greet Tara. Suspended a moment between 2 horizons, ephemeral sharing of the ocean with these marine beings, the magic of the depths whispered through their joyous breath. People’s face on deck lit up. At any latitude, life at sea brings infinite wonder – a genuine complicity beyond the long or short experiences each one of us has had.


The sun was still shining when the island of Groix came into sight. We smelled the scent of arrival and homecoming, and the crew prepared Tara’s entry into Lorient harbor. The welcome there is always warm. Tara is back! The schooner and her crew have returned to homeport for a few months, to prepare for the next scientific expedition. This will take place in Asia and the Pacific Ocean over the next 2 years (2016-2018) to study coral reefs. Meanwhile, Tara will undergo a major technical overhaul. Her stay in dry dock for maintenance will last 3 months. Good luck everyone!

Lea Godiveau

ITW with Mathieu Voluer: Bridging science and sailing

Among the sailors aboard Tara, the youngest is a tall blond with angular features. 34-year-old Mathieu Voluer is a deck officer. He joined the crew in June to participate in the 2015 Tara Ecopolaris mission. With Tara Expeditions Mathieu can finally combine his passions: sailing, science and education. Portrait of a new team member.


© N.Pansiot/Tara Expeditions

Mathieu chose the sea. The ocean is an integral part of both his professional and personal life. Since childhood he has fostered this passion: “I grew up near the water in Antibes in a family who loved sailing and free diving. I was almost born on a boat, built by my parents.”

At 19, he left France for a program in oceanography at the University of Hawaii. After completing a year of study in biogeochemistry, he stayed there to work with one of his professors conducting research on ocean acidification. Mathieu eventually decided to return home to do a Masters in environmental management: “I realized that I absolutely needed to be in contact with the sea. I chose to pursue this degree in Corte, Corsica. I then worked in the Bonifacio Strait Nature Reserve studying the interactions between fishing activities and dolphins.”


© N.Pansiot/Tara Expeditions

At the end of his studies, Mathieu set aside science to become a professional sailor, but his interest in research did not diminish. After getting a captain’s license in England, he conveyed large sailing boats around the world and particularly enjoyed traversing the Pacific. Even when he’s not sailing for work, Mathieu never stays far away from the liquid element. He travels to meet other seafaring people, for example in Madagascar where he lived for 6 months in contact with the local fishermen. And he returns regularly to Polynesia, where he discovered a culture based on getting food from the sea.  The ocean is no longer a subject of study nor a playground for him. Polynesian friends initiated Mathieu to their culture and he learned empirically by their side. The word “transmission” often comes up in conversation. The young man seems driven by a desire to share his experiences with the very young, with his future children.

Aboard Tara, Mathieu doesn’t hesitate to give a hand in the kitchen. If he cooks, it’s because he enjoys good food. A true epicurean, he doesn’t believe in “depriving himself” and wants to “make the most of life”. Mathieu has been following Tara’s adventures for several years, but for professional reasons he didn’t encounter the schooner until recently. This summer, when he crossed paths with Tara, he didn’t hesitate: “For more than 3 years I’ve been trying to connect science and sailing. Navigating aboard Tara is a logical continuation.”

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

Kitchen Confidences

Aboard Tara, the cook plays a key role. It’s an established fact, recognized by all – in short,   common knowledge. Guarantor of troop morale, Dominique Limbour, nicknamed “Do”, looks after what some call “our second brain”: our stomach. For this professional nurse, caring for others is second nature.

N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

“Do” is also a full-fledged sailor who doesn’t hesitate to put on her sailing jacket and lend a hand during maneuvers. Her connection to the sea is obvious. The sea is a vital element for this Pisces who needs to see it, swim in it whenever she can – even in high northern latitudes – or let herself be carried by its movement aboard a ship.

