End of the Mission Microplastics 2019

On 23 November 2019, the scientific schooner Tara will return to its home port – Lorient – after 6 months of an expedition dedicated to the study of thousands of plastic particles collected in estuaries and upstream from 9 of the main rivers in Europe.

Rendez-vous the weekend of November 23-24 at Lorient’s Cité de la Voile Éric Tabarly to celebrate the return of the sailors and scientists!

#TaraMicroplastics2019 #FondationTaraOcéan

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.

Echantillons_mains_Alexandra_Ter_Halle@Noëlie_Pansiot-12 2

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

News from Tara… on land !

Tara completed her tour of the Pacific after 29 months of expedition and 100,000 km: the equivalent distance of two and a half times around-the-world. For the sailors, satisfied to have brought Tara back to her home port, and after a short well-deserved break, the work resumed, on dry land this time.

A few days after Tara’s return last October 27, everyone became active on deck and on the ground: Tara left Lorient La Base wharf for the Keroman naval repair area. The schooner was then hoisted out of the water with two large cranes and is now sheltered in the west cathedral of the dry dock site. Until April, the sailors and some outside workers will overhaul the boat to be ready for the European tour scheduled to begin in May 2019.

Prevention and restoration

Tara will undergo two types of maintenance: preventive and restorative. The first is the verification of a large part of the instruments, fins, rudders, generators, main engines, pumps, etc. Everything will be disassembled and some parts replaced if necessary. The restorative maintenance includes partial or complete changing of tools, as well as a “beauty treatment”: painting the deck, cleaning the hull and the submerged parts of the boat for better navigation performance.

P0670067Tara in the west cathedral of the Keroman repair site © François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Security and compliance

Registered as a merchant marine vessel, Tara must comply with current international standards. This involves an annual visit including multiple verifications, for example, measurements of hull thickness. To return to sea, it is absolutely necessary for Tara to get a certificate of compliance with the standards of navigation, safety, security, care and protection of sailors aboard.

Volunteer reinforcements

New crew members, volunteers and outside help are expected to arrive in the coming days, a useful and highly anticipated reinforcement. This 5-month overhaul will allow Tara to leave for new adventures safely and comfortably!

Good luck to all at the Lorient Base!

Video : 10.27.2018. Tara back from the Pacific expedition

After navigating for 2 and a half years in the Pacific Ocean, where 40% of the planet’s coral reefs are found, Tara returned to Lorient, its home port on October 27, 2018. The odyssey #TaraPacific comes to an end, but the scientific mission is only starting now ! To know more about this : oceans.taraexpeditions.org/?p=115283

Directing and editing : © Céline Bellanger / Fondation Tara Expeditions
Drone images : © Muriel Vandenbempt / Fondation Tara Expeditions

Video : Last plankton samplings in Northern Atlantic

After two and a half years crossing the Pacific to study coral reefs, the transatlantic signals the end of this scientific campaign for the Tara Expeditions Foundation. The last plankton hauls are confirming protocols of seawater filtration and various sampling nets.

© Céline Bellanger -  Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video : Crossing the Atlantic – Tara in the tempest !

With gusts up to 57 knots and with waves over six meters high, Tara defies the elements and continues its Atlantic crossing to get closer, all sails out, to its home port!

© Céline Bellanger – Martin Hertau /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


Video : Goodbye America, hello the Atlantic Ocean !

« “This Saturday at 4 pm, we sailed away from Boston under the sun and with our smiling faces. Tonight I make my first shift with Monch and the stars guide our Atlantic Crossing! Another 2498 nautical miles before making a landing. Lorient and Brittany are straight on! In the meantime we will do our best to coexist with the Atlantic Ocean”, Maëlys, our new recruit aboard Tara.

© Céline Bellanger / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Goodbye Boston ! Goodbye America !

Tara left the USA today after a week-long stopover in Boston. Immersed in the dynamic intellectual life of Harvard University, the Taranauts took part in numerous exchanges and presented the scientific projects in progress. Moored at the docks of the most European of American cities, the crew also took advantage of this last stopover to gradually adapt to a colder climate before the big return to France.

 School children visiting the schooner © Céline Bellanger – Tara Expeditions Foundation

After several months in the tropics, this last stopover on the American continent gave the Taranauts a chance to re-adapt to a climate similar to Brittany’s! Thunderstorms, drizzle, fog and rain. We had to take out raincoats and sweatshirts stored at the bottom of our bags! But the inclement weather did not discourage the young Bostonians, who were excited to visit Tara and learn more about the fascinating life of corals.

The schooner was moored close to one of the oldest historic centers in the US, so the Taranauts also reconnected culturally. Victorian architecture reminiscent of the United Kingdom, Irish and Italian neighborhoods — the stopover in Boston created a smooth transition to Europe. What’s more, the French language took over on deck and in the main cabin during visits attended by many French speakers, including representatives of the French Consulate.

Visit of the French consul in Boston © Céline Bellanger – Tara Expeditions Foundation

This last stop was also an immersion in the heart of the intellectual life of the most famous American university: Harvard! Cell biologist Eric Karsenti presented his research on embryogenesis and talked about the Tara Oceans expedition (2009-2013) of which he was the scientific director. As part of these exchanges, the Taranauts took part in discussions on themes such as scientific and human adventure, exploration, and transmission of knowledge.

Eric Karsenti’s lecture at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (Harvard University) © Céline Bellanger – Tara Expeditions Foundation

We began stocking up on fuel (bunkering) and supplies as the threat of hurricane Leslie faded away. Departure time is approaching and Tara is ready for the big return!

Céline Bellanger

Tara prepares for the transatlantic voyage

This evening, Tara will leave Boston for her transatlantic voyage to France. Sailors, cook and scientists are busy preparing for this 3-week ocean navigation. Here are some of their comments a few hours before departure.

Sophie Bin, sailor/cook© Céline Bellanger / Fondation Tara Expéditions
Sophie Bin, sailor/cook

Today we filled the forward hold with 5 shopping carts of food: 100 kgs of flour, over 300 eggs, 70 litres of milk. We have to anticipate the amount of food for 11 people at sea for over 2 weeks. Once we depart we’ll consume the fresh food (fruit and vegetables) first. As for recipes, nothing stops me! I’ve made lemon meringue tarts during a storm at night

Martin Herteau et Nicolas Bin préparent la navigation:: Celine Bellanger : Fondation Tara Expeditions.jpg © Céline Bellanger / Fondation Tara Expéditions
Martin Hertau, captain, and Nicolas Bin, first mate

For 5 days we’ve been following the weather reports on Hurricane Leslie, at the moment east of Bermuda. We’re watching its path to find the best time to leave in good conditions. The hurricane is coming closer, so we’ll surely delay our departure and plot a course further north. In addition to preparing for the voyage, we have to check safety equipment, brief new arrivals and organize the night-watches in which everyone participates.

Portrait Charlène Gicquel : Celine Bellanger : Fondation Tara Expeditions © Céline Bellanger / Fondation Tara Expéditions
Charlène Gicquel, chief mechanic

Since we know this will be a long journey, I’ve done a lot of preventative maintenance so that the motors and generators are ready and operational before leaving. It’s reassuring because one never knows what the weather will be like at sea!

François couture avant transat:: Celine Bellanger : Fondation Tara Expeditions © Céline Bellanger / Fondation Tara Expéditions
François Aurat, deck officer

On deck I’ve been busy repairing things: verified the winches, replaced certain ropes, changed sail battens, re-sewn leather protectors. We also have to make sure everything is securely attached and tie down anything that might fall on deck or in the hold during the voyage.

Céline Bellanger

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

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

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


Video: Tara Pacific stopover in Miami

After departure from Lorient on May 28th, Miami was Tara’s first port-of-call at the end of the 30-day transatlantic crossing – logistically indispensable for restocking food and fuel before heading for the Pacific.

The 8-day stopover gave the Tara team the occasion to inform the public who came aboard to visit the schooner, to have exchanges with scientists and the media, and also to support the message of one of Tara’s partners about the importance of sustainable development.


© Maeva 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

Tara weighs anchor: 11,000 kilometers left before the corals of the Pacific

Saturday evening May 28th, Tara headed out to sea on her 11th expedition, this time to the Asian-Pacific. For the next two and a half years the schooner will sail the planet’s largest ocean, exploring coral reefs in a new way to better understand the evolution of reef biodiversity in the face of climate change.


11,000 km before reaching the first reef in the Gulf of Panama

After a day of festivities celebrating Pacific cultures and coral, Tara left the harbor accompanied by  many boats that came to bid her farewell. “The adventure continues for Tara, and also for Lorient, her home port. This voyage will encourage everyone to focus on the specificity of the Pacific Ocean and also assess the environmental issues affecting our daily lives. For elected officials of the Lorient Agglomeration, TARA represents the values ​​of sustainable development and provides an excellent   illustration of our actions in the region”,  explains Norbert Metairie, president of Lorient Agglomeration and Mayor of Lorient.

From the port of Lorient to the first coral reefs of the eastern Pacific, Tara will travel 11,000 km, (6,000 nautical miles). After a 30-day Atlantic crossing, Tara will stopover in Miami on the east coast of the United States before entering the Panama Canal in mid-July.

 Le public est rassemblé sur le port pour le dernier au revoir à Tara et à son équipage.
© Fanch Galivel

40,000 samples of coral and seawater

The first dives on coral reefs will take place immediately after exiting the Panama Canal and will continue from east to west, all the way to Japan in the first year of the expedition. This campaign  associates coral biologists, chemists, oceanographers and plankton specialists who will investigate the behavior of coral reefs confronting climate change over a wide geographical area that has not yet been studied.

From June 2016 to September 2018, approximately 40,000 samples will be collected and will ultimately provide new information on the unknown role of certain biochemical parameters — acidity, salinity, turbidity, etc. We will also study certain species involved in the life of the reefs and their adaptation to major environmental changes.

28 Mai 2016 à Lorient, départ de l'expédition Tara Pacific
© Fanch Galivel

Many stopovers to raise public awareness

Reefs are true oases of life: they offer food and shelter for a multitude of species and provide a direct livelihood to over 500 million people in the world thanks to fishing. During the 2-year expedition, Tara will make 70 stopovers to raise awareness concerning the richness and fragility of  reefs.

The Tara Expeditions Foundation will take advantage of this expedition to appeal to policy makers and the business world, to raise public awareness about the most pressing environmental challenges as well as the problems faced by populations who depend on an ocean in good health.

“For biologically rich regions such as lagoons and coral reefs, protective measures are increasingly needed. But parallel to conservation, it’s essential to support research — to better understand and effectively protect these reefs”, says Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation. Sustainable development and establishing an ongoing dialogue about the environment are long-term challenges for the beginning of the 21st century.

 Un dernier au revoir de l'équipage, prêt à lever l'ancre pour le début de l'expédition Tara Pacific
© Fanch Galivel

Major stopovers

Panama, Malpelo (Colombia), Easter Island, Papeete (French Polynesia), Cook Islands, Samoa, Wallis and Futuna, Kiribati Islands, Micronesia, Mariana, Japan, Taiwan, Fiji, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Philippines, China, Hong Kong, South Korea.

On the program: film-screening, exhibition, school visits, conference with a local association. At each stopover, Tara will meet with local people involved in research or the preservation of reefs and focus attention on the work being done.

Tara a levé l'ancre : dernière ovation de l'équipage pour remercier du soutien qu'elle a reçu© Isabelle Martos

Tara Pacific in numbers

• 11th Tara expedition since 2003
• 2-year voyage — May 2016 to September 2018
• 30 countries visited
• 70 stopovers
• 100,000 km covered
• 40 archipelagos systematically analyzed and compared
• 26 institutions and research laboratories collaborating
• 10 sites to be the subject of targeted studies about local issues, including 5 sites in 2016-2017
• 40,000 samples collected in 2 years
• 70 scientists embarking from 8 different countries


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

In the wake of the Vikings

While Tara is currently sailing in the northern latitudes, let’s take a look at the history of the Vikings with Thomas Birkett, Professor at the University of Cork, Ireland.

Oxford graduate, this Welsh researcher specializes in medieval culture and the runic alphabet –  the first writing system used in northern Europe. In use between the 1st and 15th centuries in certain regions of Sweden, runes appeared on a wide variety of objects found from Turkey to Greenland: dolmens, coins, small pieces of wood or bone.

It seems that the name “Greenland” originated with the Vikings

Yes, several medieval Icelandic sources attribute this name to the Scandinavian explorer Erik the Red, who established a settlement in the newly discovered land after being exiled from Iceland for murder. The Sagas - a literary form that developed in medieval Iceland during the 12th and  13th centuries, consisting of legends, historical and fictional accounts in prose - tell us that Greenland was discovered accidentally some years earlier when a ship travelling to Iceland was blown off course by a storm. Erik named the country “Greenland” to encourage others to settle there. He believed that a promising name would attract many people.

Erik established his colony in the 980s, before Iceland adopted Christianity. In the following decades, 2 main settlement areas developed, known as the “east” and “west” settlements, but both situated on the west coast of Greenland.The Norse settlers adopted farming practices they had used in Norway and Iceland, rearing cattle and sheep. They supplemented their diet by fishing and hunting. There is some disagreement about the total size of the Norse settlements, but the population was certainly over 2,000 people, and may have been considerably larger. Several churches were built, and a bishopric was established at Garðar in the eastern settlement. The site of the cathedral was one of the first to be excavated in Greenland. The foundations can be seen close to the present town of Igaliku.

Did these settlers have links with other populations in the north?

The  settlers maintained close contacts with the rest of the Norse colonies. They remained dependent on Norway for their supply of merchandise: iron, timber, and most important, beer! In return, they traded in valuable walrus ivory and probably furs. As in Norway, the Greenlanders used runes, and the inscriptions tell us quite a bit about their way of life. Despite being isolated geographically, they reacted to developments elsewhere in the Norse world. The Sagas and archaeological excavations of more than 600 Norse farms shed light on the population. We know for example that the biggest farms had large halls that could serve as welcome centers: feasts were held, stories told, guests entertained, and business carried out.

One of the most famous of the Greenland Vikings was Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, who led an expedition to Newfoundland and was the first European to explore North America (around the year 1000). His adventures in the ‘land of vines’, including encounters with the Native Americans, are recorded in the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Erik the Red. In Greenland itself there seems to have been minimal contact with the Inuit peoples, who lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, though some trade probably occurred. In fact, the unwillingness of the Norse to learn from and adopt the practices of the Inuits may have contributed to the demise of their settlements.

thomas birkett credit Anders Jensen

Do we know the reasons for their departure?

It’s one of the big questions in Old Norse-Viking studies, and there’s no consensus on the subject! We know the western settlement was abandoned by 1350, and the eastern one disappeared sometime later, in the 15th century.

Some researchers see this as a direct result of climate change. Temperatures certainly  started to become cooler around the year 1300, leading to the ‘Little Ice-Age’ in Europe. Greenland was always a very difficult land for farming, so the climate change would have increased pressures on the colony. The western settlement farthest to the north was the first to be abandoned, which confirms the theory of climate-induced resettlement. But the cooling climate alone doesn’t account for the abandonment. The effects of human activities on the land may have been an important component, including soil erosion caused by overgrazing, and the destruction of what little vegetation existed. These human impacts on a very fragile landscape would have made the traditional agricultural practices increasingly difficult to sustain. There is also some evidence of a decline in the diet of the Norse settlers. Knife marks on a dog bone have been interpreted as a desperate action during a particularly bad winter.

Other scholars believe that the settlement wasn’t as precarious as previously thought and that it was abandoned for other reasons. The Vikings’ departure may have been precipitated by attacks from the Inuit or European pirates, but there is little evidence to support this theory. An outbreak of the plague or a decrease in trade with Norway may also explain the decline. Another reason may be that the settlers continued to look back to the Norse homelands rather than to their nearest neighbours. The Vikings always refused to adopt Inuit practices – such as harpoon hunting. They stubbornly clung to European customs and traditions of animal husbandry. The decline of their settlement was perhaps not due to their incapacity to deal with an extreme environment – after all, the settlement developed successful strategies that enabled it to endure for around 500 years – but rather was caused by an inability to change their traditional behaviour in response to climate change, as well as their failure to learn from a people who had adapted over a much longer period of time and who were more resilient to change.

