Tara’s story…

© Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Océan

Here we are in Tara‘s archives. Every month, discover an old or new anecdote about the schooner and its journeys, told by those who’ve been bringing the project to life since 2003.

When the ice pack breaks 

16 Latreille Francis© Francis Latreille / Tara Ocean Foundation

Grant Redvers, leader of the Tara Arctic expedition (2006-2008), recounts one of the key chapters of Tara’s drift in the Arctic Ocean.

“As we assumed, the ice pack on which we had settled was far from ideal. Only five days after the departure of the support team, the worst-case scenario happened. It’s rare, but still possible. 

During lunch, while we were enjoying an invigorating lentil stew with ham, cooked by Hervé, we felt Tara moving forwards and backwards. Outside, a violent storm had raged for three days and was finally subsiding. We thought that the worst was behind us. However, a slight tension in the mooring lines made me leave the table to make sure there was nothing to worry about. Apart from the schooner’s slow movement and the regular stiffening and loosening of the ropes that secured us on the ice pack, everything seemed in order.

Shortly after, while we were having coffee and tea, Hervé went up on deck to smoke his usual cigarette. He rushed back down a few minutes later, calling out, “The ice pack has broken!”.

In late summer, when polar cold sets in, the ocean’s surface freezes, but the resulting sea ice remains fragile and sensitive to movements of the sea and wind. It can therefore open up and disintegrate in an instant. That’s what had happened. A strong swell formed and the ice pack broke up like a mirror. All the scientific equipment that was on the ice was now spread by the winds over an area of about 100 km². The crew members, aware that the entire mission was jeopardized, risked their lives, but persevered to look for the equipment. Luckily, they managed to get back everything and especially the fuel on which the crew’s life depended in these polar temperatures.

Tara’s challenge to sail up the Seine

Anne Beyou / Fondation Tara Océan© Anna Beyou / Tara Ocean Foundation

On February 21, 2020, Tara left her home port in Lorient (Brittany), and weathered a storm to sail to Le Havre (Normandy). There, her two 27-meter-high masts were lowered. It took the crew 2 days to dismast the schooner, then a few more hours to secure the two masts on the deck so that Tara could pass under the Seine’s bridges. The schooner went up the river and passed its six locks to reach Paris. However, on February 24, as Tara left the last lock in Suresnes, her captain still didn’t know if he would be able to moor as planned at the Port of Paris, near the Pont Alexandre III. At the end of the day, the flood waters finally receded, letting the schooner enter Paris. There was only a 20-cm margin to pass under the Pont des Invalides!

The long night

Vie à bord - Tara ArcticLife on board © Francis Latreille / Tara Ocean Foundation

In January, nights are long, and the ice cap is silent. When Tara’s crew members aren’t collecting data on the Arctic pack ice to assess ongoing climate change, they devote their time to personal interests and activities. Testimony of Grant Redvers, head of the Tara Arctic mission and only member to have stayed aboard the schooner continuously during the 506 consecutive days of drift.
January 2007.

“To encourage social evenings, I suggested organizing regular conferences. Denys described his experience as a physician of zero gravity flights organized by the European Space Agency; Nico took us to Kerguelen Island on a French patrol vessel; and I invited the crew to French Polynesia’s more hospitable climate. All this took our minds away from ice and gave us a pretext to eat lots of sweets”.

Logbook of the Arctic drift, Grant Redvers

Tara sailing downwind to Antarctica 

IMG_4178A peek at Christmas aboard Tara, 2011 © François Aurat / Tara Ocean Foundation

December 29th. Tara leaves Afasyn Marina in Ushuaia at 5pm. The dock echoes with goodbyes. It was in this same marina that Sir Peter Blake passed by a few years ago at the helm of Seamaster, as did Jean-Louis Etienne with Antarctica – the schooner’s previous names. A souvenir photo is hung on one of the walls of the clubhouse. Fourteen people are on board. All the scientists involved on this leg have arrived. Marc Picheral, oceanographic engineer (UPMC-CNRS) at the Oceanological Observatory of Villefranche-sur-Mer), is leading the mission. After anchoring in the Chilean port of Puerto Williams, teams are rotated and diesel is refueled, Tara headed for Drake’s passage. The weather forecast is good, with a north-westerly wind of 30 to 40 knots. Enough to head out under sail, downwind. Amélie, the cook, polishes her New Year’s Eve menu. For one evening, Tara has once again transformed herself into this warm and cozy refuge from which she has the secret and from which she takes her name. In “Gone with the Wind”, Tara is not a boat but the name of a house, the house where the heroine Scarlett O’Hara always returns, irresistibly.