When she isn’t wearing her apron aboard Tara, she works at the infirmary of the Brittany Ferries. “Do is a nurse with a huge heart” says Mathieu Oriot, sailor and diver, accustomed to traveling with her. “She takes care of us with food, medicine and psychology.” Aboard the schooner, she’ll end up fixing up sores and injuries if need be, although the responsibility of care remains with the Captain. On board, she leaves behind the pharmacopoeia in favor of quality produce. Delicacies she carefully selects at the markets, in sufficient quantity for the duration of the expeditions.

Her dishes win unanimous support, whether they come out of a cookbook or her imagination. She knows the culinary preferences of everyone. Daniel Cron, Chief Engineer, knows it: “She’ll think of me when there’s a pot of hot chocolate to finish…” But the cook not only makes sure that our bellies are satisfied, she also manages the provisions so the delights of the palate last over time. Here, in the polar region, fresh produce is scarce.

Sweet and calm, even in her tone of voice, the lady cheerfully lends an ear to the Taranauts and gladly becomes their confidante. During morning exchanges with Martin, Tara’s captain, they often converse near the stove, while preparing tea and coffee in the long and narrow kitchen located just below the mess room. While everyone’s still asleep, these two are already accomplices.

From time to time, a sailor offers his help in the kitchen. Do, who doesn’t like her kitchen being invaded, accepts the helping hand of the improvised assistant. Surrounded by the tinkling of pots and utensil noises, people lower their voices, exchanges become more personal. The protagonists of the discussion naturally isolate themselves by their postures: standing in front of the workbench, turning their back on the other crew members. The time is ideal to discuss family issues, romantic woes, long journeys…

The crew’s queen of hearts develops bonds of a different nature with everyone, at their own pace, as conversations and circumstances allow. Louis Wilmotte, the youngest crew member, never misses an opportunity to tease her. It’s not uncommon that he addresses her starting sentences with “Mum”. Dominique’s reaction is often the same: she replies grumpily but always shows the smile of someone who can’t resist humor. According to Louis who loves to banter with his fellow sailors, “when a matter of importance arises, I turn to Dominique”.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot


Tara’s cuisine

Tara’s cuisine

PdeParscau_Tara_passe_a_table 2

After more than seven months in Lorient, it’s time for TARA to head out to the open sea. This Sunday, the boat will weigh anchor to navigate some 6,000 nautical miles across Iceland, Greenland, Sweden and England. Nine weeks of sailing that require careful preparation during the last hours at dock, and the perfect opportunity to find out what the boat really has in its belly.

Yesterday TARA took the opportunity to fill its reservoirs with 20,000 liters of diesel, enough to make it through to next year’s checkup in a shipyard. Besides tools, equipment, and fittings, there’s another task concerning supplies: the food. The kitchen, with the engine room, is the second beating heart of TARA, and for this summer campaign it’s Dominique’s realm. It’s been 3 years since this former nurse left her white uniform on land for an apron on board. “It corresponded to a period in my life where I could change jobs, have time for myself, so when the chance to embark came up, I took the opportunity.”

Since the first meals she prepared in Ireland, “Do” (as everyone on board calls her) has developped a taste for travel — from Norway to the Mediterranean to the legendary Northwest Passage. And despite her kitchen responsibilties, Do won’t stay confined. “As soon as I hear the crew manoeuvering the boat, I stop everything and go up on deck. Even if the sailors don’t really need me, I still can participate in one way or another. I don’t want to be just a cook. I need to get involved in the manoeuvres.” At the stove and on the “coffee grinders”, those winches on deck for taking up slack during manoeuvres, Do must satisfy the stomachs of 16 crew members aboard and up to 30 guests at certain ports-of-call.

For the upcoming voyage to Greenland, the quantities loaded aboard are dizzying: 150kg flour, 40kg sugar, 65kg pasta and 100 chocolate bars. “I have to calculate the quantities needed for three and a half months, knowing that in Greenland we can’t stock up. When we leave, we’re generally autonomous for the duration of the expedition, except for some occasional fresh produce at stopovers.”

