The opportunity is great if you want to get a close look at one of the vessels with one of the most fascinating histories. We are talking about the oceanographic schooner Tara, a 36-meter sailboat that will call at Cala Gonone, Sardinia, from tomorrow until July 9.. That’s right, the former Seamaster aboard which Sir Peter Blake found death at the hands of pirates in December 2001 while filming a documentary series on global warming in the Amazon. She’s been through a lot, Tara. She conquered the North Pole, got trapped in the ice.: his story we tell you below.
YOU WILL BE ABLE TO BOARD A MYTHICAL BOAT
Tara is on its 10th Mediterranean mission (started in May, will continue through November): in this case the research is focused on plastic pollution, but it is also an opportunity to raise awareness with respect to the many environmental challenges we will face relative to the Nostrum Sea. During the stop in Cala Gonone, Tara’s calendar of events includes press meetings, exhibitions, lectures and even guided tours aboard the schooner. On July 9, the boat will cast off its moorings in the direction of Vlore, Albania. To learn more and be updated on the expedition, this is Tara’s website .
THE STORY OF TARA
Only two boats in history have succeeded in crossing the North Pole: Fram in 1896 and Tara in 2008. Imprisoned in the pack’s destructive grip, they were dragged by the ice pack, dry-sailed from northern Siberia to off Greenland. The Arctic drift of these two hulls is only the emerged part of the iceberg of their lives that beneath the sea level hides decades of exploration at the antipodes, of men thirsting for conquest and knowledge. Fram, designed by Finland’s Fridtjof Nansen for crossing the North Pole, later accompanied Otto Sverdrup and Roald Amundsen on their discovery of the Canadian Arctic Islands and their conquest of the South Pole, respectively. A century later three more men, Jean-Louis Etienne, Sir Peter Blake and Etienne Bourgois, make up the ice sheets of the ice floe in our article on Tara.
THE DREAM OF JEAN-LOUIS ETIENNE
Antarctica, that’s Tara’s first name, was born 23 years ago out of the dream of Jean-Louis Etienne, an ice-island-loving physician with ten years of polar expeditions under his belt, including a crossing of the North Pole on foot. Etienne has two idols, Henry Shackleton in the South and Fridtjof Nansen in the North, coincidentally both accompanied in their exploits by a mythical boat. Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the Fram’s Arctic drift, expected shortly thereafter, Etienne also decided to create a unique sailing ship capable of repeating that never-equaled feat. The project, crazy to some, is to build a sailboat that can house 14 people for three years, self-sufficiently, sheltered from compression ridges (huge slabs of pack colliding) and temperatures below -40 degrees Celsius. The only way to do this is to take up the century-old insight of Nansen and designer Colin Archer, who fitted Fram with a hull that would escape the brutal pack pressure by sliding over the ice shelf. “Boxing art of dodging,” Olivier Petit designer involved in the conception of Etienne’s boat together with his colleague Luc Bouvet and engineer Michel Franco would call it. Through lengthy development work, the “big whale,” nicknamed so because of the belly shape the upturned hull takes during construction, touched the water on May 10, 1989. The South Pole is Antarctica’s first destination, hence the name, where it is used for 7 months as a logistical base for an international transantarctic expedition on dog sleds.
When the mission is over, the “iron mammal” remains for another 6 years engaged in various scientifically and educationally oriented activities at the southern end of the planet well away from the desired Arctic drift. When it now appears difficult to find a financier willing to invest in a boat that would be isolated for three long years at the edge of the world, in 1995 funds seemed to arrive. Etienne completes a trial winterization at Spitzberg (a Norwegian island washed by the Arctic Ocean) to check consumption and test equipment before the transpolar drift planned for the following year. “One must follow the path of one’s dreams even when the road is impassable,” Jean-Louis used to say, but one step away from the dreamed venture, the sponsor backed out, and the French doctor was forced to surrender his beloved creature by giving up the project.