In the end, tradition seems to have been more important to the colonists than innovation and adaptation, and this made the collapse of the society inevitable – perhaps another important lesson for us.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

Mission-over – Heading for Stockholm

After 3 days of sailing between the Sofia Sund Fjord in Greenland and the East Coast of Iceland, Tara docked at Vopnafiordür for a few hours.

“It took us 18 hours of intense sailing to leave the ice field, long hours of slaloming,” explains the captain, Martin Hertau. A safe crossing through the ice has allowed the schooner to continue her course southwards, on to the next destination: Sweden. “When we looked at the maps today we could see that the channel has already closed up again. We sailed close to the wind for 3 days – quite a rough crossing for certain people.”

Let’s not mince words, it was stormy. For 3 days the Taranauts abandoned the messroom, holed up in their cabins, struggling with that insidious suffering: seasickness. Trapped in space and time, bodies curled up, minds wandering through a tunnel of endless sleep. There was only one thing to do: wait for the agony to dissipate. And rejoice upon arrival at the dock in Iceland.

N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

For the members of the Arctic Ecology Research Group (GREA) this stopover marks the end of the Tara Ecopolaris 2015 mission. Brigitte Sabard et Olivier Gilg disembarked, relinquishing their places on board. Despite the exceptionally icy conditions for the season, Brigitte and Olivier’s work has progressed. Samples collected this year, combined with their study of bird colonies enabled them to complete an environmental assessment, 11 years after their first mission with Tara in Greenland. These samples have to be sent to the lab for analysis: pollutant levels will be carefully compared with those of 2004. Logistically, the schooner enabled GREA to store nearly a ton of equipment on-site so that their scientific work can continue for the next 3 years. Olivier and Brigitte will return to roam across these same latitudes, as they have been doing for the last 25 years.

After docking for only 5 hours, the schooner left the small town of Vopnafiordür, leaving behind with no regrets the overpowering smell of the fish processing plant.  The schooner is currently advancing at a good pace towards Stockholm where she is expected to arrive in about a week. Next stop on the way to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, this first encounter with the people of Stockholm will be an opportunity for the Tara Expeditions team to share their vision on the prospects for sustainable development of the oceans. Continuing her role as sentinel, the schooner will be sharing the latest discoveries and data from Tara Oceans, and will proudly fly the Ocean and Climate Platform flag, inviting each and everyone to support the Ocean’s Call for Climate, in preparation for the upcoming climate talks. Objective: to galvanize the largest number of supporters to ensure that the Ocean’s voice will be heard in Paris this December, and thus remind policy makers that a healthy ocean is tantamount to a protected climate.

Noëlie Pansiot


Related articles:

- Tara in Stockholm: shared perspectives on sustainable development of the oceans

- Sign the Ocean Call for Climate


From one island to another: Tara is heading for the Faroe Islands


On the way to Greenland, after several days at sea, Tara reaches the high latitudes of the globe with the   ocean’s rhythm pounding on the hull at night and pitching passengers in the corridor. The ocean is sometimes illuminated by a thunderstorm, water everywhere. Entrenched behind aluminum walls, the Taranautes look like islanders. Navigating in the open sea has gradually transformed life aboard. From collective days with synchronized rhythm, the crew has slowly adapted to this boat with variable geometry. In the limited space between stern and bow, life on board is organized with its habits, codes and timetables. Our clock is dictated by night shifts shared by sailors and passengers, with a change of guard every 3 to 4 hours. Night-watch is like a parenthesis during which TARA seems to resound differently beneath the moon or rain. Staying on course, checking machines, traffic surveillance and night maneuvers, all imperatives that enable the crew to sleep soundly. Night owls meeting in the corridor and kitchen, recommendations exchanged between one watchman and the next, the pleasure of returning to your cabin for the hours remaining until the next watch, always different from the preceding one.


Out at sea but sedentary, the body sometimes calls out for exercise. On deck or in the hold, for a few moments we find ways to escape the limits imposed by the ship. Soon a road bike is turned into a stationary bike pushed up against the ladder of the forward hold. Yoga alternates with sports exercises on deck, sometimes limited by the sudden coolness of the air. Setting yourself some reference points is probably one of the keys to life on board. Beyond the specific work at each position, collective tasks, and meal times, the crew conjugates singularity of this voyage and daily routine.


Five days after leaving France, yesterday we had a chance to see a coastline previously hidden beyond the horizon. Floating on a calm sea, the Orkney Islands were soon in sight, and with them, slices of light green, seen for the last time along the Seine. The entire crew comes out on TARA’s bow at the sight of these unlikely meadows: with binoculars we glimpse the ruins of a stone house or the roof of a sheepfold. Everywhere the vegetation seems to have capitulated long ago to rainy winters and the onslaught of wind. A world at the end of the world, yet bearing evidence of an energy transition in the works: on the starboard side, the Island of Eday has no trees, only the mast of a wind turbine. Further along the same coast, an amazing platform attracts our attention. What could at first glance be taken for a drilling site, is actually the support for a hydrokinetic turbine being installed. Steep cliffs, mountains covered with clouds and shadows playing on the grassy plateaux, the passage of the Orkney Islands is like a lovely reward after more turbulent times.


Pierre de Parscau

Wind at 40 knots, and a huge wave

About 300 miles from the Belle Isle Strait, northern entry to the St. Lawrence River, we’re confronting a constant wind of 40 knots. The boat’s taking it, and inside Tara the meal is very animated. We have only a vague idea of the wind’s force.

Of course from time to time a wave crashes onto the curved windows of the schooner and a brusk movement obliges you to hold onto your glass, but overall everything is relatively calm inside the boat. However, as soon as you step up the gangway, you discover a raging white-capped sea whipped by winds at 40 knots.

The sea is very regular which facilitates the passage of the slightly rocking boat, slipping between the waves and only jostled occasionally by big, mischievous waves. Everything seems easy for this ship built for extremes. She seems indestructible, and we’re doing more than 10 knots with very little rolling on the port side. The boat is under 2 main sails with one reef and a staysail. We are at the limit of taking up a second reef with occasional winds up to 45 knots. If you want to go on deck, the full force of the elements makes for an acrobatic stroll.

Nevertheless, the engineer Marc Picheral decides to change the silk of the CPR, the Continuous Plankton Recorder that’s being towed behind the boat since leaving Nuuk (Greenland). Outside it’s like war: the sailors shout to be heard, the spray is flying, and the sea is smoking in the wake.

The first challenge is to enter the St. Lawrence before the arrival of a gale from the southwest, predicted for November 1st. So, the more miles heading southwards the better, and at this speed, we’re sure to get there. Some believe that there’s nothing to do at sea, but in fact the days fly by. The mind is alert all the time, trying to identify the sounds and movements of the boat. Looking at the sea, you try to sense if it’s easing up or getting stronger, if the sails are set correctly, if the speed corresponds to the trim of the sails. Of course we’re helped by many electronic devices, including weather reports that give wind strength and direction every 3 hours. The captain, Martin Hertau, is totally attentive to the boat and crew. He never stops moving, all senses on alert.

Suddenly, well after dinner, when everyone is asleep except for those on watch and Martin, a huge crash shakes the whole boat and jolts us out of sleep. Everyone arrives at the gangway. François Aurat, Vincent Hilaire and Baptiste Regnier go check out the deck, while Martin turns on the floodlights. We change direction to calm down the boat’s movements, so that the men are not at risk. The shock was very violent port side, and I thought we’d hit something, or that the staysail exploded. Everyone’s a bit stunned by this sudden blow.

A huge wave had swept the deck, twisting the plate covering the winch, exploding the support of the port side dinghy, bending safety rails supports, unsoldering a jerrycan holder and unwinding the yankee whose edge appears to have suffered. It’s amazing, the power of the sea. How could a wave have twisted this re-enforced sheet-metal to a 30-degree angle? How could a wave have detached the end of the furler wound around a cleat ?

No, the expedition is certainly not over yet — the sea can still surprise us between here and Lorient. 


Jean Collet*

Jean Collet* was the first captain of the former Antarctica, today known as Tara. More recently, he was in charge of preparing the boat for the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition. During this leg between Greenland and Canada, he gives us his impressions.

The last station

Saturday, March 24, 2012 was a real milestone. In the Atlantic Ocean, 300 nautical miles from the Spanish coast, the Tara Oceans Expedition ended. This was the 153rd and last station of an extraordinary adventure: Two-and-a-half years of collecting marine organisms in oceans all over the world.
“It’s a real success, the fruit of hard work,” said Eric Karsenti, scientific director of Tara Oceans, visibly elated, even though he’s anxious to know the results of these efforts, i.e. what all these samples will tell us. And it will take lots of patience from the researchers, and at least the same tenacity shown by the two oceanographic engineers, Sarah Searson and Marc Picheral, who launched the rosette 674 times during this period.
They constantly took turns on this expedition, crossing oceans and making stopovers, innumerable flights from distant countries, to find their way back onto Tara’s deck. Long-distance maritime runners!
Sarah Searson herself has spent 19 months aboard! Respect! Chief scientist of this leg, and a scientific coordinator of the expedition, Quebecois biologist Stéphane Pesant also says he’s “very, very satisfied” especially with this leg. The idea was to repeat station number 152 in the same body of water, but after the passage of a gale.
The gale occurred, for just the right length of time, and allowed Stéphane’s team to do another sampling of the body of water and its tiny occupants. Before analyzing these new samples, he’s already certain,“There are changes associated with the passing of a wind of 40 knots.”
The types of zooplankton sampled before and after the gale are not the same. It’s clear there was mixing linked with the wind.”
For two days we experienced this mixing first-hand. Under sail, Tara crisscrossed the sampling zone several times, preventing many of us from sleeping. In some valleys between two liquid mountains, our berths were more like trampolines!
For Loïc Vallette, our captain,“With this weather, we could have sailed with a tail wind directly to La Coruña. Instead of that, we tacked back into the 40 knot wind — not very seamanship-like, but we had to do it, and we succeeded!”
The following day, after a sunset and sunrise with amazing colours, our last station began under the best conditions. From the first light at dawn, the air was mild, the sea much calmer, with only gentle swells. All the better, for this would be a very long day.
At a pace worthy of a marathon, the scientific team, helped by the sailors manning the winch, managed over 22 immersions lasting until 11:12pm. At which time the last net, the WPII with a 200 micron mesh was brought up. It wasn’t a great catch — on the contrary. But Stéphane and Eric were smiling. As Marc Picheral said a few minutes earlier, his face drawn, “all good things must end.”
The smiles of Stéphane and Eric seemed to echo this sentence. A new marathon had ended and the entire expedition too.
With this sense of accomplishment, and before taking a well-deserved rest, the whole team raised a glass to this success, thinking about the rest of the team scattered across the globe.
On Monday, March 26, a symbolic last rosette will be launched at exactly the same spot where the first station took place, two-and-a-half years ago. The circle is complete.
Succeeding in this important new mission, 4 years after that of the Arctic, required a lot of money and the adventurous spirit of Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditions, who supported the idea, Eric Karsenti’s rather crazy dream, of exploring the world’s oceans in Darwin’s footsteps. Success depended on an international team: 250 passionate people, committed and available, from different horizons and very diverse professional backgrounds. And while the work is completed for some, for others it’s continuing, and in a way just beginning!
So as Fridjoff Nansen and his team shouted, after the first Arctic drift in human history, “Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!” Tara has just accomplished another feat: Since leaving Lorient in September 2009 we traveled 60,000 nautical miles to learn more about the world’s oceans. But aren’t plankton worth that effort? Plankton or us? Without plankton, human beings might already have stopped breathing!
Vincent Hilaire

The Final Bouquet

We are more than 355 nautical miles from La Coruña (Spain), and this morning we’ve started the next to last station of Tara Oceans Expedition. This will be followed at the end of the week by another identical station. Why study twice, and just a few days apart, the same body of water?
Since strong winds are expected between these two samplings, Stéphane Pesant, chief scientist on this last leg, is trying to understand what impact the wind might have on plankton and their metabolism.
At 7am this morning, the whole crew was on deck to launch this station Number 152. A routine well-orchestrated by the 2 “historical” oceanographic engineers of the expedition, Sarah Searson and Marc Picheral. Everyone found his position almost “naturally” and the manipulations were automatic.
Ten rosette immersions and 13 net hauls are planned for these two days.&nbsp; In the wet lab, two stalwarts, Defne Arslan and Céline Dimier-Hugueney will be taking care of filtrations.
“Since the beginning of the Tara Oceans Expedition, we’ve never done this type of station in 2 parts,” says Stéphane Pesant. “This body of water is fairly standard for the North Atlantic in this season; the interest is really in the mixing of surface waters.
The mixture of the surface layer that goes down to 250 meters is dynamic. We want to know how its structure may change, or not, after the passage of this storm.
More than the biodiversity, what interests us here is plankton metabolism. Does it change with the passage of this gale because these microorganisms suddenly have access to nutrients not found at the surface? How does their photosynthesis evolve? How do species respond to these weather events when forced to other depths? Are there any interactions between them in this new environment, and which species are found in this body of water before and after the gale?”
Such are the questions that Quebecois Stéphane Pesant and his team hope to answer with a sampling series. But the dynamic and enthusiastic Stéphane has more experiments in store. Using equipment in the wet lab, he wants to measure photosynthesis of samples taken from different depths. He also plans “an incubation of the water sampled at night.”
Part of the water column sampled during this week will be placed in the dark for 24h, to see how the metabolism of microorganisms reacts. Their excursion into the depths after a gale will then be simulated. For this experiment, one of the fishing equipment bins has been transformed into a bathtub.
Finally, a drifter buoy measuring salinity and water temperature was launched last night by the team. We passed it today during one of our multiple re-positionings. It provides a marker to keep track of our body of water – a blue body topped with a white appendage serenely floating on a calm North Atlantic Ocean!
Since yesterday, the sea has been almost flat and barely rippled by a few knots of wind. Only a north swell disturbs this calm before the arrival of these gusty winds.
By the way, Lorient is now only 340 miles away!
Vincent Hilaire

Goodbye Azores !