Avant le départ, Do vérifie soigneusement les quantités

Before departure, Do carefully checks the quantities

To assess the magnitude of the task, we follow Do during one of her outings in Lorient, between fish mongers, organic food market and supermarkets. With her unique shopping list, her TARA T-shirt and her smile, Do attracts the kindness of shopkeepers and producers. “People are often curious about what we do on TARA, and they help me. They understand our needs and put aside not-too-ripe vegetables so we can keep them longer. “For example, the farmer from whom I ordered this morning:  I’m sure there won’t be a single damaged vegetable in the box he’ll deliver.” Meeting TARA’s cook is a taste of adventure coming to the market stands. There are discussions and questions, and the merchants are happy to have their products sail off to distant lands. A jar of jam, a bunch of radishes or a few fish – lots of small gifts added to the supplies on board. They’re stored in every corner of TARA because the 2 large shelves in the forward hold, the freezer and 3 refrigerators are not big enough for this precious cargo. Provisions are stored everywhere, under the cabin bunks and benches in the main room – unexpected pantries that always draw smiles from TARA’s visitors. Imaginative cooking is probably the best ally of the on board cook. “When I’m running out of fresh products, I try to find recipes that taste fresh. Sometimes with only one zucchini for 15 people, added to tagliatelle, we still feel like we’re eating something green (laughs).”

PdeParscau_Tara_passe_a_table 5

Oriental spices and condiments in the kitchen drawers

But true happiness for cooks at sea is contained in one word: stopover. In the markets of ports and medinas during the Tara Mediterranean expedition, the kitchen was garnished with exotic aromas and spicy flavors. Do safeguards these collected treasures in one of the kitchen drawers, like a small condiment museum. Spices from Algeria, Lebanese cinnamon and white pepper from Egypt – so many gustatory postcards whose fragrances sometimes pervade the dining room with a reminder that aboard TARA, the journey often begins on the plate.

Pierre de Parscau

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Correspondent’s report

Correspondant’s report


In the aluminum belly of TARA, the correspondent’s office is as much a laboratory as a refuge. Nestled below the main cabin, the space is shared with the captain’s desk. For over 10 years, different storytellers have taken turns aboard. Each one has left his or her mark in the pages of the logbook, translating the adventures of Tara into words and images, and offering readers a chance to take part in these exceptional expeditions. The authors have turned their stories into memories, and continue to pass the flame from one voyage to another.

For the first time, we were 2 correspondents aboard TARA in Lorient this week. Two generations of journalists: the long experience of Vincent Hilaire confronting my recent discovery of TARA. This was an opportunity for me to put Vincent on the other side of the camera, and talk with him about his love affair with the schooner: a journalistic romance that began in 2007 during the Tara Arctic expedition, somewhere on the ice pack.

“I had landed on the ice pack one kilometer from the boat which was caught in the ice. The crew on board came to fetch us. We arrived aboard Tara in this incredible landscape. I went up on deck, and they had prepared a welcome meal in the main cabin. I was overwhelmed by the smells of kerosene, humans, and food. It wasn’t very appetizing (laughs). But it was really amazing to be there on the ice for an indeterminate time.”  A first impression of amazement at the landscape that Vincent has continued to translate through his numerous photographs, alternating color and black and white. Not easy today to choose his favorite among them if he could keep only one. “There were so many beautiful things,” he says with a smile. I would probably keep the photo that still hangs in the main cabin of the boat. This photo shows TARA head-on, some 80 meters in front of the bow – a ghost ship stuck in ice and the polar night. It was a very emotional moment, and the photo is like evidence for me – proof that I was really there. It will certainly be one of the best images of my life.”



Son of a sports journalist, Vincent worked for France 3 and spent 20 years writing for the daily press.  Aboard Tara for a total of a year and a half, he was able to experience the different aspects of the correspondent’s job. “This was a new profession that I’d never done before. I was a member of the crew, and filmed people in proximity, not easy on a boat, and even less so during a polar expedition. Journalists like to get answers, but must absolutely understand the fact that we’re living a very special experience. It takes a lot of psychology. It’s a fascinating position, but requires adaptability. It’s a different job from being a journalist on land, and a real pleasure to be an ambassador for this great adventure. One learns to juggle photography, writing, video, and also participate in maneuvering the boat. “The correspondent’s involvement in daily life aboard must not prevent him from preserving the essential: his point of view. “You have to describe the work that all the people on board are accomplishing with great modesty, competence and passion. Focusing on them while keeping a little distance allows you to remain an observer.”


