Expedition Leg #2 – Mission accomplished

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The oceanographic sailboat Blue Observer has arrived in St. Helena

The French sailing ship Blue Observer has successfully completed this Wednesday, January 19th the second of the three stages of its great oceanographic mission.

Blue Observer crew

In 36 days, the crew of six, led by navigator Eric Defert, sailed more than 6,000 miles between Woods Hole (USA) and the island of St. Helena (UK).

Along the way, 46 Argo profiling floats were deployed at predefined GPS positions on behalf of the US and Canada.

Eric Defert recounts this world first and discusses the challenges of this inaugural expedition.

An oceanographic mission of unprecedented scope under sail

After completing the first leg of their journey from Brest to Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 22 days, the sailors, scientists and engineers who make up the Iris crew left the United States on December 14.


This Wednesday, January 19 at 3:00 am (French time), they reached St. Helena and completed the second major crossing of the three-month expedition, whose goal is to deploy 46 Argo oceanographic floats for the United States and Canada.

escale sainte hélène

This network aims at observing the oceans as precisely as possible, and interpreting their modifications, through temperature, salinity and current measurements. As a reminder, this international mission is financed by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Blue Observer is the very first sailboat to deploy instruments on this scale.

flotteurs argo
balise mesure oceanographiques

Aerosol and water samples from the open ocean are also planned. Eloïse Le Bras, onboard biologist, is leading two major missions on board Iris during the expedition. One of them consists in taking aerosol samples for the Institute of Chemistry of Clermont-Ferrand (CNRS) and the University of Laval in Canada. The objective of the study conducted jointly by these 2 institutes is to sequence DNA to study antibiotic resistance genes.

Finally, a marine mammal observation mission is also on the program.

observation requin baleine
observation requin baleine

To learn more about the transatlantic voyage from Brest to Woods Hole and the deployment of the first oceanographic instruments:

Learn more about the Woods Hole to Equator Line leg and marine mammal viewing:

Sailing, a viable deployment model

While sailing rather than motoring has undeniable advantages, starting with less pollution and lower costs, it also makes navigation more complex.

"With a motor, you set a course for the point you want to reach and off you go. With a sailboat, you are more dependent on the conditions, you have to fine-tune your route, tack well, anticipate, and reduce the sail if necessary. You never get bored on board"

Eric Defert
Captain of the sailboat Iris

The navigator seems delighted with the choice of his boat:

"It's an exciting exercise, especially since the route between Massachusetts and St. Helena is not a common one. It's an exciting exercise, especially since the sea route between Massachusetts and St. Helena is not common."

Eric Defert says:

"It is perfect, it gives us complete satisfaction, whether it is for its speed or its robustness. The expedition is a success, all the floats deployed are working properly"

The Blue Observer’s approach marks the beginning of a new era. As modern-day explorers, the sailors on board are opening a new path by proving that large-scale scientific expeditions can be carried out perfectly under sail.

Leading a six-person crew for 36 days in spartan conditions: a real human challenge

Between the United States and St. Helena, the crew of Blue Observer has experienced various conditions with alternating phases of tonic and fast, and other more unstable moments with squalls.

The constant of this long navigation was the strong heat and the humidity. Initially designed by Jean-Luc Van Den Heede to sail single-handed, Blue Observer is a narrow sailboat with rudimentary comfort.

The living space is all the more reduced as the scientific equipment on board takes up a lot of space. “There are no cabins and therefore no privacy, but everyone is making an effort and everything is going well,” says Eric Defert.

"We remain in a good momentum before the third and last major crossing of our expedition."

Eric Defert
Captain of the sailboat Iris

At the beginning of February, the crew will leave St. Helena for a new 6,500-mile adventure towards Cape Verde and then Brest, with an expected arrival in March.