Introducing Mission Ocean

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Mission Ocean is the vision of Laura Beard and Henrique Agostinho, two dynamic yachties with a passion to promote clean oceans and an end to plastic pollution. Next year they set off on a three year voyage to promote awareness of marine pollution, and facilitate the collection of samples and data for scientific research.

In the run up to launch they've also been busy rallying support in the coastal community here in the south of France, organizing beach clean ups and providing education here and further afield.

It's a subject close to our hearts and we're over the moon that Laura and Henrique will be sharing their adventure in monthly articles for OnboardOnline. To set the scene and give you some background, here's their story, the inspiration driving Mission Ocean, and what they hope to achieve. 

How did you get into yachting and how did you and Henrique first meet?

I fell into yachting a bit by chance – I studied French in the UK and came down to Marseille to work for the British council on my year abroad. After finishing my degree, I fancied coming back to France, so I started job hunting here and came across an advert looking for someone bilingual, with “maritime knowledge”. It turned out to be an assistant position at ITM shipyard, and that was my first introduction to the not-so-glamorous world of yacht refitting!

Henrique started his career in R&D for Peugeot-Citroën, and made a step into the marine world working in aftersales for a French engineering company. When he was offered a position as sole engineer on a 108’ yacht, he jumped on a flight to Guadeloupe to join the boat and ten years on, he now holds Captain 200 and Y3 tickets, and has been working on 40-55m yachts ever since.

After a few years in Marseille, I moved on to Compositeworks in La Ciotat, where I worked as a project manager. Henrique came in with his boat, Lammouche, for some maintenance, and we met at a wine tasting evening organized by the yard. We figured out that our paths had actually crossed several times before (the yachting bubble is a small one!); who knows whether it was the Argentinian reds or the cut-throat game of pool that brought us together!

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How did the idea for Mission Ocean come about?

We discovered that we shared a dream to sail around the world a few weeks after meeting one another, in front of the telly at a friend’s flat. A documentary about Philippe Poupon, his family and their sailing adventures on Fleur Australe came on, and we were both transfixed. We didn’t discuss it right away, but a couple of months later the seed of an idea had already started to grow, and we were beginning to google catamarans and discuss dream destinations.

Neither of us want to sail just for sailing’s sake, and whilst a three-year holiday might appeal to some, we are keen to make a difference and learn in the process; the idea of participating in marine research came to us very early on.

It’s an exciting adventure and taking three years out is a huge commitment, so what’s fueling your passion to make a difference?

The most inspiring thing has been the reaction of the people that we have contacted; we initially just thought that we might be able to take some readings along the way, perhaps collect a few samples here and there for a university or a lab, but the enthusiasm of the charities and researchers that we have met has been incredibly contagious, and has shown us that we have the possibility to achieve a lot in those three years.

We also want to give ourselves the possibility to stop somewhere, and maybe stay for as long as a couple of months, if we come across a really superb project in which we can participate.

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What are the main objectives for Mission Ocean?

Our main goal is to carry out research, using the on board equipment that we will have in our laboratory (plankton nets, sensors to test water temperature, salinity, acidity…), and also by hosting researchers on board. We are particularly keen to observe and record the effects of plastic pollution, climate change (CO2 cycle) and light pollution.

We also aim to participate in educational projects as children are, by definition, the future of our planet. We want to support projects that will communicate the right messages to future generations.

Finally, we are working with several organizations in order to be able to carry out humanitarian work. This will be a smaller part of our project, but for example we are investigating the possibility of transporting hygiene products, medical supplies or educational materials by sea, especially to extremely isolated populations.

We are actively seeking organizations and charities to work with in all of these fields.

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Which aspect of marine conservation is top of the list for you personally?

The more we dig, the more we discover issues that could so easily be addressed: shark-finning, coral bleaching, micro plastics… All of these things are having a massive effect on the ecosystems of our oceans, and we would have a hard time picking one aspect to prioritize. But we do have one message that we are hoping to convey, and that is that we can all make a difference, especially seafarers, by making some very small changes in our lifestyles.

Yachting is wasteful by nature, and simple actions such as cutting out single-use plastics, sorting and recycling our waste, or switching to products that will not harm the marine environment would already have a massive effect on the cleanliness of our industry.

When will you head off and have you finalized the itinerary?