Writing day after day the adventures of TARA is not an easy task, and despite the richness of these adventures as a team, the individual is sometimes neglected. “It’s a fabulous enrichment: sometimes you relay difficult scientific subjects, other times very strong human stories that touch the public. We’re like a repository of the beauty of these teams; new people are always relaying each other aboard, because embarking is a big investment of time, and we are sometimes happy to return to land.

Returning to land is always a moment of respite for Vincent, until he feels the call of adventure again. “I love the sea, voyages, meeting people. I get real happiness from this. It gives meaning to my life and my work. Every time I meet up with TARA, whether here in Lorient or on the other side of the world, the 2 orange masts appearing on the horizon is always very moving.”

Vincent is currently finishing his documentary project “Greenlandia” devoted to the Inuits. He will follow Tara closely in the Pacific next year on an expedition about coral reefs.

Once a Taranaute, always a Taranaute.

Interview by Pierre de Parscau


TARA, resetting the counters

TARA, resetting the counters

Jean Collet dans l’atelier du TARA

Jean Collet in the Tara Workshop

After a 7-month expedition in the Mediterranean, Tara took a well-deserved rest, sheltered from the waves in the Keroman shipyard (Lorient). A time in drydock to prepare for future voyages to Greenland and the Pacific –  and the opportunity for the schooner to undergo a thorough checkup. Removal of the 2 motors, complete reconstruction of Thérèse (starboard engine) and replacement of the dry lab with a new cabin took 4 months of work. As for priorities on board, fixing the electrical system was among the most urgent. The opportunity to call on Jean Collet, one of the Tara old-timers, and technical director.

With his silver hair and broad shoulders, Jean is one of the people accompanying TARA since her construction. He contributed to Tara’s birth in 1989, alongside Jean-Louis Etienne, which has forever linked him to the fate of the schooner.

“When Etienne Bourgois had the idea of buying Sir Peter Blake’s Seamaster, I went to Newport to appraise the boat,” he recalls. “I found it in good enough condition to bring it back to France.  From that time on, Etienne asked me to take care of the boat technically, and supervise its renovation”.


Les nouvelles ampoules LED installées cet hiver à bord

New LED lighting installed this winter

A mission he has fulfilled on the TARA team since 2003, and which led him to direct the electrical overhaul done last winter. In the glow of the new LEDs installed above the work benches, Jean thinks back on this job, anticipated for several years.

“Since returning from the long Tara Oceans expedition, the boat was very tired: Certain electric components on board dated from 1989. To meet the needs of the expedition, the equipment had not always been transformed according to the rules. So we had to bring the boat up to date. 3 years ago we had already begun to think about repairing the electrical circuitry; we had also analyzed the problem of cisterns, leaks, and engines. A boat that works as hard as TARA requires constant maintenance. For the supervisor, the pleasure of working on the legendary schooner is accompanied by a more global reflection on the durability of the material. “One of the issues is knowing how far we can go with the equipment on board,” he explains. “For example, the engines date from 1989. Technology has evolved since then, and we wonder if we can continue to maintain them, or if it would be better to change them completely, and take advantage of the new technology. The other special aspect of TARA is the aluminum hull. When confronted with electrical leakage, if the current passes through the hull, it can cause corrosion we don’t necessarily see. That can weaken the hull, hence the importance of good insulation.”

To carry out the overhaul, TARA called in local businesses such as Barillec, whose ateliers are located in the port of Lorient. When you walk into their workshop, Romain Evenot’s smile gives you a warm welcome. This young engineer has swapped without regret the world of industry for that of boats. He supervised the installation of a new transformer aboard TARA.


