The Heraclitus was designed and built by the Institute of Ecotechnics, a non-profit private research institute based in the UK and the USA. Since its launch in 1975 from Oakland, California, the Heraclitus has sailed over 270,000 nautical miles through six oceans (all except the Arctic), continuously exploring in the ancient tradition of sea people.For more than thirty five years, the Research Vessel Heraclitus has been sailing the world's oceans being used as a platform for a varied series of projects and expeditions. The ship's voyages can be divided into the folllowing times and expeditions.
Design and Construction 1973-74
During the early Seventies, Institute of Ecotechnics was established in the high-plateau desert area of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The idea of the Heraclitus was conceived while members of the Institute were working to develop a high-desert orchard project, at six and a half thousand feet, in the arid middle of the North American continent. To those members of the Institute involved, the construction of a sea-going vessel tasked to undertake research on the world's oceans was an enticingly different venture, and rapid progress was made in the specification and design of the projected research vessel.
" a ship, probably a junk, but perhaps also a Baltic Trader-type vessel, which would enable fourteen or so people to live for long-term periods on the sea, adventuring along its coasts, visiting its many ports and exploring the great estuaries, rivers, reefs and islands. It would contain space for a scientific laboratory, a theatre, a library for research and writing and a work-shop; be capable of repairing itself, be of relatively shallow draught, fitting it for reef and river work, be primarily for sailing, but with an auxilliary engine for safety, and have a small territory for each crew-member, all of approximately equal size. The Command Room would have a sheltered helm, contain maps of the world ocean together with all essential equipment such as radio, depth-sounder, charts, etc., and provide sufficient space for full crew meetings when desirable. Its name would be Heraclitus, after the philosopher of the cosmic ocean of change and of change itself ever-changing."
These original design parameters eventually resulted in the ship that has sailed the world's oceans ever since. Ecotechnics members formed a team doing design, engineering, construction, logistics and sailing education. Bill Dempster, Margaret Augustine, John Allen, Marie Harding, Gregg Dugan, Kathelin Gray, Robert Rio Hahn, and Warren LaForme were amongst the key people in this effort. Although the R/V Heraclitus has performed many different tasks during this time, perhaps the real meaning of the ship has been to introduce those many volunteers who first arrived aboard - with little understanding of ship-board life or the ways of the sea - to the ancient way of life of sea-people. All who have voyaged on 'the ship' have tasted this other life, have learnt the lore and language of the waves and are marked by the knowledge of that special freedom found in following an evolving dream - and in living to the full the adventure of the high seas.
Economy being the order of the day the group moved into a large three-storey redwood house located near the campus in Berkeley, provided by Bill Dempster's mother, Anna, which solved immediate accommodation problems. The Theatre of All Possibilities' bus provided transport for the crew to the selected site near the Fifth Avenue Marina in Oakland closely adjacent to the site where Jack London had built his ship, the Snark. In order to raise money to make ends meet, it was decided to set up a café - The Junkman's Palace - a site for which was located on the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Alcatraz. The café became a popular local eatery, known for its wholesome food and good atmosphere, and met a good deal of the project's operating costs between August '74 and March '75. Ship-building began in earnest with the construction of a scaffolding frame, the materials of which were recycled from an old house about to be demolished. Nails from the house were also recycled and building construction moved quickly forward with the laying of a frame of half-inch steel rebar to which wire netting was then attached.
Research Vessel Heraclitus: A brief history of voyages 1975-2011
After its launch in March 1975, the Heraclitus departed San Francisco Bay. Sailing down the west coast of North and Central America to Panama, it transited the Canal. It then sailed Northeast through Caribbean to Miami with stops at the San Blas Islands, Martinique, and the Bahamas, thence to Bermuda, Morocco, Spain, and France. In Marseilles, docked at the Quay d’ Honneur in front of the Mairie, crew members participated in setting up the Institute’s restoration project of an old French farm near Aix-en-Provence. The crew participated in the Ecotechnics Ocean Conference there, and then sailed on to Corsica, the Suez, Red Sea, and across the Indian Ocean to Bombay (Mumbai), where it met with researchers at the University of Bombay. The crew continued Thor Heyerdahl’s studies (who had become a director in the Institute) of how far the Reed Boat Culture extended to the East (the Andaman Islands). These studies also included analyses of mercury contamination in Maharashtra Rivers. The Heraclitus crew then assisted the Institute, which, in partnership with members of the Tibetan community, designed and built the Hotel Vajra, where the numerous cultures of Nepal interacted with European-American intelligentsia.