On Thursday Tara was out in the Atlantic Ocean again after nearly 24 hours navigating through the labyrinth of this Portuguese archipelago towards San Miquel, the last island in this direction. We finally left behind the Azores and its capital city, Punta Delgada, on Friday.
The few days spent in these islands were really very pleasant. We found everything there that makes the difference between an ordinary stopover, and a very good one.
Sight-seeing on Faial Island gave some of us an idea of the volcanic origins of this archipelago. The “caldeira” (or boiler) at the center of Faial is simply breath-taking. Its crater culminates at 1,043 meters and is 6 kilometers in circumference. Seen from the southern side, the impressive peaks – sometimes engulfed in clouds – descend to the bottom of the crater forming a plain. Puddles of water form there in colours similar to the African savanna.
The site of the Canto lighthouse is majestic – partially buried by lava during the many eruptions that followed the birth of the island. It looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and the rocky shallows dramatically breaking the surf.
This country is green, covered by meadows overlooking the ocean, as if a piece of the Massif Central had popped out of the mid-Atlantic Ridge (the underwater mountain range located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean). Just outside Horta is the countryside, with cows and horses grazing in pastures. The villages are rural. We saw people and scenes similar to what one could find in rural France. People here are friendly, welcoming, and open to visitors. In brief, everything is easy and prices are very reasonable, which adds even more to a foreigner’s enthusiasm!
Buying provisions was especially easy – almost twice the amount for half the price of what we bought in Bermuda. Our cook, Julien Girardot had a big smile by the end of his ‘stocking up’, and loads of ideas for recipes to prepare. He started last night by a roast beef, with blue cheese sauce and gratin of potatoes!
That night we sailed near Ilha do Pico, then Sao Jorge, and a little later Sao Miguel, with the sea as still as a lake. This leg is starting with bright sunshine and not a breath of wind, which of course means motor power. Nights are calm and mild, and our first 2-day sampling station should begin on Sunday. A first scientific meeting took place today, led by Eric Karsenti, director of Tara Oceans. The two oceanographic engineers, Sarah Searson and Marc Picheral do a check-up of all the equipment. Tara is gliding on flat water with only a slight swell coming from the north, and a few dolphins as escort.
Just the right conditions for us to come down from our ‘azorean’ cloud, still floating above the biggest caldeira of all – the ocean.
Vincent Hilaire

Rite of spring

After sailing downwind for three days, this Monday we are no more than 450 miles from the Azores, and the port of Horta on Faial Island, our next stopover. We resumed sampling today in relatively cold water, 18°C. This is our 150th station since the start of the expedition.
One sample, containing numerous fish larvae and eggs, marked the beginning of spring in the ocean, according to Chris Bowler, head scientist of this mission.
If you look at the sky and on the deck of the Tara where sunglasses have blossomed among the t-shirts, you really believe it’s spring. This impression is confirmed by our scientific measurements. “For the first time since leaving New York we found a DCM, a stabilization of layers which form during spring and summer”, says Chris Bowler.
DCM stands for Deep Chlorophyll Maximum, the ideal zone under the water’s surface for reproduction and development of phytoplankton by photosynthesis. It’s the optimal depth for sunlight coming from the surface, and for nutrients rising from the depths. According to Chris, “Today the DCM is situated between 30 and 60 meters, perhaps a sign that we’re benefitting here from an up-welling from the mid-Atlantic ridge since there are a lot of nutrients, including nitrates for example.”
This huge nursery where the phytoplankton grow always stabilizes in the spring, becoming more dense, less volatile, more established than in other seasons. The DCM is where the famous ‘blooms’ appear – explosions of underwater life where phytoplankton proliferate, providing a feast for the zooplankton and the entire food chain. In the blooms which we’ll probably observe on the next leg, between Horta and Corunna, we may find some of the same species caught today before reaching the Azores.
At our present station, not far from the Azores, Chris and his team found a great variety of species in their fifteen samplings. Large fish larvae and numerous crustaceans herald the arrival of spring. There is, indeed, something in the air, in the water!
It’s the explosion of new life, and phytoplankton constitutes this spring’s first buds.
As Chris said with a smile late this afternoon, “Love is in the air!”
Vincent Hilaire

Fishing for the Origins of Life

Saturday March 3rd: We have only 650 miles to go before reaching the Azores. We’re sailing over depths of 5,000 meters, approaching the Atlantic ridge, the spinal column that characterizes the bottom center of the Atlantic Ocean.
With the different sampling stations done since Bermuda and those still to come before we arrive at Horta Island, our chief scientist Chris Bowler hopes to penetrate the mystery of life in this ocean – life largely influenced by the activity of underwater volcanoes running the entire length of this abyssal ridge.
There’s so much life at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, with hot springs and active volcanoes – probably at the origin of life on Earth – what types of organisms are found in the first 1,000 meters? Do they resemble those that emerged when the Atlantic was born, with the breakup of the Pangea and the beginning of volcanic activity?
Chris is passionately interested in answering these questions, but first we need to review some history. The Atlantic Ocean was born 450 million years ago, when the continents of America, Africa and Europe first appeared. It was named ‘Atlantic’ in 1507 right after the discovery of continental America by Amerigo Vespucci.
To understand Chris’quest, some basic notions of geology are necessary to perceive the dynamism of this ocean. In the beginning there was a single ocean, the Pan Thalassa. With the splitting apart of the Pangea – the planet’s original, unique land mass, the Atlantic Ocean emerged from the seismic activity that broke and pushed the land to both sides. In fact even today the underwater volcanoes continue a movement begun millions of years ago: geologists estimate that the Atlantic widens by 2 meters every 100 years.
The Atlantic ridge was discovered in 1850 by ships posing telegraph cables on the sea bottom&nbsp; between Europe and America. Men working aboard the cable-laying ships were the first to notice a significant rise in the sea bottom level. Before them, no one had any knowledge of this. But what about the life in this ocean?
Initially, the entire scientific community considered the Atlantic to be an ‘azoic’ region, without life. The Challenger expedition (1872-1876) was the first to explore the water above these depths, and discovered living organisms. Off the coast of Brazil, the Challenger explorers were surprised to find not far from the coast, water at zero degrees where organisms were not the same as in warm, tropical currents. This water coming from Antarctica  runs northwards through the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed many ‘layers’ of water exist, as other scientists before Challenger had imagined, but the species living there move between the layers, so these are not separate, closed environments. Sometimes the layers even mix together.
But the mystery remains about organisms living above the Atlantic ridge volcanoes. Does life there resemble the original explosion? Let’s go back to those cable ships which brought up living organisms from the depths along with their pipes – giant worms, shells and sponges among other things. Closely studied a few years later thanks to CNRS submarines in collaboration with IFREMER, the worms revealed some extraordinary things.
After they were analyzed in special decompression chambers, the worms were found to have particular proteins allowing them to endure very different temperatures on each side of their body. So, very rich forms of life exist near these abyssal fumaroles, where there’s heat, but also sulfur, iron, and quantities of nutrients.
This ocean bottom is the matrix and cradle of pelagic life, and perhaps the origin of life 3.5 billion years ago. But do any ‘representatives’ exist closer to the surface?
This is what Chris wants to know and what inspires his research, and particularly this transatlantic voyage. “The instruments aboard Tara don’t go very deep, only to 1,000 meters, but that’s enough to know if the life forms we find could have developed in conditions similar to the origins, thanks to the presence of this volcanic matrix below. Studying these organisms some of which come up from the great depths at night, we can get information about earlier life forms.”
The interest of this leg, as we gradually approach the Azores located on the eastern part of the Atlantic volcanic chain, is this life in the deep. “After the first two sampling stations and before the next one, the 150th since the beginning of Tara Oceans, we can say that there’s very little life in the first 200 meters from the surface. But below that? »
Still another point that the expedition will no doubt clarify. Like borings taken in ice, exploring the layers of the oceans will perhaps bring us back to the origins. It took a long time to conquer Mount Everest on land. When will we conquer the underwater Everest?
Vincent Hilaire

Stopover at St. George’s (Bermuda)

On the eve of our departure for the Azores, one might say that this stopover, a bit longer than expected, gave the crew a welcome chance to rest and properly prepare the return crossing of the North Atlantic.
Part of the new scientific team arrived safely yesterday, exhausted after sometimes 20 hour-flights. Tomorrow early in the afternoon we’ll head east, certainly with some wind. We have slightly more than two weeks of sailing ahead of us.
The streets of St. George’s offered us a haven of peace these past few days, as did the lagoon where we’re anchored until tomorrow. This city of 15,000 inhabitants is like a little cocoon. The Bermuda archipelago counts 65,000 souls in all.
Encounters with the “locals” in shops, supermarkets, restaurants and bars have been warm and friendly. People have always been caring, interested and even curious. Very often we hear the question “Where are you from?”
The majority of the people here are dark-skinned, but of course this is not tourist season. The Americans who normally arrive in droves during the summer are somewhere else this time of year. Local men, women and children are descendants of African slaves brought here by English settlers. Before the first shipwreck, the island was totally uninhabited.
The houses of St. George’s are painted bright colours. Gardens are clean and tidy.
Palms, rubber trees, giant ficus and hibiscus add more colorful notes to the scenery. What is striking when walking about, besides the calm, are the churches at almost every street corner.
Anglican, African Methodist, Catholic – steeples and crosses punctuate the sky. The most beautiful of all these buildings, clearly visible at the top of its mossy steps, is without a doubt Saint Peter’s Church. It dates from 1612 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The roofs are also very striking – almost all are white and have the same form, with built-in channels to collect rainwater. There is no source of water in the archipelago.
St. George’s is nothing like Hamilton, Bermuda’s main city. Hamilton is a fairly large commercial port, its wharves crowded with shipping containers. Here the streets are wider and buildings are taller, and there’s less of that human scale we appreciate so much when arriving from the sea.
Vincent Hilaire

Tara is in Bermuda

In a drizzling rain that reminded us of Brittany, we arrived early Sunday afternoon in the archipelago of 123 islands called ‘the Bermudas’. After approaching by the western flank of the main island, Bermuda, we followed the coast to the entry channel of the town of St. George, on the island called St. George’s. Here there will be a complete turnover of the scientific team, and we will remain in Bermuda until February 23.
Despite a few rays of sun, we knew early in the morning that our landing in Bermuda would not happen in good weather. But the sea was calm and the temperature a mild 20°C compared to the nippy weather when we departed from New York.
At first glance, the island seemed quite built up, with a few beautiful beaches interspersed with small groves of trees. A few fishermen were busy on the water around us, and in the background, brightly colored houses with white roofs looked rather Mediterranean.
Between Bermuda and St. George’s Island, a channel came into view marked with classical red and green beacons, with their colors inversed compared to those found in France, but similar to the ones in the French Antilles. Despite the gray sky, the water was an extraordinary turquoise.
People out for a stroll at the tip of the canal’s south entrance waved a greeting as we entered the narrow passage, scarcely 50 meters wide. All along this lagoon were colorful houses, conifers and palm trees. A peaceful island.
With Alain Giese, second mate, we took soundings at the dock where Tara was going to berth, to make sure the water was deep enough. “Starboard to quay” called out Captain Loic Valette. A few minutes later Tara was snuggly in place at the dock, and a customs officer came aboard to give us official immigration papers for each one of us to fill out.
Slowly but surely we are getting closer to Lorient, the end of this expedition. Not only is the distance shortening, but yesterday we changed time zones. There’s now only a 5-hour difference from Paris time.
Vincent Hilaire

In the heart of an eddy

Since Wednesday morning, the scientific team aboard Tara has been tracking an “eddy”, a whirlpool in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Studying this cold water column – about 180 kilometers in diameter – will tell us what planktonic organisms live within it, and will also help us understand how and why such whirlpools sustain life in oligotrophic zones poor in nutrients, like the one we are now crossing between New York and Bermuda. Of the planet’s five oceans, the North Atlantic is certainly the one that’s been studied the most, but the eddies coming from cold currents north of the Gulf Stream remain a mystery.
Maritime legends about the Sargasso Sea are well-known. At the sight of this seaweed floating on the surface, some sailors might think that land is near, which is not the case. And then there are the myths about the Bermuda Triangle where many ships and airplanes have disappeared for unknown reasons.
Since yesterday we have observed the floating brown seaweed, but our quest is not inspired by legends. In fact the goal of our search is this eddy that’s been swirling right here beneath Tara’s hull for the past 48 hours.
“The Sargasso Sea, where we’re located right now, is not a desert despite what many people have thought for a long time”, says Lee Karp-Boss, head scientist on this mission. “In the middle of this big North Atlantic gyre – the surface current which runs in a circle from west to east – researchers have been trying to understand why in certain places there’s such a large quantity of nutrients.” Information from satellites first showed us that the production of chlorophyll was greater in these whirlpools than elsewhere, providing food that zooplankton wasn’t finding in other places.”
Since Wednesday, Lee and her team of 6 highly motivated scientists have deployed a maximum of tools to capture all the fine points, all the characteristics of this eddy. Whether it’s pouring rain or the middle of the night, we’re using the whole range of nets and bottles to capture the water that will eventually answer our questions.
To achieve this goal, Isabel Ferrera, researcher in biology from Barcelona, has been bumping her head in the wet lab with the rocking of the boat. She and Céline Dimier-Hugueney from Roscoff are doing the filtrations, which will show which bacteria are present in this reservoir of life.
In order to glean all possible information about this eddy, Tara will have crossed the whirlpool from one end to the other, even taking position at the very center, the “eye”. This entire water mass will be described as never before. “Previous oceanographic studies of these water masses have never undertaken an “end-to-end” sampling – investigating the entire range of organisms, from viruses to fish larvae. We certainly hope to gain a better understanding of these mysterious whirlpools.”
Lee then pointed out that during this station, the scientists observed an especially great diversity of protists – a group of single-celled organisms which includes phytoplankton, the base of the food web.
This fascinating hunt is over, and now Tara is heading for Bermuda. After 48 hours of racing around, the scientists will finally be able to rest.
Vincent Hilaire

Good Bye Big Apple

On Sunday morning around 9:30 New York time, Tara sailed away from Chelsea Pier. As part of the Tara Oceans expedition, we are beginning a new leg of the round-the-world voyage that will take us to Bermuda, on our way home to Lorient, France.
Two scientific stations are scheduled once we’re in the Gulf Stream again. Very cold weather, a strong wind from the northwest with gusts at 30 knots, but bright sun similar to the day of our arrival a week ago. This morning we’re headed for the open sea we all love so much.
Bye bye Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Bridge, like a film playing in reverse, but this time with wind and some new faces on deck. The entire scientific team changed in New York. Lee Karp, an Israeli now living in the United States, is the head scientist of this new leg, replacing Lars Stemmann. As usual since the beginning of Tara Oceans, Sarah Searson has replaced Marc Picheral in the post of oceanographic engineer.
Celine Dimier-Hugueney from the Roscoff laboratory has returned after being absent for several months due to a health problem. Christian Sardet from the Villefranche-sur-Mer marine station is back in the optical lab with microscope and camera. For Anne Doye and Denis Dausse, this is their first voyage aboard Tara.
For sailors and scientists alike, Tara Oceans is a big family, continually breaking up and coming together again. But all this will soon come to an end, in a little over one month. Steffi Kandel-Lewis, biologist in charge of filtrations during the last leg, told me during Saturday night’s goodbye party that after our arrival “It won’t be the same any more; we won’t see the crew again.” Steffi, who embarked two times since the beginning of the expedition, left the boat in New York and won’t see Tara again until we dock in Lorient.
The stop-over in New York was especially remarkable because of Ban Ki-moon’s visit aboard Tara on Saturday. But also for the discovery of this cosmopolitan mega-city with its dizzying architectural exploits, paradoxically human in scale. In New York people talk to each other&nbsp; and human warmth circulates naturally among the population in the streets. Surprising.
Sailing south to Bermuda, we hope to find a little warmth before beginning the transatlantic crossing via the Azores. In the evening after sunset, it was zero degrees. A good reason to feast on an excellent “tartiflette” (a classic of French Savoyard cuisine: potatoes and bacon au gratin with delicious reblochon cheese and creamy sauce) prepared by Julien Girardot, the cook who just replaced Celine Blanchard. This is Julien’s third voyage aboard Tara since the beginning of this expedition, but his first time in the cold.
Vincent Hilaire

New York, 8 million inhabitants, the Big Apple.

