[After finishing her thesis on data from the Tara Oceans expedition in Chris Bowler’s lab at ENS d’Ulm, Flora Vincent embarked on Tara for the first time at Wallis to sample plankton during the Tara Pacific expedition. She will debark at Fukuoka, Japan. This is Flora’s logbook 1/3]
I stagger towards the main dining room and like every morning, glance at the notice board for household chores. Today, I am on duty for lunch with my usual group composed of Nico de la Brosse, the first mate and Pete West, the underwater cameraman. Each scientist is in a group of 3 with a different sailor who gets us started and guides us through life on board, especially for first timers on Tara, like me. I pick up 2 pieces of toast, my coffee and, like every morning, join Dominique the cook on deck. We enjoy our breakfast with a sea view, admiring the sunrise.
No time for daydreaming, I have to set up the wet laboratory at the back of the boat and prepare the equipment to process the daily collected samples.
Scientist Flora Vincent in the wet lab changing plankton filters © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Like every morning, every corner of the boat reminds me that Tara is optimized to be a lab on the ocean. From the forward to the rear hold, from the hull under the boat to the top of the mast, science is everywhere, all the time, hidden in the bowels of the schooner.
Pumping air, pumping water, measuring iron or CO2 in water, Tara is continuously collecting a series of oceanographic and atmospheric measurements that will be used to understand the link between climate change and the state of health of coral reefs.
The relationship to time and space is unique on Tara. At the slightest power cut, Guillaume, the deck engineer, rushes to check that the measuring instruments are still running because the backup batteries give him 3 minutes to react. A badly closed freezer can ruin weeks of work at sea, impossible to redo because it’s there that all the samples are stored before being sent on. Forgetting to store tubes before going for a coffee break means running the risk of seeing them scattered everywhere because the boat is constantly pitching. Putting down a cup of coffee to pick them up runs the other risk of seeing the cup break into a thousand pieces on the deck.
Tara scientists Flora Vincent and Guillaume Bourdin sample iron in the water © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation
As every morning, the cohabitation between science and navigation in such a confined space obliges us to anticipate everything. And there is always something unexpected to do at the last moment and it’s already too late! We accomplish things as soon as we have time (put things away, repair, prepare, but also sleep, do a laundry or reply to emails!), especially the sailors who are constantly solicited day and night to manoeuver the boat, but also to help us with sampling. Today we are raising the mainsails. It promises to be a beautiful day for collecting samples, like every morning.