Excerpt from the book Tara Oceans, Chroniques d’une Expédition Scientifique, Eric Karsenti & Dino Di Meo, Editions Actes Sud / Tara Ocean Foundation

Tara Oceans, a first transatlantic for certain scientists

1 - Chris Bowler_Charlene Gicquel_Eric Karsenti © Celine Bellanger_Tara Expeditions FoundationChris Bowler, Charlène Gicquel, Eric Karsenti a few years later © Celine Bellanger /  Tara Océan Foundation

As Tara was on her way back from the Tara Oceans (2009-2013) mission to establish what would be the largest catalogue of planktonic species ever made, Chris Bowler, molecular biologist, and major coordinator in this scientific avenue said…. “This is my first transatlantic crossing,” says Chris Bowler. It takes me back into a part of my past. It reminds me of my grandfather, who during the Second World War transported cargo ships across the Atlantic under Nazi submarine fire. He died before I was born. When I was a kid, my father gave me his medals. So I think of him in the Atlantic.” The British researcher still cannot believe that such an expedition could have been launched without full funding: “I am glad that Eric Karsenti had the courage to start. At the time, I thought that we had to find funding first. But he said, “Let’s go.” Then he met Etienne Bourgeois and his team who have the same adventurous spirit as he does. “I’ve learned a lot, and sometimes you have to leave without being totally ready. They both took huge risks.”

Excerpt from the book Tara Oceans, Chroniques d’une Expédition Scientifique, Eric Karsenti & Dino Di Meo, Editions Actes Sud / Tara Ocean Foundation

September 5th, 2019. Tara Oceans’ departure

8-Départ Tara Oceans Lorient_©F.Latreille-Tara Expeditions_Expédition Tara Oceans© Francis Latreille / Tara Ocean Foundation  

After a financial, technical, conceptual and methodological marathon of preparations, Tara is finally moored in front of the Cité de la Voile Eric Tabarly in Lorient, ready to leave. On September 5, 2019 at noon, the schooner left the dock in front of thousands of people, all sails raised, complete with ultra-sophisticated and miniaturized instruments in its bowels, almost based on a science fiction novel. There are now new devices to explore the diversity of ocean shapes, instruments for sampling and classifying underwater measurements… After a 6-month hibernation, Tara abandoned her polar habitat to become a boat capable of braving the oceans of the world, with state-of-the-art oceanographic equipment on board.

Dino Di Meo

Rediscover the scientific and human adventure of the Tara Oceans expedition.

Secrets of the Mediterranean: the valley of lace-like stones

Laurent Ballesta / Andromède Océanologie© Laurent Ballesta / Andromède Océanologie

“It takes a few minutes to see in the darkness. The light is weak here, but it’s very peculiar: it absorbs all the colors. The ambiance is monochrome – blue, deep blue. We turn on our lights and every time, a miracle happens – the landscape becomes multicolored: orange sea fans, pink and chameleon red-yellow gorgonians. The colors vary and so do the forms: sponges are spherical, tubular, shrubby or encrusting. Corals are soft and the algae look like stone. In short, the world turns topsy-turvy. Far from our eyes and preoccupations, all these organisms coexist in silence, on these forgotten rocks riddled with cavities, holes and small caverns.
These crevices shelter a thousand and one teeming creatures – crayfish, black squat lobster, golden coral shrimp and a few rare lobsters. Around this oasis, thousands of pink fish, the barbers, swirl like a swarm of flying insects. Not all these animals are rare, but it’s rare to be able to see them. I could stay here for days without getting bored, but we are at 112 meters depth where every minute counts, so we must continue our underwater trek. We’ll cover a total of 1.5 kilometers. That’s far, but our underwater scooters take us quickly to the designated rock-sites so that we can spend some time at each. These deep, rich and colorful rocks form the Coralligenous – an ecosystem difficult to define because it’s so variable”.

Laurent Ballesta.

Known for his explorations at dizzying depths, Laurent Ballesta worked in close collaboration with Tara’s crew during the Tara Mediterranean mission in 2014. He joined us to study the red Coralligenous in Port-Cros National Park.

Tara Arctic: a unique human experience

Arctic-Francis-Latreille-3Tara in the ice during Tara Arctic expeditions © Francis Latreille / Tara Ocean Foundation

If there hadn’t been some people crazy enough to go, we would never have succeeded. Today, we have technicians specialized in extreme conditions, but in 2006, they were still adventurers,” Etienne Bourgois says about Tara’s polar drift. Being locked for 507 days in the Arctic pack ice is the feat accomplished by Tara and her team. And it wasn’t done without risk. Etienne Bourgois explains:

Among the many required authorizations, the Russian administration demanded that I sign a document stating that I was responsible for the life and death of the entire crew. And I signed!” A huge responsibility knowing that, even when we anticipate as many problems as we can, we can’t reduce the risk to zero.

A very special meeting in Djibouti

After a brief stopover, Tara departed for a scientific mission among the coral reefs, but the schooner was closely followed by Abdou in his dhow. Abdou is a 64-year- old fisherman who knows the waters of Djibouti like the palm of his hand. Life was never easy for Abdou: in the 1990s, fleeing rebels who were plundering the surrounding villages, he embarked with 22 comrades in a small fishing boat. The result was an inevitable shipwreck: 15 missing at sea, only 7 survivors. Abdou swam for 8 hours to save his life and finally reached the coast, totally exhausted.