In New York, time doesn’t count. Life never stops beating. Sleep doesn’t exist. Noise is constant and everywhere. Lights never go out. It’s been five centuries since Jehan Angot, a ship-owner from Dieppe, France, financed Verrazzano’s North American expedition. New York harbor has been pinpointed on the globe ever since.
New York shoves you, pulls you, carries you, takes you with all its strength, and gives a lot back too. Tara is docked in North Cove Marina, Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, very near the World Trade Center site still under re-construction. We’re here for a week of visits and meetings.
On our arrival “the man in black” was there. The understated elegance of Etienne Bourgois. A shy smile, a warmth that doesn’t say everything, but is strongly felt. His boat is living proof of his ideas. There’s science, but also the human side. Tara is a powerful link. At the base of the skyscrapers, the schooner doesn’t shock, she reassures. The Big Apple never stops seeing the world pass by – fertile ground for the wildest projects. Tara is one of those projects, led by an extraordinary family involved in fashion, art, and science. The result is… Tara moored at the tip of Manhattan, near the Statue of Liberty.
Everyone is here: Eric Karsenti, scientific director of the expedition, Colomban de Vargas, scientific coordinator, Romain Troublé, operations director – the people responsible for making this project happen. We’re here to talk about life in the oceans, and future projects. A few more days at the tip of Manhattan, and then Tara will return to Lorient, France to complete this amazing world tour.
Alain Giese

Daniel Cron, Tara’s Chief Mechanic: logbook

New York! A symbolic stopover, which many of us can’t wait to experience; a name that crystallizes lifelong dreams — especially for people like me who discover this city for the first time. What an experience!
As I began my night watch at 4am, we were sailing towards the mouth of the Hudson River. And as the sun rose, the night-veiled sky gave way to a deep blue and an incessant ballet of tourist helicopters and airplanes from surrounding airports. I then discovered that what I thought were light beacons at sea, turned out to be tall buildings that had been visible for hours, even though tens of kilometers in the distance!
Then before us, our eyes wide open, a spectacle which left none of us indifferent, even the pilot who has been here for 10 years…
We hoisted our sails among the picturesque ferries, and with all sails out, in bright sunshine, as a tribute to the “Great Lady”, symbol of freedom, we all shouted in unison when we saw her in the distance. How many times had we imagined her, saw her in movies and photos when we were children.
We then made our way to Manhattan. In front of us, a concentration of huge skyscrapers like nowhere else in the world. The closer we got, the more our eyes widened at this mix of shapes, eras and building materials. We then sailed up the East River from Lower to Upper Manhattan travelling along the shorelines of Little Italy and Soho — an opportunity to see legendary buildings like the Empire State or Chrysler.
We then veered in view of the United Nations headquarters, another symbolic place for Tara, since the hull proudly bears the logo of the “United Nations Environment Program” – a real engagement!
The end of our tourist route took us back to the extreme southern tip of Manhattan along Battery Park, and joining the Hudson, we eventually ended our trip by mooring at North Cove where a good-sized crowd was already waiting for us! There were marine scientists taking the next leg, and key directors of Tara Oceans who’ve come especially from Paris for the occasion: Etienne Bourgois, Roman Troublé, Eric Karsenti, Rainer, Julien, Céline, Baptiste…a real family, with warm smiles for each and every one, even if for some, it’s been almost 2 years!
We are actually close to “Ground Zero”, where 11 years ago the Twin Towers were destroyed, forever scarring the world. We are near their base and I have every reason to be especially aware of their absence, since I was born on September 11.
New York will be a major event for me because I will disembark here, after 3 and a half months on board. It was long and it was short — difficult to define, but that’s exactly how it felt to me! The America’s Cup in San Diego, the lost island of Clipperton, the wild Coco Island, crossing the Panama Canal, Belize’s Blue Hole, Savannah’s abandoned island and the improvised New Year’s fireworks…
But more than the landscapes seen and the deep commitment to this scientific expedition, there is the profound richness of various events and human encounters which will remain forever etched in my mind. For me the adventure will end on February 12, when Tara’s moorings are cast off early in the morning, with the same inexplicable feeling that many of us have at the time of farewell. I’m glad to have experienced these unique 3 years, from the preparation of Tara Oceans to today.
But in any case, we’ll meet again on arrival at Lorient on March 31!
See you there!
Daniel Cron
Chief mechanic on Tara

Tara docked in NYC at the foot of Freedom Tower

Sunday morning around 6:30, with the brilliant sun scarcely compensating for the 2° C temperature, Tara began her final approach to New York City. The first skyscrapers began to appear on the horizon, breaking the surface of the ocean where we’d seen no construction for eleven days.We were still 25 nautical miles from New York, about 45 kilometers.
Excitement on deck, first photos taken, but the Big Apple kept us waiting impatiently. A white-bearded pilot came aboard to escort us through the labyrinth of New York’s islands. Then the Manhattan skyline began to be clearly visible.
Several of us were experiencing their first arrival in this part of the east coast of the United States, and to make it even more special – arriving by sea.
We passed the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (the second time for Tara), but now Loïc Valette is the skipper. With little wind but a rather strong current, the approach was made smoothly. This was the occasion for the pilot, Captain Thomas G. Britton, to learn more about Tara’s history and be impressed by the itinerary already completed since the beginning of Tara Oceans, and by the previous Tara Arctic expedition (from 2006-2008).
Being careful to enter the Hudson River without getting caught up in the traffic of ferries sailing between Staten Island and Manhattan, Captain Britton passed around cigars in sign of his admiration.
Then on deck we heard “Statue of Liberty!” That’s all that was needed to stir up enthusiasm among the paparazzi on board, otherwise slowed down by the very cold morning temperature. A series of photos in front of the world-famous American symbol, and Tara headed up the East River.
The Brooklyn Bridge, then a passage in front of the United Nations headquarters in mid-town Manhattan, for an historic souvenir photo.
Finally, we came back down the East River, took down the sails, and headed towards Battery Park, North Cove Marina. The tourist trip was over, and we started preparing for the final manoeuvre, installing fenders and mooring lines. The strong current complicated our entry into the small Marina at the foot of Freedom Tower.
After going around once to check out the situation, Loïc Valette and the pilot entered the Marina. A last port side turn, and Tara was rapidly moored along the wooden dock, at the foot of Ground Zero. We will stay here throughout our stopover, before leaving for Bermuda on February 12th.
Vincent Hilaire

Catherine Chabaud’s Log

Hello everyone.
It’s 9am Tuesday January 31st aboard Tara as I write these lines. The sky is totally blue, the sea has white-caps again. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any seabirds (or very few) and no marine mammals.  

The Sargasso Sea (named for the drifting seaweed so common here) is a desert, at least in appearance, since the plankton collecting nets are loaded with living things.
 We are advancing with only the yankee (fore sail) hoisted, and neither main sail nor motor; we’re moving along at 4 knots (7,5 kilometers per hour) thanks to a moderate south-westerly wind. It’s a lot warmer than yesterday, and we’re still being pushed by the powerful current of the Gulf Stream. Everything is peaceful.  
Yesterday and last night’s calm spell gave the scientists a chance to finish the first long sampling station of the Savannah-New York leg. Finally this aspect of their work is rather 
like what fishermen do, often working in cold, crisp air with the halo of spotlights. Right now almost everybody is still sleeping. The next long station will take place in 2 days, further north, off the coast of New York. Before then, the team will be able to rest up and prepare for another frenetic time on deck. This evening we’ll celebrate our first long station, and the 600th immersion of the “rosette.”
Since the beginning of the sampling work, I’ve been curious to see what’s being collected.  And no doubt you’re as impatient as I am to see what they look like — these micro-organisms brought up in the nets and in the rosette’s tubes. Some are visible to the naked eye, notably the krill and fish larvae found at the bottom of the “bongos”, and these I’ve been able to photograph. But certain organisms, for example viruses and bacteria, can only be “discovered” later, in laboratories on land. 

Aboard Tara for this leg between Savannah and New York, Sophie Marinesque, research engineer in marine biology, is in charge of the “dry lab” equipped with microscopes. Sophie & I have selected a few of the specimens collected since Savannah. The black and white photos that I’m sending you show the organisms detected by the “flow cam”. The same organisms in color and 3-D were photographed with the “stereoscope” by Luis Gutierrez, Mexican optical engineer, during the San Diego-Panama leg. Take a look at these astonishing images, with captions added by Sophie & myself. 

Bon vent à tous,

Catherine Chabaud

Tara leaves Savannah

At 10 o’clock local time, Tara and her 15-member crew navigated down the Savannah River to the North Atlantic Ocean. We’re headed for New York, with 2 scientific stations programmed along the way, including one in the famous warm current of the Gulf Stream.
The fog was heavy this morning, but lifted an hour before we raised anchor. For a long time, the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge pillars were shrouded in fog. After the traditional horn signal announced our imminent departure, and just as Captain Loïc Vallette set the motors into reverse, the sun finally appeared. Tara’s grey hull gently peeled away from the dock running along River Street as the tide began descending.
The usual operations were carried out. The dinghy was raised onboard and stowed. The fenders and hawsers put away until the next stopover. In just 2 hours, accompanied by hungry sterns and a few pelicans overhead, we reached the Atlantic Ocean. Calm seas and light winds from the southeast were ideal conditions for a first night at sea.
For this “Gulf Stream” leg, the team is mostly French, with one Cuban, one German and one Italian. But as usual, English will be our common language to accomplish this next stage of our scientific mission around the world.
This evening all sails are hoisted:&nbsp; mainsail, foresail, staysail and yankee. We’re in the middle of the Sargasso Sea, making just over 6 knots, and certainly helped by the Gulf Stream. But only partially, according to Lars Stemmann, our head scientist: the power of this warm current, which rises from the tropics before crossing the North Atlantic, will tell us immediately when we’re totally caught in its flow.
“The current of the Gulf Stream is 300 times more powerful than the Amazon River, and 5,000 times more powerful than the Rhone. Its average flow is 55 million cubic meters per second,” Lars told us last night at the first briefing. Our climate in Europe depends on this current. It’s also a major player in the global circulation of water on our planet.
Before our next station, the 144th since leaving Lorient over 2 years ago, we have to sail about 400 miles and pass Cape Hatteras, where the Gulf Stream flows very close to the coast.
This first long station, devoted to the Gulf Stream, should take place after 2 days of navigation, on the 28th or 29th of January. For the second station 3 days later, we will be positioned above a warm whirlpool, developing in the cold current coming from Labrador. It’s only 10 short days until we dock in the North Cove Marina at New York’s Battery Park.
Vincent Hilaire

Tara soon in the Gulf Stream

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

Back in the USA

Friday, January 20: the American flag is floating above Tara. We arrived this morning  in Savannah, Georgia. One leg of our voyage is over; before the next one begins, the crew is enjoying a very warm welcome offered by this small city on the east coast.

It took nearly 2 months for Tara to go from one coast to the other, heading south past Mexico then cutting across Central America via the Panama Canal. We left San Diego at the end of November after a long stopover for repairs. Now we’re back again on American ground. 

After several hours sailing up the narrow Savannah River, accompanied by the sound of canons blasting in our honor, Tara finally moors in the middle of the city. All along the dock, people crowd around the boat asking questions, engaging in lively discussions with crew members who are delighted to share the world they’ve been living in the past few weeks.Though the quai is still thronged with visitors, certain Taranautes go off to explore the city. For those of us who experienced the effervescence of  San Diego, the contrast is striking: the modern buildings of California have given way to beautiful streets lined with old houses, some of which date from the city’s origins in the 18th century. This is a human-scaled city – less than 150,000 inhabitants, ten times fewer than in San Diego – where street musicians are omnipresent and draw lots of enthusiastic spectators.

In one of the many city parks, the Tara crew’s t-shirts attract the attention of many strollers who don’t hesitate to start long discussions with these strange new arrivals. The hospitality continues into the evening: a reception in our honor, organized by the French Consulate, is scheduled at the Savannah Technical College. To bring us there, a traditional school bus has been hired to transport the 15 Tara passengers. Certain of us rediscover our childhood in the back of the yellow bus. 

At our destination we are welcomed as very special guests. During the speeches honoring our passage in Savannah, a classic French dinner is served – the crew enchanted to eat foie gras and pastries after a month at sea. At the end of the meal, the French chef gives us some dishes to take home so we can continue the feast for a few more days aboard Tara. Until our departure – scheduled for January 26th – we’ll be very occupied with the visits of local officials, schools and scientists.

These next few days will also be needed to renew the Tara team. Most of the scientists will disembark, to be replaced by another group; and the sailors will prepare for the next leg of the voyage – 10 days heading north to New York. As for me, after 2 months as journalist on  board, sharing with you the unique floating world of Tara, I’m giving up my job to an old-timer: Vincent Hilaire will take over the writing, camera and video equipment for the next two months, until Tara arrives in Lorient. Best of luck!  

Yann Chavance

Thermal shock…

The last long station of this “Panama-Savannah” leg has just begun in briskly cool weather that Tara has not experienced for months. On deck the scientists seem to miss the blazing sun that followed us since Panama; but below Tara’s hull the current carrying us is still under the sign of the tropics.
Entering the Gulf of Mexico, we went from suffocating heat to mild, pleasant summer weather. But this weekend, after passing the famous Florida Cape and heading north, the thermal shock was more violent.
On deck people are now wearing vests and warm jackets, and blankets appeared in the cabins. In less than 48 hours, the temperature has dropped 10 degrees.&nbsp; And this is only the beginning… But curiously, under our feet, the water has retained “tropical time”, staying about 25 degrees; but only a couple of kilometers away, nearer to the coast the water temperature is only 15 degrees.
Between the last station in the Gulf of Mexico and this one, with Florida to the West and the Bahamas to the East, the current carrying us retains almost all of its heat. A current that our scientists have not stopped studying between these two stations.
Throughout the week, as if in a routine, each morning was devoted to a short station “in miniature”. The program consisted of: CTD (physico-chemical water data), Bongo (net used to catch largest species between the surface and 500 meters), sometimes TSRB (Tethered Spectro Radiometer Buoy, sensors used to analyze ocean color), and finally surface water sampling to study phytoplankton and to catch specimens for Gabriella to photograph in the dry lab.
Needless to say, the current that’s been carrying us all along this leg and will soon become the Gulf Stream has been scrutinized every day by the scientific team. And the sailors, even without studying it, have certainly been experiencing this famous current, especially Loïc. “It’s obvious, running on 2 motors against the wind, ordinarily we’d make an average of 5 knots. When we passed through the Florida channel, we were making 8 and a half! This will put us ahead of schedule for this last week at sea, even though we’ve stopped for the 2 days and nights of this long station.
Finally, everyone is counting on this benevolent current to take us safely to harbour by the end of the week. In this case, Savannah.
Yann Chavance

Going with the current

After skirting the Panama coast to Mexico by way of Belize (and a cinematographic interlude with Yann Arthus Bertrand), Tara is now in the Gulf of Mexico. The pace is building up as we finally get down to scientific business. Our course takes us north, following the marine currents.

For Loïc, the captain, this leg is really split in two, “We were relatively calm before Belize, but now our schedule will get tighter. The scientific team is itching for more action. A single short station took place after exiting the Panama Canal, but then the rosette remained tethered on deck because we didn’t receive the authorisations for sampling. Now that we’re in American waters, things will change. We’ve scheduled 2 long sampling stations, one in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, and the other along the Florida coast.

The main feature of this leg: Tara will be drifting the whole way thanks to ocean currents. After following the Caribbean current, which became the Yucatan current upon entering the Gulf, Tara will join the “Loop current”. This will bring us to the East Coast via the Florida current. Joined by other currents, it becomes the famous Gulf Stream. “This gives us a chance to follow the same water masses and the evolution of the organisms they carry,” says Emmanuel, the head scientist of the leg. “These organisms are all part of the same system, which lets us study changes in diversity, and the number of organisms in a connected system.”

To follow the currents as precisely as possible, the scientific team relies on satellite maps. Water temperature, sea level or phytoplankton concentrations – each chart shows the winding current as it makes its way to the East Coast.&nbsp; This coincides perfectly with Tara’s route. But the question remains — are two stations enough? “All along the way, in addition to the stations, we’ve programmed at least 6 or 7 CTD profiles” replies Emmanuel.

Specifically, a CTD allows us to record a number of factors: not only Conductivity-Temperature-Depth, but also salinity, oxygen concentration and fluorescence. After immersing the rosette, the scientists then have a detailed profile of the actual water characteristics. “In addition, even without sampling, the camera shows us zooplankton distribution, and gives us an idea about the quantity and species present”, adds the French-Israeli scientist.

These multiple CTDs will let us correlate the water masses between the two long stations, while offering a global vision of these famous currents. But the positioning of these 2 stations is not motivated only by the study of currents. In the Gulf of Mexico, one station will take place not far from a sad ocean memory: the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April, 2010, which caused one of the worst oil spills in the United States. “Apparently, no traces of the catastrophe remain in the water, but some may be found in marine micro-organisms,” says Emmanuel. As often is the case, we’ll have to wait for the more complete laboratory analyses on land before we know for sure. For the scientists onboard, this leg offers many research directions.

For the sailors however, going north towards Savannah has a more symbolic aspect. “After Florida we’ll encounter a harsher climate, with a cold wind coming from the North,” says Loïc. “For Tara, this leg marks the end of summer!” A summer that lasted nearly a year.

Yann Chavance

Two Stations, Two Teams

New year, new ocean, new team, but the same objective. For the 7 scientists who recently embarked aboard Tara, the Panama Canal was the perfect place to relay with the other team: the first station of this new leg was almost exactly the same as the last station of the preceding leg.

Just before entering the Panama Canal, Gabriel and his team were able at the last minute to get permission to take a few samples at the entrance of the canal, on the Pacific side. A week later, the team led by Emmanuel (head scientist of this new leg) will do the second part of the experiment: another sampling station, but this time as we exit the canal on the Atlantic side.

“We want to compare the distribution and diversity of organisms at each end,” explains Emmanuel, professor of oceanography at the University of Maine. “When the Panama Strait&nbsp; closed up, a short time ago in geological history, 2 populations of similar organisms became separated in 2 separate oceans. It’s interesting for us to see how these populations have evolved since then, genetically and in terms of diversity.

But according to the head scientist of Franco-Israeli origin, the strategic position of these 2 stations could provide other information: the Panama Canal, scarcely a hundred years old, artificially re-opened the Strait. “Boats release water from one end of the Canal into the other, not to mention organisms which can attach themselves to ships during their passage. This could modify the distribution of species on each side.