Onwards to Sumatra and then to Singapore for re-outfitting. From Singapore the ship sailed to Darwin, Australia, completing its first voyage. While in Darwin, the crew provided tools and expertise in assisting the establishment of the Institute’s new savannah restoration project in the Kimberley region of the Outback.
From Australia to Bali to Singapore (for its first major overhaul at a small shipyard on Tanjong Rhu), thence to Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, Kenya, then to Kerala, Sri Lanka, again to Singapore for some coral reef work with the University, and back to Australia stopping in Surabaya and Bali where members of the troupe, Theatre of All Possibilities exchanged techniques with Balinese masters in Denpasar.
From Australia to Singapore via Bali and Java and on to Penang where the Heraclitus played a key role (along with the University of Penang and UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere in holding the Institute of Ecotechnics’ Conference on the Rainforest. At this conference, Dr. Richard Evans Schultes of Harvard, founder of the science of ethnobotany, electrified the Institute by proposing that it take up an unfinished expedition of his in the Upper Amazon in Peru.
Motivated by Dr. Schultes’ speech, the Heraclitus initiated a laboratory-equipped expedition to the Amazon River. Sailing from Penang, Malaysia in January 1980, the ship reached the headwaters of the Amazon in December. Accompanied onboard by a Brazilian naval officer, the ship transformed its sails into a sun-cover cum rain-cachement and began the long motor journey up-river to Peru, where the expedition had been granted a special convenio, or license, permitting the collection of botanical specimens from the Amazon rainforest.
Heraclitus re-traced its route back up through the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to Belem, Manaus.
Drs. Laurent Rivier and Bo Holmstedt assisted the crew in designing a phytochemical laboratory for installation on board the ship. This laboratory allowed the crew to make extractions, in the field, of fresh plant material, thereby avoiding the problems of chemical degradation that occur when plant specimens are analysed after having been dried or stored in formaldehyde. A method was devised whereby fresh plant material of promising medicinal specimens could be concentrated and preserved for detailed chemical analysis at a later date. Upon arrival in Iquitos, near the headwaters of the Amazon in Peru, this laboratory was unpacked from storage and installed.
After travelling 2,000 miles up the Amazon, the ship arrived in Iquitos, Peru for rest and reconnaissance. The Heraclitus then moved about 100 miles down river to the village of Pevas, where Dr. Schultes had earlier taken the Research Vessel Alpha Helix, the last laboratory-equipped expedition vessel to have worked in the Peruvian Amazon. Dr. Schultes and his team had been unable to complete their work at that time, and he provided introductions to local shamans so that they might continue the work he had begun. After ascertaining whether or not the crew was genuinely interested in the rainforest and the knowledge that the indigenous peoples possessed, they established contact with the crew and research began in earnest. Various shamans led collecting crews on forays into the surrounding rainforest, pointing out a wide variety of medicinal plants for collection. Finally, the collecting crew was taken on a small-boat expedition up a tiny tributary river to the remote village of Brillo Nuevo where they participated in an all night ritual festival. The crew then undertook collecting expeditions up the Ampiyucu and Napo rivers. Plant specimens were secured for the University of Peru and the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Ethnology investigations made in the first four voyages provided shocking evidence of the rapid disappearance of classical ceremonies and popular participation in them in many of the world’s most interesting cultures. The Fifth Expedition, after assisting the Institute to set up its thousand acre Rainforest restoration project in Puerto Rico, Las Casas de la Selva, aimed to circumnavigate the tropical oceans, making documentary films of ten of the cultures encountered. The expedition studied tropical agricultures to help decide on the agricultural biome in Biosphere 2, which was then moving ahead in its design work. The criterion: a sustainable agriculture, so only those systems in place for a thousand years or more would be examined.