Aboard the research schooner Abdou proudly wore his Tara T-shirt, like everyone else on the crew. Once in Obock, he brought a goat on deck for the crew to keep in case he ran out of provisions. Captain Olivier kindly explained that it’s impossible to keep live animals on board, though he understood this was Abdou’s way to express his gratitude and joy at being a true Taranaut.

PHOTO-2019-01-24-10-58-00© Julien Girardot / Tara Ocean Foundation

Back to the future

On September 10, 2013, the crew of Tara Oceans went back in time :  ”Today is also yesterday, and yesterday we said that tomorrow would be today!” So wrote Vincent Hilaire, journalist aboard, the moment the schooner crossed the date line.

This imaginary but indispensable line allows us all to live with the same unit for measuring time. When we pass this line during the day, we return to the day before.

Even if this going back in time is immaterial, it is clearly visible on board! Just take a look at the GPS:  the moment the number reaches 180° E, it suddenly starts to count down in the other direction — 179°59 W, 179°58′ W, etc.

Tara au milieu des glaces en Arctique

Tara surrounded by ice © Anna Deniaud Garcia / Tara Ocean Foundation 

En route from the Antarctica to Tara

“We were three children (aged 3, 5 and 9) aboard the Sarimarès, the sailboat on which I grew up. We traveled around the world for 12 years, between 1982 and 1994. At the Cape of Good Hope in March 1992, we met the Antarctica (now Tara) for the first time. A souvenir, this photograph: the crew had rigged up a swing using a rope suspended from a mast spreader and they invited the kids in the port to take a ride.

The following month, in April 1992 on the way to St. Helena, the Sarimarès again crossed paths with the Antarctica. The reunion was so happy that our whole family was invited to dinner aboard the schooner. On the menu: lobsters from Tristan Da Cunha, Cape apples and fresh fruit, a real luxury when you’re at sea! The wine cellar was also well supplied.

We had the privilege of previewing images from Jean-Louis Etienne’s expedition to Antarctica: whales, penguins and menacing sea lions. Among others the crew consisted of Eric, a mountaineer, of Juliette and of John, a South African crew member who embarked at Cape Town (on the right, in turquoise shorts).

PHOTO-2019-01-24-10-58-00© Christine et Gilbert van de Wiele

We 3 seafaring children befriended the crew. They offered us a precious souvenir — some fossils — before we headed back to our respective destinations: the Canary Islands for the Antarctica, and Natal in Brazil for the Sarimarès.

In 1992, chance allowed me to benefit from the teachings of the sea and meet a committed crew, already concerned about the future of the oceans. Today I wish that everyone, young and old, can cross the path of Tara (or maybe other Taras) to kindle a passion and encourage participation in a major mission: the Ocean and its preservation.”

Eric Van De Wiele

 PHOTO-2019-01-24-10-57-59 © Christine et Gilbert van de Wiele

Encountering Polar Bears

Tara Arctic (2006-2008) was not just a human adventure. Two dogs, the huskies Tiksi and Zagrey were real protagonists of this expedition. They had the serious responsibility of warning the Tara crew about the presence of polar bears, lords of the pack ice.

Although the task is simple in daylight, the huskies had a much harder time sensing the bears’ presence in the polar night. This resulted in some frightening situations, when people went outside to the toilet on the ice, 100 meters from Tara.

One time, when a mother bear and her cub decided to play with the radiometer, old Zagrey rushed towards them barking loudly, hoping to frighten them away. In vain. With an incredibly fast stroke of her paw, the bear knocked the dog over.  More fear than harm: Zagrey recovered with a simple scratch on his paw, and a few stitches later, was gamboling again!

Tiksi ©Herve BourmaudTiksi looking over  Tara © Herve Bourmaud / Tara Ocean Foundation

A story of names…

Conceived by the French explorer Jean-Louis Etienne, the schooner came to life under the name of Antarctica in 1989, in reference to her primary purpose: an expedition to the South Pole, one of the most inaccessible places on the planet.

When it was purchased by the New Zealander Sir Peter Blake, it was renamed Seamaster and began serving the environmental cause, with one main goal: “Protect life in the water, on the water and around the water”. Tragically, on December 5, 2001, during an expedition in Brazil, Blake was assassinated aboard by pirates. Seamaster was left without a flag and remained idle in the port of Newport (United States) until October 2003, when Etienne Bourgois was seduced by this schooner steeped in history.

agnès b. and Etienne Bourgois decided to buy Seamaster to perpetuate Blake’s project: to talk about the Ocean, the environment, and raise awareness about climate change, which very few people were discussing in 2003. They renamed the schooner Tara, after Scarlett O’Hara’s house in the film Gone With the Wind, a friendly, family place to which we always come back.

Faaite atoll _ Credits Yann Chavance - Tara Expeditions FoundationFaaite atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago in French Polynesia   © Yann Chavance /  Tara Ocean Foundation