To know more about this, we’ll have to wait for the results of long genetic studies done in laboratories using the samples taken aboard Tara. For now, the new team will continue the work of their predecessors, smoothly performing their first sampling station. Fortunately, among the new arrivals there are certain Tara ‘old-timers’.

Marc, who works on the rosette alongside Sarah, has totaled 9 months aboard. Lucie, who replaces Noan doing the filtering, is on her third leg. Another old-timer, Gabriella takes over in the dry lab. Their experience in doing sampling stations benefits the people who have just come aboard, and makes for a perfect transition between the 2 teams. In the wet lab, our biologist from Barcelona, Francisco, is replaced by a compatriot, Beatriz.

To complete the team, Halldor, from EMBL, and Olivier from the Genoscope, are moving around helping everybody, along with Vincent, the only newcomer among the sailors since the departure of our young ‘mousse’ Baptiste.

At the end of the day, the manipulations have become automatic, and the new team finishes this famous first station in record time.

Yann Chavance

From one ocean to another

During Tara’s long journey since leaving Lorient in September 2009, the sailboat- laboratory has passed through many legendary places and had some very memorable experiences. Going through the Panama Canal has just been added to the list. This morning we left the Pacific Ocean, and now we’re here on the other side of the continent, sailing in Atlantic waters.

7:00 The quiet of the night gives way to the familiar din of engines. Slowly the heavy hull begins to move, illuminated by the first rays of the sun. Near a small buoy, a fast boat moors alongside Tara, bringing the Panamanian pilot who will stay with us most of the day. Aboard Tara, he will guide our captain, Loïc Valette as we maneuver through the locks, helping him in the difficult passages.

7:20 We arrive at the first buoys signaling the start of the canal. A journey of almost 80 km has just begun. We’re ready to cross a continent.

7:45 Tara passes under the “Bridge of the Americas”– for a long time the only way to get across the canal from one side to the other. The 2 shores come close together here, as if to guide our way: the estuary changes into a canal.

8:20 The first locks appear in the distance. As the sun begins to warm Tara’s deck, more and more of us come up to the railing to watch.

8:55 Here we are in the Miraflores Locks. A phone call informs us that we are now in the spotlight, the canal webcam pointed at us, sending an image of this strange ship around the world.

8:56 Lines are thrown, gates are closed, leaving behind the Pacific Ocean. Before us a huge red cargo ship makes the 36 meter-long Tara look like a little dinghy. Imperceptibly the water raises the 2 ships a few meters.

9:35 We pass into the second chamber. The ballet of gigantic gates starts up again — opening for our passage, then imprisoning us once again under the watchful eye of some pelicans.

9:50 The last gates open in front of Tara’s nose. We enter Miraflores Lake, full throttle to the next 3 locks of the canal.

10:30 We’re back in the play of aquatic elevators, this time in the Pedro Miquel Locks. Only 2 more gates to pass and we’ll arrive at the level of Gatun Lake, 26 meters above sea level.

10:50 The crew casts off the ropes that attached Tara to the locks. Concrete and steel give way to lush vegetation on the banks.

11:05 We pass underneath “Centennial Bridge”. With the sun beating down, the recently- embarked scientific team begins to prepare their first sampling station, scheduled for tomorrow, checking one last time the rosette and the wet lab.

12:00 Gatun Lake and its multitude of tiny islands opens before us. Loïc and the Panamanian&nbsp; pilot guide Tara’s 120 tons through the buoys of the channel.

13:30 After a meal on deck, its time for a welcome-aboard briefing, even though there are quite a few habitués among the new-comers. The scientific team then details the procedures and challenges of&nbsp; the upcoming stations.

14:40 An unexpected event: we have to change pilots.Tara turns off the engines and throws anchor in a corner of the lake. The wait is long. We remain moored until nightfall when finally we can pass through the last locks leading to the Atlantic Ocean.

19:40 After 5 hours of silence, under a sky set afire by the setting sun, the engines start up again. The new pilot is aboard, the way is free, and we can finally begin the last stage of our journey.

20:10 Nightfall on the canal, and here we are in the Gatun Locks. This time the locks will gradually make us descend to sea level. Still 4 locks to pass before we can navigate on another ocean under a starry sky.

22:00 Slowly, the last gate opens. Beyond, the Atlantic Ocean. Finally!

22:40 We pass the last buoy guiding us to open sea, and leave the pilot here. All 15 Taranautes are on deck, ready for the next leg of the voyage. The long crossing is finished. This morning we were still sailing in the Pacific Ocean, and now we’re in the Atlantic, where Tara will remain until reaching Lorient.

Yann Chavance

Visits in Tierra del Fuego

Since arriving in Ushuaia, besides our neighbors at the Marina Afasyn (mainly charter sailboats taking tourists to Antarctica), we’ve met local authorities, including a delegation from the government of Tierra del Fuego Province.

In the impressive main building of the city, the crew was welcomed along with Eric Karsenti (director of Tara Oceans Expedition) by Claudio Eduardo Roig, undersecretary of the government in charge of science and technology, and by Mario G. Eiriz, honorary consul of France in Ushuaia. Questions were asked concerning authorizations for sampling and scientific collaboration during our voyage through Argentinian waters.

Eric Karsenti was extremely clear and reassuring. First he reminded everyone that during this leg of the voyage, between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, an Argentinian scientist was on board, Roxana di Mauro of the INIDEP laboratory in Mar del Plata. « Roxana has kept some of the samples she took while aboard Tara. And if the government of Tierra del Fuego wishes, analyses of the other samples will be communicated to them in priority. Collaborations, in particular on the suject of crab larvae, will also be set up with the CADIC (Austral Center of Scientific Investigation) based in Ushuaia. We want to organize scientific collaborations with you. It’s in our mutual interest to join forces and set up exchanges ». This clear message was well-received.

That same Tuesday, in the early afternoon we were welcomed by the CADIC and its director Adrian Schiavini for an informal meeting – occasion for a first exchange about work methods used aboard Tara – before preparing an ‘open house’ for the general public scheduled a few hours later in the same location. On the program: projection and presentation of the expedition by Eric Karsenti. The evening had been announced by the local press, so we had a full house in this holiday period. Eric presented his talk in French – clear and informative as usual. Stephane Cuisiniez, director of the Alliance Française, had the challenge of translating Eric Karsenti’s remarks, which he did brilliantly. The evening ended with the projection of the film “Tara, Voyage to the Heart of the Climate Machine”, which explains the work accomplished aboard Tara during the Arctic Drift Expedition.

The following day, to complete our meetings, the same CADIC scientists came to visit the boat and see all the scientific instruments – a fascinating one-and-a-half hour visit led by Eric Karsenti, Sarah Searson (engineer-oceanographer), Roxana di Mauro and myself. The next visit, organized with the help of the Alliance Francaise, will be that of a school. Our crew is reduced for the holidays: nine people on board today and only eight tomorrow when all the scientists will have departed, before the arrival of a new team after the holidays.

It’s time to prepare for our next destination – Antarctica. We’ll be re-stocking Tara with food and supplies, making repairs, changing parts and purchasing warmer clothing. A great new adventure lies ahead of us.

Happy holidays to all !

Vincent Hilaire

Tara in Ushuaia

Some  logs are especially enjoyable to write. Not that the others are uninteresting or less important. But this evening Tara is in Ushuaia,  the southernmost city in the world, 1,000 kilometers from Antarctica.

Besides  just being here, this arrival has a special feeling because we had such a rough crossing. Not easy to forget the 80-knot wind at our Cabo Virgenes mooring. After docking Tara in the marina Afasyn this  afternoon, some French sailors standing around on the pier told us about  their different experiences. A neighboring sailboat exhibits its  anchor, completely twisted by the violence of the hurricane. This  sailboat was docked on States Island where we originally were supposed  to dock. Another more dramatic incident — a Polish skipper and his  brother died in this same crazy wind. “The sea gives and takes away” —  we all know this saying well.

In any case, we’re all delighted to  have arrived safe and sound, though dead-tired. “It’s strange to find  ourselves here, suddenly removed from our daily routine” said Sebastien  Colin, the optical engineer who took magnificent images of plankton in  the dry lab despite the heavy weather.

Before arriving at  Ushuaia, sailing up the Beagle Channel offered us an impressive  spectacle. We left the dock early in the rainy morning to catch up later  with another sailboat with which we would share piloting expenses.  Around 5 am we began our entry into the Channel– a total of 60  kilometers to reach Ushuaia. Astonishing light, with surprising  contrasts, a sensation of calm tranquility. In the distance, snowcapped  mountains.

Isla Picton, then several hours later Isla Gable. The  trip up the Channel went smoothly with optimal conditions. Not much  wind, sometimes sunny, 8° C. And white peaks as far as one can see on  both sides — Chilean and Argentinean — of Beagle Channel — Then we  arrived at Puerto Williams, a small Chilean city at the foot of the  mountains. The ‘Pelagic Australis’ was waiting to continue the route  with us. Finally, around 17:00 we glimpsed Ushuaia across the bay,  another city built at the foot of a mountain chain.

Near the  Eclaireurs Islets with a famous red and white lighthouse, a pilot came  aboard to guide us for the last few miles. The outlines of the city  appeared a little more clearly. In silhouette we began to make out the  harbor, streets, cars, many houses built on the wooded flanks of the  mountain. Having once traveled to the Spitzberg Islands in Longyearben,  Ushuaia reminded me of Norway, and for a few seconds my thoughts took me  back to the roof of the world. But this was no time to dream. Ushuaia  is located half-way between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific, and our  docking maneuvers were beginning.

This evening Tara is moored  with several other coupled sailboats. A group of people, an improvised  welcome committee, was waiting for us. “Welcome to Ushuaia”. Roxana di  Mauro, Argentinean scientist aboard, was the first to be surprised:  “They all speak French!” She was expecting to hear other languages here.

Most  of the scientists on board will be leaving us on December 22. Our  departure date for Antarctica is scheduled for December 29. We will  retrace out steps in the opposite direction before crossing the Drake  Passage, towards the Antarctic peninsula.

Vincent Hilaire

Tara approaches the Great Southern Ocean

52 knots in a  gale ! Fortunately, the day before yesterday when we set the sails  after a short sampling station, Captain Olivier Marien anticipated a  strong increase in wind by taking in two reefs. The weather forecasts were accurate. Since last night we’ve been sailing in 30 to 50-knot  winds. And Tara “rides it out” with no difficulty, as we say in  sailors’ jargon.

Consequently, the long station  planned for this afternoon had to be cancelled. Most of the crew  assembled in the main cabin, waiting for the storm to blow over. Are we  getting close to the Roaring Forties? We’re now sailing at 36°18’  south, but it feels like we’ve already crossed the threshold of the  Great Southern Ocean, as if we’re in the entry hall.

In the  portholes of the main cabin, the South Atlantic Ocean rises and  descends, sometimes revealing an albatross. We still have our escort of  sea birds. Albatrosses for example continue to play in the wind in the  most natural way. Wind at 50 knots doesn’t perturb them. To the  contrary, it seems like the stronger the wind, the more inspired they  are.

They trace ever more daring trajectories in the sky that even an  expert pilot would not risk. They’re born to fly, that’s the  difference. Turning sharply on the left or right wing, diving vertically  between the waves, they dance with the sea and wind. Their skill is  fascinating. What are they doing? Are they hunting? Are they flying  just to experience the feeling that we call freedom? Or is it simply  instinct, their genetic code commanding this perfect air show? Actually  it doesn’t really matter. May the ornithologists forgive me, but I’m  happy just to observe the pure beauty of these birds.

We expect to have 24 more hours of storm, and then the wind should calm down. We will continue our southeastern route during this period, before tacking in the direction of Buenos Aires. This  morning Olivier Marien and his first mate Julien Daniel tacked during  this heavy weather. “Each of us concentrates on his task, and since we  know each other well, we don’t need to keep checking to be sure  everything is OK,” he told me after we lived through this moment  together on deck. Moments that give all its meaning to the word  ‘sailor’. Knowledge and mastery of maneuvers even in stormy weather,  team spirit, calm, and a concern for everyone’s safety. “A hand for  oneself, a hand for the boat”, the dearly-missed Eric Tabarly used to say.

At sea in stormy weather, all sailors are alike, helping each other without knowing it.

Whatever the goal of their voyage, they all have the same feelings at certain times: Humble before the incredibly powerful elements, and joyful when they succeed in pulling through.

We  send best regards to all of you who are following the Tara voyage. We’re thinking of you in these moments of a ‘sailor’s life’.

Vincent Hilaire

Heads of Tara Oceans Expedition in Rio de Janeiro

They hadn’t been together aboard Tara since Beirut, Lebanon. That was almost a year ago, last December, as the expedition was preparing to leave the Mediterranean for the Red Sea. More than ever Etienne Bourgois and Eric Karsenti, co-directors of Tara Oceans Expedition, are convinced of the importance of this scientific/humanistic project which has mobilized a team of women and men all over the world.

Etienne Bourgois (CEO of agnès b.) is responsible for the maritime, logistical, technical &amp; educational aspects of the project. Eric Karsenti (senior scientist at EMBL) is in charge of the scientific part. But this doesn’t prevent the two men from having opinions about the other’s domain.

- Vincent Hilaire: What are your thoughts about the beginning of the expedition’s second year, since our departure on September 5 from Cape Town, in South Africa?

- Etienne Bourgois: “It’s a good start. Thanks to what we’ve done since Cape Town, and will continue doing until our mission in Antarctica, we’re going to have a very precise image of life in the south Atlantic Ocean at a given time. The level of cooperation for water sampling between the sailors on board and the scientists reached a new high during the voyage between Cape Town and Rio via the islands of Saint Helena and Ascension. We took samples in waves 4 to 5 meters high which had never been done. Before confronting the seas of the southern hemisphere, this is an important accomplishment.”

- Eric Karsenti: “When we left Lorient in France more than a year ago, things were a bit chaotic. Our itinerary was marked with many stopovers. Today, the ‘breaking-in’ period is over, and we’re doing high-level science aboard Tara. Everything is working perfectly. We’re doing everything we hoped to accomplish, and we have developed reliable methods. As Etienne says, we’ve moved to a higher level. It’s no longer random sampling of plankton, but a precise and targeted global hunt.”

- V.H: Speaking of ‘the hunt’, the one undertaken between Cape Town and Saint Helena is exemplary – one of the major accomplishments of this leg.

- Eric Karsenti: “I can tell you that what we just did in the south Atlantic is a real scientific achievement. With the help of meteorology, satellite imagery, and the almost-hourly collaboration between our teams on land and at sea, we succeeded in entering the heart of a huge whirlpool originating in the Indian Ocean via the Aiguilles Current. This current runs in an east-west direction, and after descending the Mozambique channel, passes the Cape of Good Hope and generates whirlpools that cross the south Atlantic — carrying a diversity of living organisms linked to its original environment. We succeeded in finding and exploring one of these whirlpools. We now work aboard Tara as if a land-based router were giving weather forecasts to a competitor in the Vendée Globe race. What’s more, with our accumulated experience, we can succeed in finding a needle in a haystack. This is unique. In addition, we accomplished the mission using our sails for most of the 5,000 miles between Cape Town and Rio.”

- Etienne Bourgois: “I want to emphasize that we obtained these results in conditions of total safety, never easy at sea, especially considering the windy weather we had. Our sailors and scientists even succeeded in organizing an extra sampling station despite the tight time-schedule for arriving in Rio. This shows you just how committed the team is.

- V.H: What are your thoughts about the stopover in Rio?

- Etienne Bourgois: “For us, arrival in Brazil and in Rio is above all a continuation of the expedition, but it’s also a very special stopover. Rio is a huge city, and for two weeks we’ve had many exchanges with scientists, political personalities, artists and environmentalists. This is not a technical stopover for Tara, but a time for meetings, and the most important event was the presentation of our work in the botanical garden of Rio. Two or three hundred people came, including the Ambassador of France to Brazil.”

