Scientists at sea

Tara Expeditions

Scientists at sea

Tara Expeditions

Purpose

Scientists at sea

Four scientists reflect on their first impressions of superyacht life, having been invited on board for research expeditions.

By Julia Zaltzman | 2 September 2020

As Ernest Hemingway put it in his 1951 novel The Old Man and the Sea: “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.” Mark Robba, owner of sailing yacht Dunia Baru, took this literally when he invited marine conservationist Erika Gress to step aboard his superyacht and experience the luxuries of life at sea while studying black corals in the Raja Ampat region.

“Thanks to Boat International’s Yachts for Science programme, which matches marine scientists with private vessels, Mark Robba got to know about my project,” says Erika. “As the owner of Dunia Baru in Indonesia, he contacted me and invited me on board.”

Scientists at sea

Erika Gress working with Mark Robba on board Dunia Baru. Photo: Tommaso Riva & Boat International

Scientists at sea

Erika Gress working with Mark Robba on board Dunia Baru. Photo: Tommaso Riva & Boat International

For Erika, the level of comfort and facilities provided on the custom-built Phinisi-style yacht was a world apart from her previous experiences on research vessels. “We were all treated as guests; we all had our own comfortable space and even though our days were packed we always stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the stunning sunsets of the region,” she says.

Though Erika and her fellow scientists were not paying charter guests, they were given a level of service “that is only expected from luxurious voyages”, she enthuses. “Dunia Baru is a unique yacht. Every detail is well thought out. The wooden framework makes it both authentic and stylish, and I was fascinated by the style and beauty of the boat. I was amazed by how much comfort one can enjoy regardless of being in an extremely remote part of the world.”

Scientists at sea

Dunia Baru. Photo: Tommaso Riva & Boat International

Scientists at sea

Dunia Baru. Photo: Tommaso Riva & Boat International

Removing scientists from their land-locked laboratories and putting them on the frontline of ocean research is something Norwegian businessman Kjell Inge Røkke, owner of REV Ocean, is intent on doing. Following 10 years as an Oxford academic specialising in deep ocean ecology, Professor Alex Rogers has traded test tubes for life aboard the world’s largest superyacht in his new role as science director.

“We’re still building REV, so my first experience of her was at the shipyard in Brattvag, Norway,” he says. “The first thing that really hits you when walking alongside the vessel is just the sheer scale of it, it’s absolutely enormous.”

Scientists at sea

Professor Alex Rogers

Scientists at sea

Professor Alex Rogers

At 183m in length, REV is more than double the length of most oceangoing research vessels. It carries state-of-the-art equipment, from a submersible to multi-beam mapping systems, but for Alex the level of attention being paid towards the scientists’ fitness, health and wellbeing is new territory.

“We’re having discussions at present about whether scientists will have access to the more luxurious facilities on board, such as the spa and jacuzzi,” he says. “We want to open areas like the viewing decks for everyone to enjoy – but to do that means a trade-off between the number of scientists you can carry and the number of crew you need to cater for that.”

Scientists at sea

REV under construction

Scientists at sea

REV under construction

When geologist Heather Stewart stepped aboard Pressure Drop as part of EYOS’ Five Deep Expedition in 2019, she knew that she would be travelling to some of the most remote places on Earth. What she was not prepared for was that she would have the rare chance to dive with the yacht’s Triton 36000/2 Hadal submersible.

“Diving in the Arctic ocean was one of the best experiences of my life! We went to depths of 2,500m, which makes me the deepest diving female British person,” she enthuses. “For somebody who has worked for 20 years in the marine environment, it was fantastic to see it for myself.”

Scientists at sea

Geologist Heather Stewart on board Pressure Drop

Scientists at sea

Geologist Heather Stewart on board Pressure Drop

The experience has opened Heather’s eyes to the shared prospects between scientists and philanthropic owners. “When people of means bring scientists on board yachts, you get a much larger variety of people than a typical research trip. And developing a new relationship with someone like superyacht owner Victor Vescovo, where we can talk about our commonalities, really interests me.”

The spontaneity of life aboard a yacht like Pressure Drop was also a new experience. “The crew, the owner and the entire atmosphere were a lot more relaxed than I had envisaged. I spent so long with these guys, eating with them, socializing with them, being out on deck and talking about the submarines and the maintenance that they do. It was really cool and a lot more spontaneous than I’m used to. You want to get up in the morning because you don’t know what the day might hold.”

Scientists at sea

GEOLOGIST HEATHER STEWART RECOVERING THE SUB

Scientists at sea

GEOLOGIST HEATHER STEWART RECOVERING THE SUB

For Chris Bowler, research director at Tara Expeditions, it’s all about the simplicity of life at sea. “There’s absolutely no hierarchy besides the captain. We all have to chip in and that makes it a beautiful ecosystem where everybody respects one another. Life aboard makes me realise how complicated our modern-day existence has become.”

And while Tara may not be the most contemporary yacht, he has it to thank for his landmark memory from the past 10 years; travelling around the Arctic circle. “Going through the Northwest passage where Franklin was lost, where so many people have tried and failed, was massively impactful. Just being in these areas meant a lot to me.”

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