We plan to set sail in June 2017, and our first few months are clearly mapped out. We’ll be spending 3-4 weeks in and around Cannes, conducting sea trials and working with local groups. We will then sail in the Eastern Med from July to September, before heading to the Balearics in October. We hope to join one of the Atlantic cruising rallies, such as the ARC or the Atlantic Odyssey, in the Canaries or in Cape Verdes, and to arrive in the Caribbean in December, where lots of charities are expecting us.

We have a fairly clear idea of where would like to go after that, especially as Henrique has already completed one circumnavigation on a motor yacht and we would like to follow his previous route, but it will depend very much on the projects that we find.

Has it been easy to generate interest and find sponsors?

We’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback that we have received, although it takes a lot of work. We’ve sent over 1500 emails to potential partners since we set up Mission Ocean in July! But we are beginning to build up a very nice list of sponsors, from big yachting names such as Boero who have offered us paint and antifouling, and Octo Marine who will be providing us with a water maker, to suppliers of every day products such as marine-friendly sun cream and shampoo

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How did you approach research organizations and what was the response?

Unfortunately, there is no real central database for research groups and charities, so a lot of our contacts have come from social media, or from word of mouth. We even went to our local town hall to get a list of environmental charities! The response of small groups has been overwhelmingly positive, as we are offering them the opportunity to go to places that they would never have been able to access with just a small research budget.

The larger organizations are tougher nuts to crack, but we have had some very good feedback, for example with researchers at la Sorbonne University in Paris who are helping us to set up our lab.

Which organizations have expressed interest to participate?

All sorts of different ones! Some examples include a research group working on shark and ray reproduction in the Med, coral reconstruction projects in Indonesia and the Maldives, and a group of sailors in Brittany working on low-tech solutions to expensive research equipment.

Have you also been in touch with Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd?

Yes we have – as divers (Henrique is a Dive Master), we are particularly keen to join Sea Shepherd in recovering old abandoned fishing nets, and it’s looking pretty likely that we will be able to participate. These sorts of organizations carry a great deal of political weight, so we hope to be able to report to them any incidents of pollution, illegal fishing etc. that we might encounter along the way.

You mentioned that education is also an important part of this campaign – have schools and local communities been receptive?

We’ve had schools already show interest in France, and also in the UK, US and New Zealand. We will really begin to approach schools in earnest in the New Year, but first we will be attending full immersion training with an educational organization called the CPIE in Cannes. We aren’t teachers, and if we are going to communicate the right message to kids, in the right way, then we need some tips from the experts!

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How is your search for the right boat coming along?

We are getting there! It’s been quite a long and mucky process, and we have scrambled into every corner of a good dozen second-hand boats that fit our criteria, from Corsica to Brittany. We have offers in on two catamarans, and will be viewing one more before making our final decision. We hope to have the boat secured and in the yard in January.

What equipment will you have onboard?

We want to be fully autonomous in terms of power, so the boat will be fitted with solar panels, and wind and water turbines, as well as a water maker. We will also carry dive equipment and a compressor, and have a fully kitted workshop. Part of the reason why our search for the right boat has been long is because we need a boat that can also accommodate all of this, plus our lab – both in terms of space, and load-bearing capacity.

Will you have additional crew onboard with you?

Not full time. We will take on extra crew for crossings, and we are also keen to host volunteers who are looking to learn to sail, and who are keen to take part in our participative science projects.

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What will you be doing between now and launch?

We have already begun raising awareness of marine pollution on the Côte d’Azur, and we have organized two successful beach cleaning days, in Golfe Juan and Villeneuve-Loubet. We’ve also been running information stalls at various local events, and next week we are off to Paris for the boat show, where we will have a stand for 10 days. That’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to get our message out, promote our sponsors, and also to show the rest of France some of the really good environmental work is being done on the Riviera.

Once we secure the catamaran, there will be a lot of work to do in the yard to get her ready, but we also plan to hold more beach cleans (the next one will be on the Cap d’Antibes), a conference for local environmental charities, educational days on board with the Chamber of Commerce… Oh yes, and we’ll both be working fulltime until April!

How are you planning to document/record the experience?

We will be writing blogs aimed at school children, as well as communicating through social media. We are both keen on photography, and will be taking photos and video footage on board, underwater, using drones… We are also very excited to count on the super of several magazines across the world, including OnboardOnline!

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