- Eric Karsenti: “We arrived in Rio at a time when there are many new projects here for scientific development in oceanography. And Tara offers this scientific community an opportunity to be inspired by our expertise, for example concerning our extensive sampling of everything from larva and viruses to zooplankton. The study of ecosystems along the Brazilian coasts could greatly benefit from this partnership which scientists here are hoping for enthusiastically. Tara went to a workshop at Ilha Grande, near Rio. Representatives of the French CNRS met their Brazilian counterparts with the goal of facilitating scientific exchanges between our 2 countries at the highest level, including the Tara Oceans program.”

- V.H: On the starting line for this second year, and after Rio, Antarctica for a month?

- Etienne Bourgois: “We will not be the first to go there. Other research vessels have done it before. But with Tara’s low draft and her 36 meter length, we can get to places where no other oceanographic ship has been. For example, we hope to sail in the Wedell Sea, to the east of the peninsula.”

- Eric Karsenti: “If we succeed in studying and describing this sea, it will be a real first. Part of it is under ice. We know there’s a lot of sea life and not much biodiversity, but no one is able to prove this with scientific data. Our study will be a continuation of what we were doing before in the Malouine current. Our goal of achieving a global description of ecosystems at the scientific time “T” would not be meaningful without Antarctica.”

- Etienne Bourgois: “During the three years of our expedition, we’ll go to Antarctica only once, but we’ll stay there for a whole month. It’s a long enough period to complete some important research, especially valuable considering the challenging weather conditions in the southern seas: we’ll be in the Furious Fifties.”

- Eric Karsenti: “I think human aspects of the adventure will sometimes be as important as the scientific expedition. At these latitudes, science isn’t done in the same way, when it can be done at all!”

- V.H: Do you have any particular wish for this second year, which has begun so successfully?

- Eric Karsenti: “I wish we didn’t have to run after financing. I hope that scientific institutions and private organizations begin to realize the quality and importance of this expedition. I would like to stop begging. I’m a research scientist. If we don’t get the necessary funding, we could export our savoir-faire.”

- Etienne Bourgois: “Funding remains a problem. To have even a chance of completing our three-year expedition, we will have to decrease costs. For example, in an activity that uses a lot of equipment like ours, there’s a certain amount of wear-and-tear and breakage inherent to any expedition of this kind. We have no spare parts. To continue using the sails and benefiting from the increasingly strong winds present in the oceanic regions we’ll be crossing, we’ll have to replace our two main winches on the deck. This operation will cost 25,000 euros, just to give you an idea of our needs. If we can’t meet these costs, Tara will be used to the breaking point. And so this extraordinary, legendary boat would be the victim of lack of funding. Since we began organizing expeditions with Tara, we’ve gone from 12,000 motor hours to 24,000, in seven years of adventure. That’s an enormous voyage.”

- Eric Karsenti: “We feel a bit alone in this struggle. Everyone who made promises should now take action. We have the impression that despite our explanations, certain people don’t realize the difficulty and significance of what we’re doing.”

- Eric Karsenti: The agnès b. Foundation and the Veolia Environnement Foundation have supported us since the beginning. EDF Foundation, World Courier, Brittany Region, Cap l’Orient, the CNRS and the Foundation for Biodiversity Research also help us financially. It is through them that the expedition is possible!

Interview by Vincent Hilaire

Adios Ascension ! Headed for Rio de Janeiro

A new adventure is starting. Departure this morning at 8 o’clock from our mooring at St. Clarens with the usual maneuvers for our crew. First, we bring aboard the 2 tenders used for reaching land, then we do a solid ‘lashing’, securing them in place for the upcoming period of navigation.

After starting up the engines, we haul in the anchor with its 70 meters of chain. Next, the 2 big sails, the yankee and the foresail, are hoisted. Tara under full sail and already moving ahead at 5 knots — a slow but sure departure. The voyage ahead will be long Tara, so give us a gentle beginning! Headed west for Brazil, our next stopover is in 2,000 miles. Before then, we’ll have 2 long sampling stations, and 2 short ones, weather conditions permitting.

Our 4 new scientists, some of them with shaved heads, arrived the day before yesterday, right on schedule, and got settled the next day in their quarters. As soon as their bags were brought on deck, the 4 arriving scientists had a meal on board with those leaving, and the rest of the crew. 17 people to feed, but Marion, our cook, is holding strong, and was warmly congratulated by the disembarking scientists.

Before and after this lunch, the 8 scientists talked extensively about their work, giving each other advice, lab tips, details about organization, storing and functioning of equipment, condition of batteries, computer passwords, etc. As Philippe Koubbi (head scientist) and Patrick Chang (engineer-biologist, specialist in microscope imaging) were leaving, tears came to our eyes. Special thanks to both of them from the whole crew, until we meet again. We will not forget Lucie Subirana either, nor Marc Picheral; he will return in a few months for the Antarctic phase of the expedition. This was a whole month of being at sea together, and lots of good memories.Having gotten their instructions, the new arrivals enjoyed a good swim, then walked around the island in the afternoon, before embarking for 20 days at sea. Our new playmates are:

Jean-Louis Jamet (head scientist), Pascal Hingamp (to replace Lucie in the wet lab doing filtrations), Jean-Baptiste Romagnan, to assist Sarah Searson on deck, and also to do zooplankton sampling, and Mattias Ormestad, a very tall Swede, replacing Patrick Chang in the dry lab. It looks like the lab was built just the right size for Mattias !

Let’s get back to Ascension. All in all I had a very good feeling about this island, despite an austere first impression. What makes for the richness of this place, I think, are its inhabitants more than its landscape. The water is warm and full of fish, the weather is pleasant, and the volcanic landscapes are varied — lunar along the coast, tropical on the mountaintop, and Mediterranean on the southern part of the island. But it’s the island dwellers who made me really appreciate this forsaken place. Among the 800 people living on this rock, I particularly liked those called the ‘Saints’.

They are expatriates from Saint Helena, big-sister island to the south where Tara made a short stopover. The Saints come here to work, to earn a living and pay for whatever they have on Saint Helena, their ‘home’ as they call it. Ascension is a windfall for them, and in addition gives them the extra advantage of having British passports. It seems that everything here is made to attract them, and (unlike on Saint Helena) there’s an airport.

The Saints are amazingly kind and friendly people. They have made Ascension and their exile here (not reserved for Napoleon!) a tiny paradise. I will never forget the generosity of David Lawrence alias ‘Skippor’, who took me around the island in his 4-wheel drive car. The first time I met him, I was walking along one of the few roads on the island. I beckoned him, he stopped with a big smile, and immediately took me for a tour of the island, before treating me to a nice cold beer. Impossible to offer him a drink in return — that would almost have bothered him. His explanation for all this generosity was simple : “We’re Saints.” He said this as he was sipping a beer, totally relaxed, wearing shorts and a Bob Marley tee-shirt.

Even if you don’t speak English, on Ascension you can get along with gestures. Just 2 are enough: the classic hand salute, and the raised thumb, like Caesar pardoning the gladiators who survived in the Coliseum. Here nothing is aggressive; everything is pacific in the middle of the south Atlantic.

Vincent Hilaire

Infinitely small and fascinating

Patrick Chang is looking through the microscope, his head thrown back to observe a screen placed high up, totally enthralled with these true wonders of nature. For many hours throughout this 70th sampling station, each time the plankton nets are hauled in, he hurries into the lab with the latest sample to discover more about the appearance and movements of these myriad species swimming in a few drops of water. He has a real passion for the microscopic world that we’re all getting to know a little better since the start of this expedition.

Photos are piling up in his computer, like a bestiary coming directly from outer space. The infinitely small ocean creatures transport him far away from earth, in his dreams as a scientist keen on discovery, and also perhaps in his childhood dreams. And after each encounter with these creatures, when we pass by to see what he’s working on, his unique laughter soon rings out, communicating his great joy. He’s a biologist who enjoys literature and cinema as much as science.”

The study of the south Atlantic gyre has been fascinating for all of us. “This central zone of the ocean has not been studied much. We have only a few papers by Russian ecologists reporting on preceding oceanographic campaigns,” explains Philippe Koubbi, chief scientist aboard Tara. “In the beginning, the decision to explore this zone was taken, as usual, thanks to satellite imagery provided by our colleagues on land. We noticed zones where the ocean’s surface was between 0.3 and 0.4 meters above the normal surface, poor in chlorophyll and in nutritive elements. These are called ‘oligotrophic’ zones. Also, the month of September is particularly interesting because it comes right after the explosion of life in August. This is the time of year when we see a peak in plankton development, and in the reproduction of zooplankton.”

Once our presence in this zone was confirmed by the immersion of oceanographic equipment, the very first plankton nets showed that life was present, that the catch would be very promising. Salpes,* copepods,* amphipods,* certain specimens of a size we haven’t seen since Cape Town. Considering the usual scale of this mini-world, these are real giants! Their forms and structures show extraordinary finesse. We also discovered a few fish from the very deep sea, for example a lantern fish, or a silver hatchet fish. 18 plankton nets were lowered into the water during the 40 hours of this sampling station. Despite this extremely rapid rhythm, we took time to have a close look at these aquatic curiosities.

“The huge south Atlantic gyre is particularly interesting, first of all because it moves through nearly all of this ocean, and also because when it finally reaches the tip of Brazil, this south equatorial current splits into two branches. One goes left, following the Brazilian coast towards the south. The other goes towards Florida before feeding into the Gulf Stream which eventually reaches Europe. You can imagine the importance of this flux and the life it transports.

Another interesting thing to notice, according to Philippe Koubbi, is that this current moves from east to west in this hemisphere, in a counter-clockwise direction. In the northern hemisphere it’s the opposite, and the same goes for trade winds which follow the same trajectories as these currents and the Coriolis force in general. The Earth’s rotation is of course the origin of this whole dynamic.”

“What’s certain is that, compared to the Benguela upwelling*, which we examined just after leaving Cape Town, there’s less phytoplankton here. We’ve completely changed environments.”

The crew is completing its third long sampling station since Cape Town, with some fatigue, but also enjoying the pleasure of a job well-done. This time, weather conditions have been a little less difficult, and we’ll be able to get some rest.

Tomorrow around noon, Tara will reach the island of St. Helena. We will spend only a few hours on Napoleon’s land of exile. Two last sampling stations, short ones, are planned between there and our arrival at Ascension Island. As we come to the end of this first stage of the second year, Patrick Chang barely leaves his microscope. He’ll be disembarking at Ascension with his head full of memories and his hard drive full of photos.


*salpes: marine organisms with gelatinous bodies that move via contractions, pumping water to filter micro-algae, their phytoplanktonic food.

*copepods: small crustaceans

*amphipods: a kind of small crustacean

*upwelling: an upward movement of waters from the depths

Vincent Hilaire

The young scientist & the adventurer

Before the next change of our scientific team on Ascension Island at the beginning of October, we will present each week contrasting portraits of an onboard scientist, and a member of the sailing crew. Today Lucie Subirana, biologist, and François Aurat, jack-of-all-trades sailor.

24 years old, brunette with brown eyes, long, straight hair and a slight accent from the south of France, Lucie is from Perpignan, in the heart of Catalan country.

48 years old, with a mop of wild gray hair and the look of an adventurer, François is from the center of France, not far from the Tronçais Forest in the Allier. He now lives in Carqueiranne, in southeastern France.

She has a DUT in Biology, and a ‘licence’ in Plant Biology. This is her first oceanographic mission, her first expedition.

He has a BTS in business. For 20 years he was manager of a company specializing in sports equipment – windsurf and snowboards.

In less than a week aboard Tara, she recently covered more nautical miles than in 24 years on her little sailboat in Canet beach. She has always been attracted by the sea, and now for her first major voyage, she will travel 5,000 kilometers in the south Atlantic.

When I start talking with François for this article, our conversation takes off on the subject of Tara’s technical stopover in Cape Town before departing for this second year. He was one of the crew members who re-did the hull bottom and renovated the deck-treads. Just looking at his hands you can tell that he’s an experienced handyman.

The first time Lucie saw Tara was in Barcelona in 2009. She was impressed by the size of the boat, by the friendliness and openness of the crew. Before her first visit aboard, she had already proposed embarking to her colleagues at the Arago laboratory in Banyuls-sur-Mer where she works. This CNRS/Université Paris VI laboratory is a partner in the project. It was just before the summer that Lucie found out she would actually join the Cape Town to Ascension journey.

The first time François saw Tara was in Villefranche-sur-Mer near Nice. The crew was there doing trial runs in preparation for the actual expedition. That was 3 years ago, and since then François has never left Tara’s projects– on land or at sea. After Villefranche, he helped Myriam Thomas, in charge of event planning for the Tara Foundation.

Transporting, setting up and disassembling photo exhibits. Afterwards he accompanied the boat from Lorient to the Pont Alexander III in Paris, including taking-down the masts at Rouen. Then in Lorient he participated in his first construction work on Tara.

It took six months to transform, take apart, and reassemble the schooner. A necessary transformation after the Arctic expedition, to adapt Tara to her new mission. François’ only comment on this was, “We were really hurting.»

For Lucie, the first hours of sailing were physically very challenging, which she was not expecting. Some sea sickness at the beginning made her wonder if she would be able to hang on for a month until the first port of call at Ascension. Afterwards, when conditions improved with smoother sailing, Lucie started smiling again, and showed how much she was enjoying the adventure. When she’s on watch with a sailor, she’s learning the basics of navigation: how to read the radar, make entries in the logbook, assist with manœuvres on deck. As far as science goes, Lucie takes care of the filtration procedures for her lab, and finds the work fascinating. She will never forget observing fluorescent plankton in the middle of the night.

For François, the first hours of sailing were a liberation. Leaving port after overhauling a boat is like getting a reward.

Over the many miles we’ve covered, he’s had an almost permanent smile on his face. Between two manœuvres or repair jobs, he’s taken photos of birds and seals. At least a dozen times he’s thrown a line overboard, trying to catch a beautiful coryphene.

New moments aboard Tara, after those experienced in the Indian Ocean, will complete his photo album. “I love the Tara Oceans project and look forward to knowing the results of our sampling. And I’m really turned on by this particular boat. I wish that my two 18-year old sons, Thibault and Rémi, would waste less time than I did. I waited 45 years to discover this. You’ve got to move around, not retire within yourself.”

On the first page of photos in his album, François pasted a shot of a man seen from behind wearing a tee-shirt that says “I’m free”.

Vincent Hilaire

Thirteen West

It wasn’t a ‘bug’: At about 4 o’clock in the morning during Mathilde Ménard and Marc Picheral’s watch, the longitudes suddenly registered at zero for a few hundredths of a second. And then the degrees in minutes and seconds began to appear again, but to the west. We had just passed the Greenwich Meridian. Passage to the west, after more than a year spent primarily to the east

Out west, the air is the same this morning, but this “West Side Story” brings a few changes for us. The first is that we changed the time on our clocks, to adapt to the places we’ll be coming to. Now we’re on Greenwich Meridian time + one hour (officially, GMT + 1). That is, we’ve abandoned daylight savings time earlier than usual.

Before arriving at Ascension in a few days, we’ll have to set our clocks back one more hour, to be at GMT, that is,    ‘the hour of the sun’.

What’s also changing is our environment. In appearance it’s the same — waves as far as the eye can see, a horizon of liquid gas (the sky) 360° around. No boat has crossed our path for 10 days, and a squadron of black petrels is still on our trail. But looking more closely, there are some changes. Yesterday evening, during our watch, Olivier Marien (the captain) and I found a flying fish on the deck. It’s certainly the first of a long series, since we’ll be heading north after the next sampling station, planned for tomorrow; the farther north we go, the more we’ll catch the trade winds. And trades winds are the favorite territory of flying fish.

The water temperature continues to rise all along our route west north-west: 19°C  this morning under Tara’s hull, with a very cloudy sky, and outside temperatures quite mild.

Our no-man’s-land is getting more mild, and this should continue until St. Helen’s Island which we’ll pass by, before reaching Ascension Island. Maybe there will be some boats in this zone.    

Arrival on this British island is planned for September 30th at the latest.  Here we’ll have the first change in our scientific team: Philippe Koubbi, chief scientist, Marc Picheral, engineer-oceanographer, Lucie Subirana and Patrick Chang, engineer-biologists, will disembark and be replaced by 4 other scientists. The first changes in the sailing crew will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  

Vincent Hilaire

Multi-net Power

Friday evening a special event happened aboard Tara. Like taking out a racing car from an old garage, or letting loose a bull in the arena, we uncovered our prize. Since our departure from Cape Town, the beast kept a low profile, nearly hidden by the wet lab installed at the rear port side. Now its time had come, it was the star under the spotlights, in the eye of the cameras.