Romain Evenot, ingénieur chez Barillec

Romain Evenot, engineer at Barillec

“This is a control panel we ourselves installed here almost 20 years ago, with modifications that are no longer adapted to the needs of the crew”, he explains amidst cable drums in the workshop. The objective was to redo everything, based on the current needs. Improving the distribution of electrical power was sometimes very challenging during the 4 weeks of renovation. “Aboard TARA everything is compact. The boat is relatively small and it was a real challenge to cram everything into the available space.”

Schéma du nouveau transformateur installé sur TARA

Diagram of the new transformer installed on TARA

Aboard TARA again. Jean leads me to the rear deck and looks over the boat.
“This is really how I imagine expedition ships during the Age of Enlightenment and the voyage of Bougainville. A boat is a tool and what’s interesting in Tara’s case is to see how this tool is used. Humans are curious by nature, and our way of advancing is to be interested in our environment. Science is very important for that. Here we meet sailors, scientists, artists, sharing the same view of humanity, the same curiosity, and that’s what excites me.”

A passion that will inspire Jean to embark aboard TARA next month to confront the ice of Greenland.


Louis Wilmotte et le nouveau tableau du bord

Louis Wilmotte and the new circuit panel

Pierre de Parscau

Embarked on Tara

Although I just embarked aboard Tara as correspondent, I already feel rather at home. This impression is probably due to the comfort found in all the living areas.

The main cabin is the most spacious and brightest thanks to large windows and a ceiling in the form of a transparent bubble which lets in lots of light. Wide passages allow easy access between the main cabin and the bow, and the cabins are pleasant thanks to hatches that let in plenty of natural light. Other small details also caught my attention like a rather well-stocked library, showers with hot water, and radiators in all common rooms to combat the cold during polar missions. As for the well-equipped kitchen, it almost makes us forget that we are on a boat.

At the same time, this impression is not surprising for a ship that goes on expeditions to the “end of the world,” sometimes for several years. The turnover of crew members (sailors, scientists, cook and correspondent) happens regularly, so we need to feel quickly at ease.

In fact, I was especially impressed with the work environment. Everything is carefully organized. ‘Post-its’ on a bulletin board let everyone know the current tasks and those remaining to be done. The day begins at 8am, and every morning at the work meeting each crew member is invited to speak about the tasks he set himself for the day, the estimated time required, and the difficulties encountered. Even after several months of renovation, there are still a lot of things to finish: a carpet to change in the main area, an arduous search for an insulation fault in the cockpit’s motor console, creating storage shelves in the rear hold, and the installation of 120 LEDs to replace the old lighting system.

In short, no time to be idle. Everything must be in order for our arrival today in Penerf where we’ll be involved in communication and educational outreach with the general public. Visitors are expecting us on Saturday and they certainly must not suspect the work-site atmosphere that prevailed on board the day before.

Maéva Bardy

Portrait of an apprentice adventurer

Louis Wilmotte is an apprentice electrician full of humor. The Taranautes highly praise this young adventurer, and compliments abound every time his name is mentioned. With his endearing and slightly wacky character, young Louis really livens up the atmosphere of the boat. Portrait of an apprentice adventurer.

He looks a little like the well-known comedian/actor Gad Elmaleh. Louis sailed  on Tara for the first time 3 years ago from Brittany to Ireland, and thanks to his perseverance, he was able to join the team: “I saw the boat return to Lorient from the Tara Arctic expedition in 2008. I was 17 and had just started my technical studies. I sent in my resumé many times before being taken aboard as a rookie. Finally, when the schooner returned from Tara Oceans in 2012, I was contacted to work on the construction site.” Louis now divides his time between classes at the IUT (Technical University) of Nice and his work on board. And he’s virtually bursting with ideas involving renewable energy to set up on the boat.

