On Capt. Javier Valladares, his Vast Experience as a Sailor and his Understanding of the Sea

EarthzineCoastal Environments 2016, Original, Themed Articles

Javier Valladares, retired officer of theåÊArgentine NavyåÊand former president of theåÊIntergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), recallsåÊexpeditions to the Amazon and Antarctica.åÊ

There are living people, dead people, and Javier Valladares. He is a retired officer of the Argentine Navy and former president of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). As a ship commander, he took part in expeditions to the Amazon and Antarctica, where he literally crossed the mouth of a volcano.

Valladares chairs the IOC (2007-2011). Image Credit: Javier Valladares

Despite how exciting his vast experience is, his greatest challenges have been parenting and finding happiness. He also has faced several professional challenges.

‰ÛÏI believe that life is a harmony that has to be played with all the instruments,‰Û Valladares said. ‰ÛÏMy biggest challenges have been to find happiness and to be a father, but if you ask about my profession ‰Û_ here have been many”.

‰ÛÏGenerally, they arise when the crew is small and when there is little capacity of interaction with the colleagues. I always say that one of the problems the sailor has is that he is immersed in a realm of uncertainty and uncertainty is solved with suitability or teamwork. When you are in a small ship with a small crew in a situation of great uncertainty, the challenge becomes harder. When they told me I was going to Antarctica it was a challenge: Schedule it, conceive it, knowing I had to go and come back”.

Valladares sailing in Antarctica, 1997. Image Credit: J.V.

‰ÛÏCrossing the Amazon, twice, was another challenge: Sail in a relatively large ship, 114 meters long, with a very small crew. No one was experienced, all were beginners. When I was appointed president of the IOC, to lead an UN international body was another big challenge, absolutely‰Û.

In his journey to the Amazon River, the vessel piloted was the ARA (Argentine Republic Navy) Ceibo, an old collier 114 meters long, linked to Naval Transports, an organization of the Argentine Navy associated with military logistics and the promotion of places or topics of national interest

‰ÛÏI traveled many times to Patagonia on that ship, to load coal in Rio Gallegos and bring it to a thermoelectric plant in San Nicolas. Sometimes we were also allocated some loads for transporting them to neighboring countries. I had to travel twice to Iquitos, Peru. Getting there was an adventure for a boat of that magnitude, because we had to skirt the coast of Brazil to enter the Amazon and sail almost its entire length to reach Peru.

‰ÛÏThe trip to Antarctica, on the other hand, was a hydro-oceanographic campaign with the ARA Puerto Deseado, a ship belonging to the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina (CONICET), operated by the Navy. I carried out many scientific, cartographic and logistical tasks there. We arrived at the base San MartÌ_n, at the south of the Bellingshausen, and we spent a long time working on Deception Island, where you enter the crater of a volcano‰Û.

Location of the Deception Island, near Antarctica (from Google Maps), zoom of the region (from Google Earth), and a touristic feature of the island.

This is one of the most amazing places on the planet, an island of ice and fire. It is an active volcano with his crater flooded; it has a unique horseshoe shape mouth known as Neptune’s Bellows due to the noise that is produced there under certain wind conditions.

‰ÛÏIt is an interesting island for sailors because when weather conditions worsen and the sea rages, entering the crater is like entering a protected lake.‰Û

The officers of the vessel ARA Puerto Deseado on Deception Island. Image Credit: J.V.

That, of course, when the volcano is not erupting. ‰ÛÏInside the crater are the remains of an old whaling station and later British Antarctic base, a recent Spanish base and an Argentinean outpost which is inhabited by researchers, usually volcanologists, only during the austral summer season. The former whaling station, given that is located right near the entrance to the crater, is the most visited base by tourist boats and sailboats. Tourists disembark there to put his bare feet in the natural pools of warm water, product of the heat emanations of the volcano that can actually be observed as a bubbling on the coast, in the sands of the beach.

Valladares in the Dorian Bay shelter of the Argentine Navy, in 1997. In the background, the vessel ARA Puerto Desado. Image Credit: J. V.

It is such a mystical place that Valladares decided to musicalize the journey with Enya’s Celtic style to achieve a better concentration of the crew. The idea was so good that the sailors asked him to do the same in successive trips.

Valladares is working in the Buenos Aires Technological Institute (ITBA). Officials there are interested in assessing the commitment of Argentina to the sea through the measurement of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the economic stress applied to the sea, among other things.

Valladares also works with the Sea Academy, a multidisciplinary group of professionals that seeks to support, encourage and advise multiple initiatives related to the sea, including those associated with marine renewable energies. In this context, he created along other colleagues the Interest Group on Energy of the Argentine Sea (GEMA), where professionals from public and private areas related to marine energy reflect and work on new technologies and share experiences on new projects.

In this sense, they provided an informative document on the state of technological development for the recovery of this kind of energy (waves, currents, tides, thermal or salt gradient). ‰ÛÏAn obvious conclusion is that the first step in any marine energy undertaking is to know the energetic availability in the area of interest,‰Û Valladeres said. ‰ÛÏOne must know the characteristics of tides, currents and waves of the area where you want to implement a project like this in order to decide what technology is best suited to the oceanographic environmental conditions‰Û.

Besides being an enthusiastic promoter of the use of marine energy, this oceanographer is like most sailors–an adventurer and explorer who is methodical, thoughtful and somewhat melancholic. To explain the particular condition of sailors like him, Valladares paraphrases a philosophical reflection of the French philosopher and scholar Roger-Pol Droit, who asserts that there are three kinds of men: the living, the dead and those who sail the sea.

‰ÛÏThose who are at sea are not asleep, either in ecstasy or trance. They are lucid amid a trackless expansion. They stay alert, follow their way with attentive eye and awakened spirit.‰Û As Droit describes, at sea signals fade and tracks are cleared. There are no roads, no towns, no houses. There is no trace of humanity in sight. The only remaining marks travel within each sailor.

This article was prepared by Universidad Nacional Del Centro De La Provincia De Buenos Aires (UNCPBA). Coordinators for Earthzine: Gerardo Acosta and MarÌ_a Eugenia Conforti; translator: Luciano Banchio.

MarÌ_a Victoria Ennis is an Argentine journalist.