With his usual precision, Marc Picheral, our engineer-oceanographer, orchestrated the whole operation: fastening with ropes, then lowering into the water our champion of plankton-hunting, the multi-net. If the rigging, the general system is not just right, the equipment could wind up in the depths of the ocean.

Most of the crew members, sailors and scientists, had assembled on the rear deck to participate in this special moment. Their curiosity was justified by the fact that this multi-net had not been put in the water since last March.

Sarah Searson, the other oceanographer onboard, listened carefully to Marc’s advice on how to succeed with this operation. In terms of plankton nets, the multi-net is like the carburators of an Alpha Romeo. It has 5 collecting nets, and the special ability of taking plankton samples at precisely selected depths. While other types of nets can individually capture their micro-prey, the multi-net gets 5 hauls in one. But procedures of laboratories and their techniques are often different, and the multi-net is not used by all of them.

Since there was a little wind and some current, we had to immerge this voluminous stainless steel container with its 5 nets by letting out 1,500 meters of cable. The first net opens at 1,000 meters, the second at 750 meters, then 500 meters, 250 meters, and the last net stays almost at the surface. Immersion time is two and a half hours for a slow, precise descent and then hauling-in. This means great patience and vigilance so that everything goes well.

With this tool, we have brought to the surface microorganisms like Phronima, an amphipod that truly resembles the terrifying creature in the film series, Alien. “It’s this morphology and this mouth which inspired the design of the monster”, explains Philppe Koubbi, chief scientist aboard. I like to imagine our multi-net during its descent, seen from below as it crosses these regions inhabited by so many mini-monsters, scary-looking though not dangerous considering their size. But even at this infinitesimally small scale, the fight for life exists.

Another thing is sure: next time we take a swim in the sea, each one of us will think about the amazing micro-world we’re swimming in.

Vincent Hilaire

Hunting the Eddy

After exploring the Benguela Current last week, we’ve been searching since yesterday morning for eddies. Particularly the eddies in the Aiguilles Current that cross the southern Atlantic Ocean.

Tara Oceans expedition had begun to observe eddies in the Mozambique Channel where they form. When they reach the level of the southernmost point of Africa, certain eddies continue to move in an east-northeasterly direction, and enter a new ocean.

This is what interests our scientists, and there’s nothing better than finding ourselves in the middle of one of these whirlpools, called ‘gyres’ in English. But easier said than done!

Our search starts with the help of satellite imaging which detects gyres in relation to the level of the sea. Then oceanography takes over.

We did a certain number of underwater profiles to learn about the layers of water underneath Tara. And so, late yesterday afternoon, we got the confirmation with a feeling of relief, “This is it! We’re really here!”

Our graphs of temperature have indicated the actual presence of an eddy. After 9 immersions of sounding devices, chief scientist Philippe Koubbi is certain: “We’re right in the middle, in the eye of this ring which originates in the Indian Ocean. Here in the center, water is warmer than outside the ring. The line-graphs of temperatures (“isotherms”) plunge, showing that the eddy is moving and carrying along water that has characteristics different from water in the Atlantic. So it’s very interesting to do a sampling station in the heart of the gyre. Because, first we can find the characteristics of the ocean of origin, and then we can see if the front of the gyre mixes with, or is more or less impervious to the Atlantic Ocean water.”

After this first series of oceanographic experiments on Tara’s deck, it was time for biology and physical chemistry. And our activity doubled in intensity: Celine, Lucie, Philippe, Sarah, Marion, Linda, Marc, Patrick, Captain Olivier Marien, a large part of the crew worked full-force, taking turns throughout the night.

Various plankton nets were lowered into the water at different depths, then hauled back up. Samples were separated into jars for later measurement of carbonates and nitrates. Our radiography of this part of the ocean continued. Between two short rainfalls, both zooplankton and phytoplankton were brought into the dry lab for imaging. We were astonished by what just a drop of seawater can contain; Fascinated by the beauty, the quantities, the near-perfect forms of these microorganisms — a fabulous micro-world.

In the gyre, 400 kilometers in diameter, our scientists noted last night a major presence of gelatinous zooplankton, such as physalia, and velella. Velella move around, sometimes carrying a gasteropod that resembles a snail. Physalia are jellyfish that sting badly. Unfortunately Linda now knows this. These two organisms live at the water’s surface, their striking blue color providing camouflage for easier hunting.

Proof that the environment has considerably changed since we’ve been in the Benguela Current: The inhabitants of this region have remarkable ways of capturing their prey — prey that’s becoming increasingly rare.

The big question still remains – Is there a mix between water of the Indian Ocean and water of the Atlantic? And on a biological level, can we see genetic crossovers between the species originating in these two different environments?

Vincent Hilaire

A week at Sea

In Cape Town, local people had warned me: here, in a single day, you can experience all four seasons. Like a birthday present for our expedition’s first year, an excellent weather forecast encouraged us to sail off on September 5. Exactly one year ago to the day, Tara had departed from Lorient, beginning this adventure.

Just as we were leaving the harbor, a few whales came by to blow out our first birthday candle with a magnificent and graceful show. In their eyes, I can read people’s feelings, typical of departures for the open sea: a mixture of enthusiasm and uneasiness. After all, it’s not everyday that you cross the  Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat! 

Very quickly we’re immersed in the experience – high sea, strong winds. Our first 48 hours are rough, but we succeed nevertheless in accomplishing this very important sampling station: studying the phenomenon of upwelling in the Benguela Current, off the coast of Cape Columbine. This beginning tired us out. Some people were seasick, others did night watch. But nobody had insomnia when they slipped into their bunk. 

Heading west-northwest, I have the sails reduced for the night.  We gather the sheets, the crew working the winches, those well- known ‘coffee grinders’. With bursts of wind at  30 knots, Tara is getting her sea legs after more than a month in dock.  In the morning, the wind is blowing steadily at 25 knots. We hoist the sails — 8 knots,  9 knots, 10 knots.  We’re finally   moving fast. Satisfied smiles, and once again the strong sensations of  sailing in open sea for two days of pure happiness. Tara has found her rhythm, confronting with no difficulty the huge waves coming from the south Forties. Dolphins off the prow, albatross in the wake, our escort watches over us,   reminding us that we’re not so alone!

Already seven days at sea. The crew is working together smoothly, life on board is well organized, and we’re already dreaming of trade winds. 

Olivier Marien, Captain of Tara


First long station of this second year

At 7 this morning, the first people showed up in Tara’s for breakfast. The sea was calm, and the sun shining. Having spent 24 agitated hours with winds at more than 30 knots, it was lovely waking up after a calm night drifting in the Benguela current.*

This early wakeup was organized to get us all started on the first long sampling station of this second year. For the scientists aboard, this meant getting the expedition going again on the next leg of the journey, from Cape Town to Ascension.

A first CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) sets in motion all the ensuing work. The CTD is the basic technique of measurement in oceanography. It allows us to visualize different layers of water underneath the boat at a given time.

Aboard Tara, oceanographers Sarah Searson and Marc Picheral were like ballet directors arranging a choreography that has only just begun. And their performance in long station could last up to 48 hours, with only short intermissions.

After this first CTD at a depth of 160 meters, and a first haul of saltwater brought to the surface in all the bottles making up the “rosette”, a plankton net was put in the water.

At the same time, engineer-biologists Céline Dimier, Lucie Subirana and Patrick Chang were preparing the wet lab installed on the rear deck. Indispensable preparations: It’s been almost 2 months since this equipment was used during the last long station off the coast of Cape Town.

There was a kind of excitement for the scientists on the back deck, most of whom were not novices on board. For Céline, after a first haul of her plankton nets and observation of the precious liquid, it was clear that “the catch was good”.

During these operations all over Tara, the sea was green and marine mammals were almost constantly playing in the water around us. Dolphins and seals — and in every plankton net hauled up to the surface – shrimp, and a multitude of micro-organisms and fish larvae. One sure thing – there’s alot of life beneath Tara.

Of course this zone – the Benguela upwelling, with abundant nutrients moving upwards – is one of the richest in the world, along with the Peruvian and the Mauritanian upwellings.

“Upwellings are caused mainly by wind. But the wind can’t be too strong or too weak,” explains Philippe Koubbi, head of the scientific team aboard Tara. “Here, off the western coast of South Africa, the wind blows parallel to the coast. Winds push layers of warm water out towards the open sea, provoking this upsurge of cold water from the depths. If there’s sunlight too, phytoplankton finds excellent conditions here for its development. The entire food chain benefits. This sampling station is therefore particularly important for ‘taking the pulse’ of the upwelling, even though we know it’s even more active between October and February. The goal of this station is to try and answer the question of the effects of global warming on wind action, and thus on the preservation of the upwelling, by recording the presence (or not) of plankton, or of certain types of plankton.

Another interesting point: we know that because of intensive fishing in this area, which occurs during times of strong upwelling and changes in wind patterns, there might be an impact on the species present here, hence on the entire food chain.

Recently certain species, for example the anchovy or the sardine, have left the zone. But certain predators have remained here, and are starving. Also observed in this area has been an increase in the number of medusas, and certain small fish have been eating them. Why? What does plankton tell us about this situation? Is plankton proliferating? Or is it becoming scarce? Are some of the planctonic micro-organisms disappearing? Are they changing? Is plankton responsible for the departure of the sardines and certain other species? What causes these changes in behaviour, the departure of certain species and the arrival of others? Is the habitat of these species in the process of changing? Perhaps the Benguela upwelling will reveal its secrets to scientists, enlightening them about changes here and elsewhere.

Each time Sarah and Marc begin their ballet, they’re thinking about this. And this evening, their stage-set will be a dark night. That’s what a long station is all about.

Somewhat like the performance of an artist.

Vincent Hilaire

*The Benguela Current is a rapid, cold ocean current which moves from South Africa, up along the coasts of Namibia & Angola, towards the north, north-west, joining a warm equatorial current. It is fed by an upsurge of cold water from the depths along the coast of West Africa.

Setting off from Cape Town under the sun

At 9.15 this morning Julian Daniel, the Chief Engineer, started the two 350-horsepower engines. At the last briefing yesterday, Captain Olivier Marien set the time of departure for 10.00am. A new photograph was quickly taken on deck of the whole of the crew involved in this Cape Town-Ascension stage of the journey, then the departure manoeuvre gotgoing without delay. The mooring lines were cast off, and the fenders -the buoys which prevent the hull from hitting the dock- were brought back on board.

With a pilot on board to navigate out of the port, Tara leaves the Waterfront quay of Cape Town. The temperature is mild and there is a light breeze and bright sunshine. This moment is always full of mixed emotions: there is the joy of embarking on a new adventure, the pressure associated with fulfilling the mission, and with a month at sea scheduled, we need to reacquaint ourselves with deep sea sailing.

Like a discreet yet ever-presentobserver, Table Mountain overlooks the scene. Two other yachts accompany us on this new start for Tara. 

Having passed the harbour wall, we busy ourselves on deck hoisting the sails. First the main sail of the foremast, then the main mast, before finally we hoist the forestaysail. Tara has rediscovered some of her attire. The whole crew are busy working together at the ropes.

The foghorn sounds one last blow, like a final farewell to Cape Town and South Africa. But Mandela’s homeland is notready for this brutal separation. The captain is still increasing the engine speed, then a few moments later he cries out “Whale ahead!” First a blowhole, then a fin, then another blowhole. It’s quite a welcome to the Atlantic Ocean for an expedition that has just returned to service after a month and a half in drydock!

The whales stayed at Cape Town, and we travelled at more than six knots (12 km/h), steering a course 340°, that is to say in a north-westerly direction. The South African coast is already paling into the haze.

Vincent Hilaire

Heading for heavy weather

For Hervé Bourmaud and Olivier Marien, the two Tara captains, this second year will be all about heavy weather.

According to them, the advantage of having a year’s experience behind us is that Tara Oceans is now a smoothly functioning expedition. “The plankton sampling protocols are well established, and the teams of scientists are operating very effectively. Everyone has taken their marks now,” says Hervé, who has spent more time onboard than anyone else throughout this first year. “These same teams of scientists will continue working throughout this second year. They’re at home on board. We’ve demonstrated that Tara is an extremely versatile tool for science.”

This expertise will undoubtedly be an asset as we continue to ‘scan’ the water of the oceans, in waves several meters high. “Setting off from Cape Town, we’re already at 34° South, very close to the Forties. So statistically, conditions are going to get rough,” says Olivier.

The sampling stations will inevitably become much more challenging. Fortunately the weather has been fairly mild during our departure, and the wind is carrying us along, so we can expect to have a “fairly comfortable” start.

Before tackling this second year, the two captains are eager to reflect on the highlights of the first year. Having remained on standby for Hervé, Olivier became ‘boss’ on board off the coast of Italy, between Suez and Djibouti, so for him, that’s really where the adventure began.”At first there was the threat of piracy: a permanent sword of Damocles. A tense situation.

But after we made it through the Mediterranean and then the Red Sea, we left Europe and everything changed.” Hervé‘s response complements this sentiment of Olivier’s. Hervé took back the helm between Djibouti and Cape Town: “In the Mozambique Channel when we got to those islands, like Europa and St. Brandon for example, we were landing on beaches that were virtually untouched. It was obvious that hardly anyone had ever been there.The birds were watching us calmly, we were in their home.” “And in Djibouti”, Olivier concludes, “no one had dived on that reef in ten years.”

For both captains, one of the distinguishing characteristics of this second year will be the different rhythm of the sailing. The distances we’ll be travelling will be longer. This first leg, between Cape Town and the island of Ascension, will be the longest of this new year which has just begun. Olivier will be the boss on board up to Buenos Aires, at which point Hervé will return. He says they will cover a total distance of 2,400 nautical miles, nearly 5,000 kilometers.  By contrast, in the Mediterranean our stopovers took place weekly. According to Olivier, “the crew really is going to have plenty of time to work together, to get to know each other and above all to experience a shared adventure.” Clearly a positive point for these two sailors.

For both captains, the journey continues with renewed vigour as we embark on this second year. If all goes well, Olivier expects to ‘catch’ the south east trade winds in a few weeks.

Vincent Hilaire

Discovering Cape Town (South Africa)

Next Tuesday Tara will return to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront at Cape Town,our port of departure. Hence, the opportunity to say a little more about the legislative capital of South Africa.

Built on the shores of Table Bay,located at the foot of the eponymously named mountain,Cape Town was founded in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company.

In 2007 it was home to 3,500,000 souls, and 45% of the population were under 24 years old.The majority of this population is also of mixed race origin. English is spoken, of course, but the main language is Afrikaans. Christians make up 77% of the population.

Housing remains a major issue;South Africa’s largest slum, Khavelitsha, is located in Cape Town.It is not the only slum, known as ‘township’, to be found here. There are also the townships of Llanga and Mitchell’s Plain.

One last important point of reference before going back to the sea on Sunday, September 5th: this region enjoys a Mediterranean climate, and as it’s currently the middle of winter, temperatures are fluctuating between 9 and 20°C.The winters are generally quite mild but humid. There is significant sunshine here and the rain is violent but short-lived.

This undoubtedly explains the development of this unique flora, with its famous ‘finbos’, a member of a family of semi-desert plants.

Owing to its proximity to Antarctica, this region’s marine fauna includes a large number of cetaceans, and they’re not the only curiosity Tara’s crew is admiring these days. There is also the colony of penguins at Cape Town, they are the second cousins of the emperor penguins which we’ll be able to see when we get to Antarctica.


Vincent Hilaire

Visits from South African students

At each stopover, after departing from the Lorient, Tara’s crew has conscientiously maintained their commitment to organize visits onboard by local schools; thus responding to the expedition’s educational objective, one of the fundamental reasons for this project.

At Cape Town, the crew welcomed 120 adolescents from 2 city “townships”(disadvantaged neighborhoods). This visit was co-organized with Cape Town’s aquarium, which also hosted an exhibition on TARA Oceans for the students. They then came onboard to discover the schooner, its functioning, scientific equipment and everything else. All of the crew and scientists onboard relished that moment, and the mutual pleasure was evident in the smiling young public who were very attentive. The surprise was all the greater, for the life onboard the schooner seems so distant from theirs. In fact, it is not a question, during these visits, of going into detailed and often complex science, but to try to transmit the message of everyone’s commitment for a better world.