When not working on Tara’s electrical circuitry, Louis sets off on an adventure. Inspired by Kim Hafez, Sylvain Tesson and Alexandre Poussin, he does everything not to be a passive reader. “I read a lot of stories of adventurers,     people who did extraordinary things.  And then one day reading is not enough and you say to yourself ‘why not me’?” That’s how Louis and his friend Douglas imagined the project “Mare Nostrum,” a one-year-and-four-month voyage across the Mediterranean, from Gibraltar to Istanbul, in a kayak.

In May 2013, the young electrician boarded Tara Oceans and made a crossing to Tromsø, Norway. 3 weeks later, he went to Gibraltar for Mare Nostrum.  First sketched out on a simple piece of paper, the project required one and a half years of preparation before hitting the water. And the 12-month journey turned into 15 months of adventure, thanks to the financial support of the Sorbonne and the DCNS.
10,000 km were traveled  in all kinds of weather using biceps-power, “an interesting physical commitment.” This was not his first attempt. He had crossed France by kayak from Brest to Collioure in 2009.
Inspired by Tara, the 2 rowers took samples for the University of Toulon and the Observatory of Villefranche-sur-Mer, and they communicated with schoolchildren. “At the beginning you start with nothing, just 2 students who have a project; then you meet some interested people. Finally, you land a first partnership thanks to a few dreamers who give you a hand.”

For Louis, one adventure follows another. Between his arrival in Istanbul in a kayak and his last voyage aboard Tara in October, only 3 short weeks have passed. After 15 months of camping, Louis was happy to be warm, to put on clean socks every morning, and let himself be pampered by Tara’s cook Dominique. The apprentice was happy to let go of the oars, do other things with his hands, and then return to his studies. Louis knows that other adventures lie ahead: “Once I’ve filled up on human warmth, eaten well again, and had enough of school, it will be time for me to return to crazier things.”  For this Taranaute, adventure is a viral itch.

Noëlie Pansiot

Visit Mare Nostrum project’s website

Related articles:

- Read the last log:  “The boat notes”

- Read Corentin de Chatelperron (Nomad of the seas) interview


The boat notes

After 3 months in drydock, the boat was reassembled piece by piece by the on-site team and is now afloat. The last bolts must be tightened before April 25, date of our stopover in Pencadenic (Morbihan region of Brittany).

If you’re about to dismantle this… well good luck!

As on every construction site, the sailors have ventured into unexpected corners, raised unexplored trapdoors, discovered forgotten recesses, and have even ventured into the fuel tanks that were degassed for inspection. Behind a wooden plate, a metal part or object, they sometimes found little notes scribbled by their predecessors. Some of the memos caused laughter, others were intriguing. They have fueled discussions, and spurred the imagination of the crew who have become players in a real-life ‘Cluedo’ game… “It was Danou, with a black marker behind the fridge!”

Daniel Cron, aka Danou, chief engineer, has already played the game, as creator but also as a player: “It started several years ago. We discovered notes in some really unlikely places, rarely taken apart. Now it’s our turn to write messages to the attention of those who will find them in the future.” Only writing lingers on.

On a wooden board located somewhere under the main cabin, near the bulkhead that serves as entry, someone wrote, “si tu en es là, c’est que tu vas en baver.” In other words, “the task you are about to do is not easy … so good luck!” On the ballast cover, the sailors found the note “tightened in 2011,” with a GPS location in the Indian Ocean. Behind the refrigerator, Danou and Dominique, the cook, left their own indelible memo. What did they write? Those who have the task of moving the heavy fridge will discover it someday, probably during the next renovation. And they in turn can leave a trace of their passage on board.


Noëlie Pansiot

It’s almost Spring

Three days before her launching in Lorient, the spring equinox, and “the tide of the century,” Tara is enjoying the sunrise before the eclipse.

On board, the last details are being fine-tuned for the target date. Daniel Cron and Loïc Caudan are at the machines, Christophe is setting the last screws, Nicolas Delabrosse and Matthieu Oriot are reassembling winches and preparing the bridge, Jean Collet is supervising the crane and boat slip. Everything is managed with calm and good humor under the watchful eye of the captain, Samuel Audrain.