SIR PETER BLAKE’S LAST CHALLENGE
Selling a boat that was born for Arctic drifting is like selling a spacecraft; there are not many potential buyers. “The right “astronaut” shows up after a year and a half, he is the red-socked New Zealand Sir Peter Blake who has won everything at sea, from the Sydney-Hobart classic offshore, to the tough Whitbread around the world, to the nonstop circumnavigation record to the historic double victorious America’s Cup campaign of 1995 and 2000. With Antarctica, which he renames Seamaster, he wants to meet the greatest challenge: “protecting life around, under and on the water.” Tired of seeing the planet getting sick, he wants to observe global ecosystems at their most fragile points (the poles, great rivers, forests, etc.). Seamaster proves to be the best medium for exploring the innermost corners of the planet. The incredible thermal insulation, combined with the movable centreboard and retractable rudders, makes the boat as suitable for torrid climates, shallow river navigation as it is for polar navigation.
In 2000 Blake began his five-year exploration program (within which Etienne’s thought drift is included) with the support of the United Nations. It spends four weeks in the Arctic Seas continuing along the Brazilian coast to the mouth of the Amazon River, which it ascends for 1245 miles. On December 5, 2001, Seamaster, anchored off Macapa, was attacked by pirates. Sir Peter Blake is fatally wounded. In his logbook, a legend explains the meaning of his environmental explorations: “On the occasion of a big fire, all the forest animals tried to escape. Only a small hummingbird kept collecting in its beak a few drops of water from the river to fly and throw them on the fire. Some animals asked the hummingbird why it was trying so hard for such a small gesture, which would not be enough to put out the fire anyway. If only everyone would make such a small gesture replied the hummingbird.” Lady Blake puts Seamaster up for sale on the condition that the buyer continues her husband Peter’s path.
ÉTIENNE BOURGOIS, FINALLY ADRIFT
Frenchman Étienne Bourgois, general manager of fashion house agnès b., accepts Lady Blake’s terms and buys Seamaster, renaming it Tara; he is not an explorer like Jean-Louis Etienne or a professional navigator like Sir Peter Blake, but he is driven by a strong and sincere passion for the sea and sailing and, most importantly, he has the necessary funds to fulfill the boat’s destiny. The French entrepreneur is well aware that Tara has not yet made the great journey for which it was designed “everyone was talking to me about this drift and one day I would make it. But when?” The answer is given to him by oceanographer Jean-Claude Gascard, who, after missing the drift by a whisker at the time of Antarctica, proposes to develop a research project on Tara by taking advantage of funds allocated by the world scientific community for the 2007-2009 International Polar Year. Times are tight, but the opportunity is unmissable. Gascard and Bourgois suddenly find themselves at the head of the Damocles project (global warming is the sword of Damocles hanging over the earth’s future), a total of 45 trials conducted by 10 European countries in collaboration with the U.S. and Russia. The two, one the director of the expedition as well as a funder with as much as 6.5 million euros, the other the scientific manager, will follow the venture by coordinating it from the ground.
The challenge is set but the crew is struggling to form, the adventure for most is too long and risky. Many surprise roles are filled by the men of the former Antarctica team who remained loyal to the boat. Three crews are planned for a relay race at 6-month intervals of which the first round is strictly without women. Only 33-year-old expedition leader Grant Redvers, Peter Blake’s compatriot who arrived to continue his idol’s path, will never leave the boat. On Sept. 3, 2006, Tara reached the ice shelf behind the Kapitan-Dranitsyn icebreaker and was firmly moored to a 2 km by 3 km slab, ranging from 0.8 meters to 2 meters thick, on which much of the scientific and logistical equipment was installed. Everything seems to be going well when after only four days the expedition is in danger of falling apart. The ice plate on which the “whale” is stuck breaks apart. The team is forced to literally jump from block to block to retrieve all equipment and material stocks. In ten days of relentless search everything is found and loaded aboard, including a two-ton tractor. Suddenly, the grip of the pack as it had opened closes again and Tara, this time for good, becomes a “prison without bars” for 507 days, 230 of which are of permanent night and as many of which are of unremitting light. The three crews (20 people in total) divide their time between scientific surveys and routine “survival.” Shortly after the first crew change, in May 2007, Tara passed just 160 km from the North Pole and officially became the northernmost sailboat in history, even more so than the legendary Fram. On Jan. 21, 2008, Jean-Louis Etienne’s dream came true; a full 200 days ahead of predictions derived from 20-year data of ice floe movements, Tara was freed from the 8-meter-thick layer of ice obstructing the rudder blocks and keel and headed into open water after 2807 miles adrift. The trip of only 16 months versus the projected 3 years is a sign of climate change that strikes science manager Gascard: “the phenomenon being triggered is colossal. The planet will cope; it has faced others. But the human species….”