The route began in Puerto Rico, thence to Panama to Costa Rica, the Marquesas, Tahiti, Samoa, Vanuatu, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, Djibouti, Aden, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Crete, Marseilles, Morocco, and returned across the Atlantic to Puerto Rico.
Biosphere studies and Dolphin Release Project (1986)
Small voyages then commenced based from Puerto Rico: Exploring the Caribbean from Venezuela to Miami with especial interest in Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Jamaica, Akumal area in Mexico, Everglades in Florida, Aruba, San Blas Islands, and Belize.
Belize then served as headquarters for the Heraclitus, where it anchored long term near Turneffe Atoll. There, coral reefs and mangroves became its major exploration in order to develop knowledge and skill to install the coral reef and mangrove marsh for Biosphere 2. Some collaboration in the Caribbean was done with the Walter Adey at the Smithsonian Institute as well as with local scientists in the islands. Collaboration continued with the Institute’s Rainforest Project, Las Casas de la Selva, on Puerto Rico.
Heraclitus sailed north from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the Eastern seaboard of the United States, making landfall at Savannah, Georgia. The ship was tasked to provide logistical and scientific support for a unique project to re-introduce two captive dolphins to the wild, the first time that such a complex feat of reverse training had ever been undertaken with the full support of all relevant State and Federal authorities. The two Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, 'Joe' and 'Rosie,' had been captured some five years previously for the neuro-physiologist and cetacean specialist John Lilly, MD, who had used the dolphins in his JANUS Project, (Joint Analogue And Numeric Understanding System,) a series of experiments investigating dolphin to human communication using advanced signalling processors.
Dr. Lilly had always intended that these highly intelligent creatures - who had assimilated a vocabulary of more than fifty discrete words in English and who had shown themselves to be particularly gifted when interacting with children and handicapped people - should one day be released back into their natural environment. Dr. Lilly handed responsibility for their release over to the Oceanic Research and Communication Alliance (ORCA) who in turn contracted with the Heraclitus to assist in the operation. Thus, in late 1987, the two dolphins were flown by helicopter, in specially constructed harnesses, to Savannah, Georgia, where they were released into a tidal pen that the Heraclitus crew had constructed from pvc piping, in the Wassaw Island estuary leading to the sea.
Over the next four weeks, under the supervision of Ric O'Barry, the dolphin trainer for the TV series Flipper, Joe and Rosie interacted and became familiar with a local pod of bottlenose dolphins from within the safety of their pen, and were taught to catch their own fish again and to fend for themselves. Both dolphins quickly regained fitness owing to the strong tidal nature of the estuary. Finally, a day arrived when the gate in the pen was opened, and the dolphins were allowed to leave of their own free will. After some hesitation and circling of the area Joe and Rosie swam down-stream to join a wild pod of dolphins swimming further off shore. Over the next few days there were several sightings of the two dolphins (their fins had been marked - Joe with an arrow; Rosie with a circle, to allow for easy identification,) but eventually the two were no longer seen.
The Heraclitus team had earlier carried out intensive studies of the local dolphin population in order to understand better the integration process of the released dolphins. Later sightings further South confirmed that Joe and Rosie had been accepted into the local pod, that they were still together and that Rosie had successfully delivered her and Joe's baby. She had previously been checked for health using ultra-sonic equipment. This remarkable project established the baseline conditions for subsequent release programmes of captive whales and dolphins - although many cetaceans still remain in conditions of captivity today. Much was learned about the complex processes of inter-species interactions designed to de-condition marine mammals and help them return to the wild. After finishing other wildlife and bird studies in the natural wilderness of the Wassaw river environs, the Heraclitus again set sail on its expedition to circumnavigate South America.