During these three months of dry dock, a real group of friends has formed. Some knew each other from previous expeditions, but new arrivals have joined the mix. Everyone is working towards the same goal and everything is going smoothly. A strange coincidence happened this morning. While listening to France Inter radio, we heard our sponsor agnès b. talking about springtime. For her, springtime is eternal. She admits that she goes around humming all the time. On board it’s like that, too.

Tara has been rejuvenated, and everyone feels they’ve done something good for the boat.

Loïc and Daniel accomplished an immense job of disassembling and reassembing the starboard engine. On paper it only takes one sentence but you have to imagine the patience and diligence they applied, a guaranteed success!

Christophe the magician reconverted the former dry lab into a cabin, and following Samuel Audrain’s plans, recreated a new dry lab in place of the small workspace. Amazing job! Besides that, he redid the insulation of the access hatches to the engines in the main cabin, and even Jean donned his blue overalls to help. Such is the tight-knit friendship of this group!!

Matthew and Nicolas re-installed the propeller cowlings and in anticipation of the annual safety inspection,  delved into a complete inventory of safety equipment, pharmaceuticals, maps and mandatory technical documents.

Louis Wilmotte piloted the electrical interventions, changed inverters, electrical panels and, eagerly awaited by all, began the installation of LEDs! Let there be light!

As for Samuel, he plays contortionist and orchestra conductor, juggling telephone and email, giving a helping hand to the others whenever he can, guiding external interventions, aided by Jean, the technical director of the construction site, who by the way regularly brings us great home-roasted  coffee.

All is well on board and we’re eager to get back to sea !!

Nicolas Bin

News from the captain

Work is going well in Keroman, the technical zone of Lorient. Tara is in dry dock for one month being renovated. “The whale” is in the expert hands of a small repair team, among them the captain Samuel Audrain, who has been working onboard for 9 years. He agreed to interrupt what he is was doing to tell us about the progress of the renovation. 

What is the major work being done on Tara?

We made a list of things to do when we returned from the Mediterranean expedition. We’re advancing gradually, but one thing adds to another and the list has gotten longer. Currently, we’re 5 people working on board: some sailors who know the boat, and others who are discovering Tara for the first time. We also bring in a team of welders full-time, and a carpenter. The boat is made of aluminum so there’s a lot of work to be done on the hull. We undertook a major overhaul of the motors. Work on “Therese,” the starboard engine, is a little behind schedule. She is still stripped and waiting for parts. The other important job concerns the diesel tanks. Tara has a 40,000-liter capacity divided in 5 tanks. After 25 years of sailing, the schooner is experiencing some electrolytical problems typical of aluminum boats: “cankers” have formed, ie, certain metal sheets were corroded in places, letting the smell of diesel fuel escape into some cabins. So we purged and cleaned all the tanks before pressurizing them in order to find the leaks. This is not an easy task because all the boat’s furnishings were built above these tanks. But we’re finally coming to the end.

We’re also checking the pumping and fire systems, and we’re modifying some pieces of aluminum pipe, etc. On deck we’re checking the winch transmission systems. In fact, as soon as we pick up a board in a certain place, or open up an area, we do a little check-up, or we reposition things to modify the systems. Obviously all this takes time, and we’re working within a deadline: Tara will be relaunched in late March or early April.

Work on the site is complementary to what you do everyday when sailing.

I’ve already participated in several boat renovations. As a crew member, being present during an overhaul is very interesting, because we discover other facets of the boat, we discover things we can not access at sea. It’s also very rewarding for Loïc and Nicolas who are working here for the first time. Loïc is taking apart “Thérèse” with Daniel, and he’s learning a lot.

From a personal point of view, in terms of rhythm, our habits are shaken up. I’m discovering land-life, with a small apartment, a social life, weekends, and time to do sports. All this is very different from what we experience at sea.

After the repairs, what preparations will the boat undergo?

