For the last couple of days, the program of this Antibes-Cala Gonone leg is a matter of adaptability. Our route is being set on a daily basis and sometimes even changes by the hour because of complicated weather conditions.
On Saturday, June 28, two days after departing from Antibes, the sampling plan foreseen by Gaby Gorsky, scientific director of the expedition, had so far been followed without a hitch. We had spent the night as planned at anchor off the island of Elba, when the latest weather data made us change our plans: a strong west wind had risen around Corsica, where we had planned to take numerous samples along the west coast. Instead, on Sunday we turned back to the east coast (towards Bastia) to spend the night at anchor. The precaution was not in vain for even though protected from the wind by the Corsican mountains, Tara was tossed all night by winds up to 45 knots under a lightning-lit sky.
The next morning, while preparing to raise anchor, a last BMS (Special Meteorological Bulletin) again changed our plans. A strong gale was forecast that would churn up the surface and prevent our sampling in the area. A decision was taken quickly to stay put for one more day, and take advantage of these few hours on board without sampling.“This will let us recuperate from the fatigue of the last few days, and have a little more time to take care of the boat,” explains Samuel Audrain, the captain. It’s also an opportunity for the sailors to go ashore to buy small parts for repairing the desalinator, the fridge and the boat’s electrical system.
This day at anchor was also a godsend from a scientific point of view. “We took stock of the last few days and carried out some maintenance on the equipment,” detailed Stéphanie Petit, the scientist in charge of the leg. “For my part, I updated all of the sampling data and solved a problem with the liquid nitrogen. The time certainly wasn’t wasted”. This forced pause was also an opportunity to email Gaby Gorsky, scientific director of the expedition, to confer on the rest of the program. After considering a possible return towards Elba Island, it was decided to sample further off-shore. But that evening, having raised anchor and sailed away from the coast, the first sampling yielded almost nothing: limited plankton and virtually no plastic.
With the waves, and the sea swept by wind for 24 hours, the surface seemed deserted. ”Even when we don’t collect anything, it’s interesting,” says Stephanie. “This allows us to better understand the factors influencing plastic distribution.” We had to wait several hours and go a few miles further out to sea, towing the net late into the night, to get samples loaded with plastic particles. But this Tuesday, weather reports again announced disturbances coming our way. It’s still difficult to know where we will be sampling in the days to come. Right now only one thing is certain: we’ll be at Cala Gonone, Sardinia on Saturday, without knowing what route we’ll take to get there.