At the start of the Expedition to Circumnavigate South America, (ECSA) the R/V Heraclitus passed through the Panama Canal before making its way southwards along the Pacific coast-line of South America. The Heraclitus had to be completely insulated for Antarctic weather.Aboard was a young but highly-motivated crew, aged between 16 and 28, for several members of which it was their first time at sea. Besides intensive training of the Heraclitus crew in all matters relating to navigation, diving and the ship's systems, this first part of the voyage was also used to train visiting members of the Biosphere 2 project, who were given extended expedition training and experienced, at first hand, the complexities of small group dynamics. This valuable know-how was to stand the 'biospherians' in good stead during their pioneering two-year experiment inside Biosphere 2, the world's first ever, closed, biospheric system.
By the time the ship arrived at the southern tip of the continent and began to negotiate the notoriously difficult Chilean Inland Waterways, the rigourous training of the previous months began to pay dividends as the rotating watches were required to be on constant alert, needing high levels of attention and co-ordinated concentration to manoeuvre the ship safely through these narrow passages. With the ship properly outfitted against extreme conditions of cold and fully provisioned with enough food, water and emergency rations to last the fifteen-man crew for a full two month voyage, the Heraclitus slipped out of port on New Year's Day, 1998, passing Cape Horn on a ten-day crossing of Drake's Passage to the Antarctic continent.
Here the scientific part of the expedition, consisting of population studies of the Southern humpback whale, began in earnest. These studies comprised the taking of skin samples, by following the whales in outboard inflatables and firing small darts just behind the whale's dorsal fin from a cross-bow. The skin samples thus taken were stored in the ship's freezer for eventual genetic sampling by Dr. Steve O’Brien for the International Whaling Commission and he National Cancer Research Institute on the Heraclitus' return to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The data gathered on this expedition proved conclusively, for the first time, that there was indeed intermingling of the Pacific and Atlantic humpback whale populations. Other highlights of the six-week sojourn included diving off icebergs using dry suits that allowed divers to explore to depths of 100 feet for dives lasting between 20 and 30 minutes in literally freezing waters.
Recordings were also made of whale songs.
After spending several days near the US scientific research base of Palmer Station, the Heraclitus put to sea only to hear over the radio later that a large Argentinean supply vessel had run aground and sank in an area where only days before they had been criss-crossing the bay following feeding whales. This disaster underlined both the difficulty of navigating these southern waters and the fragility of the ice regions, since the diesel-spill resulting from this sinking caused major ecological damage to the entire Palmer Bay area.
The return journey took the ship to the Falkland Islands and up along the Atlantic coast to Fortaleza, Brazil. The Captain of the expedition recalls the Antarctic voyage as having the ecstatic quality of a sustained waking dream, in which every moment had a special feeling because of the cool clear air and the intense quality of the light.
The Biosphere 2 project in Arizona was one of the most advanced scientific experiments of the late Twentieth Century. Simply put, the project aimed to create a completely sealed ecological system containing several of the major biomes found on Earth. (The Earth biosphere, Biosphere 1, was the only biosphere known until the creation of Biosphere 2.) An engineering marvel in its own right, the 3.5 hectare footprint facility was the most tightly-sealed structure ever built. Though informationally and energetically open, the structure was sealed off from material contact with the outside world. Housed inside were a rainforest, a coral reef, a savannah, a marsh, a desert, a human habitat and an intensive agricultural and farm area, that was to provide the majority of food for the eight human occupants of the first two-year experiment. Biosphere 2 was a laboratory for the study of global ecology and was designed to last for one hundred years with rotating human 'crews, each ‘closure’ varying components to study different aspects of the complex life system. The aim was to study the complex processes of self-organisation in the biosphere and to pioneer new systems for air, water and waste-water recycling and sustainable agricultural systems.
In 1990 the Heraclitus visited Florida to collect fresh-water and salt-water specimens that eventually found their way into the wetland areas of Biosphere 2. With 'closure' of Biosphere 2 scheduled for September, 1991, the Heraclitus joined the Smithsonian Institution's research vessel the R/V Marsys Resolute in the Bahamas to collect reef rock and algae for the ocean system.