At this point, we’re treating the schooner for symptoms of old age. The next work will be devoted to preparing for the Coral Mission 2016. We’ve already disassembled the dry lab and will transform it into a cabin. The lab will be housed in what used to be the “petit carré.” We’re thinking about changing the rear crane to accommodate a semi-rigid zodiac necessary for the diving program.

As you can see, we’ve also installed 2 large hatches in the main cabin, in order to access the engines easily, and not have to cut open the floor every time. Now everything is removable and we have access quickly. It’s a small change!

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot 

Meeting aboard Tara in dry dock

On the occasion of a quick trip to Brittany, Noëlie Pansiot (correspondent aboard the Tara Mediterranean expedition) visited Tara’s crew, busy renovating the boat in Lorient.    

This is the first time I’ve come aboard Tara since the end of my mission in November. I can’t wait to see my friends again, and visit the “whale” in dry dock. I glimpsed some pictures of the renovation – the boat seems vulnerable, revealing her guts.

It’s 7:55 when Daniel, Matthew and I arrive alongside Tara. We are punctual: the team briefing starts in 5 minutes. It’s daybreak, everything looks gray in the technical zone of Keroman, but the voluptuous forms of the schooner differ from the other ships sitting next to her. I walk over to the giants rising all around me, balanced on large cradles.

We access Tara’s bridge by steep scaffolding-stairs. The boys lead the way. They know this boat by heart. I do well climbing the steep steps, praying that the large wooden blocks supporting the boat are solid.

On board, Samuel Audrain, “Sam” the Captain, is already there with 2 newcomers: Loïc Caudan and Nicolas Bin. I am welcomed cheerfully by the group, and we exchange the familiar French “bises.”

“We don’t see you often!” After the greetings, the meeting can begin. It’s 8 am, and Nicolas just put the kettle on the stove.

Sam starts off by describing today’s work. Technical terms flow, but my brain is too foggy to understand the whole discussion. I rely on my dictaphone to capture everything that is said. Behind Sam, “Thérèse” the starboard engine lies at the center of what used to be the main cabin. We stand around one of the ‘survivors’ of the renovation: the small table located immediately to the right of the entrance. Everything else was dismantled in order to create hatches that will give access to the engine room. The scene gives the impression of a hospital operating room, with Thérèse undergoing open heart surgery. Looking closely, I see that only the kitchen hasn’t moved. The big, sharp knives are still hanging on the back wall above the work counter, and the postcard proclaiming “the meaning of life” is still there too.

Around the indispensable small table, sailors take turns speaking. My eyes are drawn to the bright colors of a myriad of “post-its” stuck on the cork bulletin board. This is the Captain’s new management tool! The principle is simple and effective: the different tasks are written on post-its and divided into 3 separate columns: “to do,” “ongoing,” and “done.” Post-its are moved from one column to another depending on the progress of renovation.

The kettle on the stove starts to whistle. It’s 8:20. Jean Collet, Tara’s technical manager on land, enters the room with a “bonjour.” Everyone now knows what to do. The day’s work can start. Mathieu disappears for a few minutes to don blue overalls and an old gray sweatshirt. His eternal Moleskine notebook in hand, he’s already carefully copying his notes. Daniel Cron, nicknamed “Danou” has disappeared into the hatch that leads underneath Thérèse in the engine room. Only his humming betrays his presence. I see the “As usual,” notes of Cloco, and gently make fun of the chief engineer who is always in a good mood when he works.

It’s time to say goodbye to the crew. I must hurry off to my rendez-vous at the ride-share meeting site. Danou proclaims with a wide smile: “I was under construction to meet you. »

It’s 9:20, and in the car taking me to Bordeaux, 2 passengers are already sitting next to the young driver. Their conversation immediately informs me: my traveling companions are sailors. Raphael works as boatswain on a new expedition ship, the Yersin. Christophe is also boatswain, and worked aboard the Antarctica (former name of Tara) in the 80s. This coincidence makes me smile. I send a text message to my friends on Tara, sure that they will smile too.

Noëlie Pansiot