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ws Nautical Ne My Boat Story

Arctic Schooner Tara Visits Columbia River

By Peter Marsh

It was back in July, in the heart of the summer, when I spotted a big schooner-rigged sailing vessel at the East Mooring Basin in Astoria, Oregon. From a distance, I could see it was at least 100 feet long, built of unpainted aluminum, and flying a foreign flag. This combination of traits was unusual enough to draw me along the bridge to the gangway that leads down to the dock. That’s

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where I met three crewmen who were stretching their legs and waiting for the immigration officers to arrive. They spoke English with a French accent and I decided to try out the high school French that I have managed to hang on to for over 50 years. They appreciated my attempt, but English won out as we walked back to the boat past some aging trawlers and tuna boats. What I saw next was something so unique that it ranks high on my list of nautical encounters. The French sailing research vessel Tara is a working boat over 100 feet long (119’ LOA) with a convex aluminum hull whose curve seemed to continue below the waterline. Any thought that it might have been a yacht conversion was eliminated by the sight of the many dents that covered the hull and must have been caused by some extremely heavy collisions. But despite my years of experience seeking out unusual craft, I resisted the temptation to guess what it could have collided with so frequently, although the evidence led to only one conclusion: this could be the world’s first icebreaking sailboat. My excuse was that my mind was busy wondering whether this hardworking, big boat was previously skippered by New Zealand’s greatest yachting hero Peter Blake, on whose deck he had been killed by pirates on the Amazon River. What I saw from the dock was that the Tara is rigged with two identical masts that may use one of the biggest, heaviest extrusions available. The shrouds looked like they could support a small suspension bridge, and the turnbuckles were as big as my arm. I learned later that the research vessel was designed by the French naval architect firm of Bouvet-Petit especially for exploration of the polar regions. The CNM shipyard in Cherbourg, France, built the strengthened aluminum hull in 1988 with rounded bilges and topsides, and shallow draft to deal with subzero temperatures and pack ice. As ice forms around her hull, she is lifted not crushed. “We wanted a boat that is easy to handle, with a schooner rig – the

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NW Yachting October 2018  

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