Three days after leaving Cape Town, and after having passed again the mythical Cape of Good Hope in exceptionally good sailing conditions, the re-fitting has just begun for Tara in the small port of Simon’s Town, a few kilometers from Cape Town. Here also, via the Consulate and local organizations, visits from nearby schools will soon be organized and meetings with the South African population will be opportunities for numerous exchanges and discoveries. Here is also an important part of the Tara Oceans expedition, the scope of scientific research extending to discover cultural and humane pluralities.

Amélie Bétus

The southern Indian Ocean currents influence the south Atlantic Ocean

The Indian southern equatorial warmer current affects the biodiversity and the thermo-haline circulation of the Atlantic Ocean.

At Tara’s present location, the Agulhas current flows at high speed along Africa’s east coast (up to 6 knots). Arriving at the Cape of Good Hope (formerly called the Cape of Storms), this current meets up with the colder and polar currents from the Atlantic.  This results in a retroflection phenomenon where the Agulhas current turns on itself and proceeds eastward in the Indian Ocean.

During this retroflection, the Agulhas current creates meanderings, which evolve into rapidly turning eddies. Periodically some eddies detach from the current and traverse the Atlantic Ocean towards the American continent.

Each year, the dynamics of the eddies, which succeed each other in the Mozambique Channel, partially control food supply and marine predator displacement. Due to temperature and salinity conditions, in addition to diverse species trapped in their midst, these eddy masses influence the circulation and marine biodiversity of the south Atlantic.

One of the Tara Oceans’ goals is to precisely evaluate the role of these oceanic masses in their enrichment of the flora and fauna of the south Atlantic.

By sampling nascent eddies in the South Indian Ocean, and then following their peregrination in the Atlantic Ocean, the scientists will be fathoming the details of genetic dissemination on large oceanic scales.

As the last-born ocean, the Atlantic continues to benefit from the contribution made by its “big brothers” the Indian and Pacific, where the continuing regulation of oceanic exchanges creates an evolving situation, which remains to be studied.

Gaby GORSKY and Valérian MORZADEC

A welcoming haven

Tara continues its descent of the Scattered Islands. After Juan de Nova it will be Bassas da India’s and then Europa’s turn to receive a visit from the scientific expedition.

Located in the southern Mozambique Channel, the only thing the last two Scattered Islands have in common is their proximity to one another, as their geographies are completely different.

Bassas da India is an island where only a few coral reefs emerge. There’s no vegetation or noteworthy seamark. The captain seizes the opportunity to sail alongside of the coast so as to compare the nautical chart with the GPS readings. To our surprise, a stone’s throw from the reef-flat, we appear to be located right on the island. Which one do you think is wrong? Which is telling the truth: the computer or the GPS?

It’s a strange experience for us to observe this coral atoll formation, inaccessible and lost in the middle of the ocean.

We are surprised by the variety of flora, and above all fauna, we encounter in Europa: a huge variety of birds, fish, goats, turtles and insects. Life is thriving in this sanctuary where impromptu visits are forbidden. To board this island, special permission must be grantedfrom the Prefect of the French Austral and Antarctic Territories (TAAF), based in Reunion. The island is classed as a nature reserve, and protected by a military detachment which completely prohibits access to unauthorized persons.

The endemic fauna is one of the treasures of the island. The Tara crew is lucky enough to witness the laying, as well as the hatching, of some turtles. Eighty-seven of them returned to the water this evening! It is part of the job of French police and military. Their presence on the island is worked in 45-day shifts. They are here to maintain French sovereignty and ensure the conservation of the island. Among their duties are the cutting and eradication of sisal, and the identification and protection of biodiversity. Described as “oceanic sanctuaries of a primitive nature”, the Scattered Islands are administered by TAAF, whose objective it is to minimize human impact.
The marine and lagoon samples carried out by Tara scientists will undoubtedly contribute to a better understanding of this remarkable ecosystem.

The welcome we receive from the soldiers of the 2nd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (RPIMa) is very warm, and thanks to a satellite connection the camp has a television …it is an opportunity for the international Tara crew to finally watch a World Cup matchand allow friendly rivalries to get the better of us just for one night. That evening Spain and Germany qualified for the semi-finals, to the delight of our football enthusiasts.

This stop-off, of several hours, on the island of Europa has been a welcome break for the Tara crew. The pleasure of a friendly reception, plus a visit to a beautiful island has provided us with good memories with which we now must confront the southern winter and the harsh seas of the South.



Islet ahoy

It would have taken2 days of navigating to discover Juan de Nova, a tiny island of less than 5 km2, abandoned in the Mozambique Channel.

Upon discovering Juan de Nova, you catch a glimpse of its forest. In fact, the ten or so meter high trees are visible from afar and jut out over the sea. Coming closer, we discover a white beach of fine sand encircling this extraordinary vegetation. She-oak, imported at the beginning of the century, constitutes the majority of the trees of this islet. We weren’t expecting to see these tropical conifers.

We approach with trepidation, since the masses of coral are legion on the outskirts of the anchor zone. A sailor is posted at the front to stand vigil, while the GPS allows precise positioning on the map.

With the anchor dropped, it’s time to greet the French policeman and the 2 scientists waiting for us on the beach.

Juan de Nova forms part of the Scattered Islands, and is under French rule. These islands are part of the Territory of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands(TAAF). That explains the presence of the 14 French soldiers, relieved every 2 months, along with a French policeman; armed forces destined to protect French sovereignty.

Like the other Scattered Islands, Juan de Nova is deployed as a meteorological station since the 1950’s. In 2007, a scientific collaboration was set up with regular presence of scientists from La Réunion.

Goal: to study the flora and fauna of the island, but above all to find a solution to combat the introduced mammals. The presence of black rats, mice and especially cats-are a menace to the fuliginous terns-which breed here.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Juan de Nova was exploited for itsphosphate, and thenabandoned during the 1930’s. It was mainly during this period that non-native animals were introduced.

It is surprising that this islet, which has been uninhabited for so long, is now, as of some years ago, being cared for, thanks to the goodwill of TAAF.

A Spartan existence and a rustic habitat; our Robinsons appear rather happy to be here for a couple of months, and they describe the islet like a little corner in paradise. Tara successfully carried out a plankton sampling, but unfortunately there was not enough time to visit.

We would have been happy to stay awhile.

Valérian Morzadec

Tara Discovering Mayotte

After making two complete tours around the island, Tara uncovered Mayotte’s cut-out coastline. With alternating sand beaches, mangroves and numerous islets, the diversity of the scenery enchanted the crew.

By multiplying the moorings in the lagoon, in keeping with the needs of the scientific teams, the boat fulfilled its goal: to accomplish a maximum of diving sites and allow the “coral mission” to achieve the study of coral reefs.  

Mayotte is a zone with a rich and exceptional biodiversity: enough to regale our scientists who, with 39 dives and more than 1000 samples, left enthralled from this coral mission. To protect this unique lagoon with its diverse fauna and flora, a marine park was created this year at Mayotte, the first overseas, and the second of France after the Marine Park Iroise situated at the tip of Brittany. Realized with the participation of local inhabitants, this protected natural site has a goal of preserving a remarkable ecosystem with a fragile equilibrium. Many years of discussion were necessary to arrive at a workable management and a legislation, which allows the continued exploitation of the maritime zone while preserving the natural resources.  

A short history

Frequented since the 6th century by Arabian seamen, the Comoros Archipelago (of which Mayotte is a part) was colonized and converted to Islam by successive sultanates.  

Inseparable from its three sisters, Mayotte benefits from a particular situation. Since its possession in 1841, France administers the isle.

The currency changeover to the Euro, school teaching, civil defense and health services make up a certain number of advantages and rights under French administration.  

This situation is not without its problems with respect to the rest of the Comoran archipelago. The living standard and low income of the other isles creates a disparity, which makes Mayotte an eldorado for the anjouans (inhabitants of the closest isle) and other grand Comorans located less than 70 kilometers away. Besides, numerous Mayotte families have relatives on the other isles. This “kinship” moderates the separation between Mayotte and the rest of the Comoros, which makes clandestine immigration one of the major problems.  The “kwassa”, these boats often built for a unique crossing, often transport 2 or 3 times their maximum allowable load.  Accidents and human dramas are frequent, and although France aids the other archipelago isles, the situation remains tenuous.

Meanwhile, a possible departmentalization, Mayotte is experiencing today a mixed situation, the Mayotte culture cohabiting with a “Gallicizing”.


Energy packed guests

In Mayotte, Tara was given the pleasure of welcoming the lucky winners of the EDF internal contest onboard.

Here’s the info on this special day:

The EDF Diversiterre foundation is a branch of the French energy group EDF, and one of the most important sponsors of the Tara Oceans expedition.

The foundation was created essentially to support a number of projects and solidarity based actions. Be it through the development of renewable energy, through sponsorship, or the active support of various associations, EDF is looking to change its image, to be more than a simple producer of electricity.

In order to do so, Diversiterre’s commitments extend over four different fields of action: Sports, through the promotion of disabled and adapted sport ; Culture, through the renovation of French patrimony; Social work, in its fight against medical exclusion and last but not least, the Environment, through sustainable development and the preservation of biodiversity.

It’s through the organisation of an internal contest that 6 members of EDF personnel were given the chance to win a trip to Mayotte and spend a day onboard Tara.

One word is enough to sum up our guests’ reactions throughout the day: “Impressed”. Impressed by the scientific equipment, by the ship itself, by its captain, the crew’s availability, and the organisation on board…
Eric, Frédéric, and Richard, followed by Emma, Laurence, and Didier shared the life of our crew members for a day.

Our guests were treated to a tour of the boat, an introduction to the scientific equipment onboard, discussions and explanation with scientists of the coral mission, and a meal with the team followed by a trip to the diving site alongside our divers: enough to get a real feel of life onboard Tara. 

Needless to say, their stay in Mayotte will have been a powerful and intense experience.

However, winning the contest didn’t come without a share of responsibility: our guests were given the mission to share the information collected on the various sites visited, through the company’s intranet. Eric, who is celebrating his birthday today, is in charge of relaying information about Tara, and he is ecstatic! “It’s exceptional to be on this boat, being a sailor myself; I can tell you this is an amazing birthday gift!” As a devoted reader of maritime literature, this, to him, was “a great escape, Tara evokes great human adventures ».

The others, including Emma, find the technical and research aspect most remarkable : « the equipment is impressive, especially at sea, it is as adapted as what can be found in the CNRS”, “it’s exceptional to be able to share this experience with the scientists, who’ve made it a point to be available”.

After a day spent in the shoes of Tara team members, our guests –proud and satisfied- left us. They wore smiles on their faces as they released this unanimous comment: “We had a great day!”
Interviewed on board by Valerian Morzadec.

Serious coral bleaching has occurred in Mayotte

Mzouazia Bay, 6.00am: the anchor is raised. Tara is going back to another shelter on the eastern, windward side of the island. It is for safety’s sake but also to avoid too many trips with the dinghy. We move from place to place wherever the scientists’ and divers’ work takes us. At the same time it is an opportunity to discover the lush, rugged coast of Mayotte.

On board the task of sampling is in full swing. Delicate, jagged, whitened coral is collected and classified along with seaweed of various shapes and colours. The important task of filing the photographs is also carried out each evening. Analysis of fish-stock data reveals the stability of a fragile ecosystem which teems throughout the lagoons. The mission currently underway aboard Tara is of great interest. It brings together different coral-reef related, scientific fields of expertise. This expands our knowledge of the region’s biodiversity and at the same time allows us to measure the effects of global warming on the water at surface level, focussing specifically on the bleaching and deterioration of coral. This process of deterioration can ultimately devastate coral and cause it to disappear.

The first studies conducted around the island in recent days provide an insight into the health of the reef. It appears, unfortunately, that the reef has experienced serious coral bleaching this year. This phenomenon is undoubtedly due to the presence of warm water at surface level. We have also noted a high rate of coral mortality in the northern part of the lagoon. The same observation can be made of the Iris shoal, a seabed only 15 meters deep yet situated far out at sea, 10 miles north of Mayotte. This shoal is too remote to be affected by the evolution of the lagoon’s waters.

In terms of coral biodiversity this lagoon is one of the richest in the world, which makes the findings all the more alarming. This mission also provides us with the opportunity to meet local scientists who study the reef on a daily basis, and to compare their data with that which we have obtained on board. Alban Damont is one of those dedicated specialists working here on location. He also guides the cameramen in their search for the island’s most archetypal spots. This endangered environment needs to be protected without further delay. Human activity has destabilised this natural environment and a balance must be restored. This is the goal the marine park has set itself, as was explained to us on our arrival.

In three weeks time we will have collected a lot of precious data regarding the future of this precious environment.

Hervé Bourmaud

Tara is back in the Atlantic Ocean

Tara is back in the Atlantic Ocean after spending two months on the Mediterranean sea. We received a most warm welcome in Monaco, Hyères, Embiez and in Marseille.

Around 3000 school children and 2 800 persons were able to visit Tara and the travelling exhibition. Each one was able to realize what were the living conditions and work accomplished during the Tara’s expedition in the Arctic.

From Marseille, we then joined Barcelona within the Blue Armada, a great initiative that aims to gather French boats that carry a message to save the ocean and biodiversity.

We thus found our friends of WWF-Columbus, la Fleur de Lampaul of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation for Nature and Mankind and le Garlaban of the Paul Ricard Oceanographic Institute.

In Barcelona, we participated in the World Conservation Congress along a great number of European boats of all sizes. Each one was able to present their different missions and the serious findings on the impact of human activity on ocean biodiversity but also on nature in general. This congress gathered more than 800 personalities of the first rank representing the public sector, governments, companies and NGOs. During 10 days, they debated on the best answers to bring to challenges regarding environment and development. Many participants came to visit Tara.

Since then, we have sped toward Gibraltar, carried by a strong North East wind, we are now rocked by the Atlantic swell and will reach Lorient, our home port by Friday evening or Saturday for a short technical call.

The captain, Simon Rigal


On Thursday morning, on the pontoon of the Sub Marine base of Lorient, one can distinguish the slender shaped trimarans in the mist. At the end of this floating pontoon at the opposite of these fine racers, the imposing massive Tara who has found her place once more since the 23rd of April, stands out.

Her putting back in the water that was several times delayed is a long story. First supplies of several parts that enable the watertightness of the propeller’s shaft of utmost importance arrived late.

Putting the boat back in the water is always a crucial moment that validates the repair work done under the water line. The welding accomplished in the yard are certified for the navigation norm but sometimes in places that are difficult to reach for the welders, a few welding are not completely waterproof and this is what happened at the level of the sounding tube during the water launch.

Protocol for launch manoeuvring is generally the same for all types of ships. Strapping the boat as well as lifting it is accomplished by special crane drivers in the careenage. They know the boat’s structure and the best lifting points. The ship is then moved with the help of a lifting wheel towards the harbour basin, like a bird or another surrealist creature flying above the tarmac. The descent toward the water is slow and measured. Then comes the moment when the crew climbs on board by stern. At that moment everyone has a determined place. While the onboard chief mechanic triggers the generator that enables to use the windlass in front as well as the main engines.

Part of the crew inspects all the bottom of the ship as well as the hulls gates. The others prepare the different hawsers to moor the ship. It is at this moment that we discovered the leak on the hull of the welder. The ship is immediately hoisted above the water to allow for swift reparations but upon her return in the water the leak is still there. We manage to spread this little water channel in the air chamber, but decide to put back Tara on the quay to accomplish a lasting repair. It is 10 pm; Tara is tied with straps above the water waiting to find her place once again on the quay the next day.

After a day of reparation, Guy Sallant, responsible of careening for water launch decides it will be on the 23rd of April in the morning. There is a short moment of stress when the ship touches the water but nothing, not a single drop, neither in the bottom, nor at the level of the welders. After the launch of the propulsion and generator engines, we are testing the proper operations of the propellers shafts and their watertighteness. This time all is well. Tara can sail with the two rubber dinghies of the BSM, the pilots that help us manoeuvre in the harbours.
At 11 pm, the boat is anchored and the crew very happy to be on the water again.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s captain