The Heraclitus next continued on to Akumal, Yucatan, where crew, working closely with local divers, collected hundreds of healthy coral specimens. These specimens were placed in large plastic containers and floated to the surface using flotation bags. The submerged corals were carefully and swiftly transferred to the shore, where a convoy of lorries with special systems to maintain temperature, nutrient level and salinity, was waiting to receive them. There followed a three-day drive as the corals were transported from Akumal over the US border and on to the Biosphere 2 complex in Arizona. No sooner had the corals arrived than they were transplanted to the man-made ocean system and safely placed on the artificial reef, an analogue of the Akumal reef. In an interesting aside, the Mexican Government had allowed the removal of corals from their national waters only on condition that they remained part of Mexico wherever they should be placed.
During the two year enclosure of "Mission One" (1991-1993) these coral specimens - though living high above sea-level, in a different atmosphere and light regime, flourished to such an extent that 87 new coral colonies were formed - a remarkable feat in itself, but one of great significance given the rapid loss of coral reef ecosystems around the world over the last decade.
The coral reef of Biosphere 2 became one of the most scientifically studied reefs in history because, for the first time, the interactions between the atmosphere and the coral reef could be precisely measured and monitored. In conjunction with scientists working at NASA Ames, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Boston University and the College of Charleston, new remote sensing protocols were developed using digital video cameras along selected transect lines to map the changes in health and vitality of the reef over time. These same methods are now being applied by R/V Heraclitus divers, working with the same scientific team as worked together on the Biosphere 2 reef, to use satellite imagery to map the health and vitality of coral reefs around the globe.
One important discovery to emerge from the first two-year experiment in Biosphere 2 (September 1991 to September 1993) came from close observations of the man-made coral reef system. The eight biospherians discovered that the health of the coral reef system gave them rapid and accurate information about the health of the Biosphere 2 facility considered as a totality. In fact the reef's condition fluxed very rapidly, even over short periods of time, in response to changes in atmosphere, temperature and bio-geochemical cycles. The coral reef thus proved to be a rapid feedback loop, that alerted the managers and scientists monitoring the facility to the health of the total system. Changes also occurred in the other biomes, but more slowly and over much longer time periods.
The critical importance of the ocean's coral reefs as a key indicator of the total system health of the Earth's biosphere, is one obvious corollary of these observations. The Planetary Coral Reef Foundation (PCRF), founded in 1991, to extend this novel understanding of the role of the oceans' reefs to our world and to educate peoples around the globe about the critical importance of preserving the health of coral reefs and safeguarding them against a wide range of threats. Coral reef systems around the world were undergoing rapid changes, and environmental factors of all kinds were acting to destroy even the oldest and most established of reefs. A short list of factors contributing to the global demise of the reefs includes: pollution, dynamite fishing, sedimentation, over-fishing and bleaching, possibly caused by global warming.
With the Heraclitus and its longterm crew, they established a base-line coral reef research programme that involved the mapping and monitoring of coral reefs at selected sites around the world. As well as conducting health and vitality studies on each selected reef, Heraclitus divers took core samples from large reef heads, that when returned to laboratories in the United States provide critical data about the reefs and also about atmospheric conditions and past climates.
Biosphere 2 developed a new way to measure what was happening in a coral reef, together with Dr. Phil Dustan in South Carolina had been studying the coral reefs off the Florida coast. The Planetary Coral Reef Foundation, with the Heraclitus team worked out this method,mapping and monitoring of coral reefs, and to get the data on the precarious state of coral reefs and to finish getting the data and coral reef material for Biosphere 2.
In l995, the Heraclitus again left Puerto Rico and headed across the Atlantic and Mediterranean to the Red Sea ,where coral studies commenced in Jordan and then Hurgada, Egypt. Jacques Cousteau’s old underwater site was visited. All data gathered was sent to Dr. Dustan’s laboratory. Heraclitus continued on to Oman, Mumbai, Maldives, Kenya, Sri Lanka (where Sir Arthur Clarke always offered his assistance), then to Southeast Asia, including a trip to Vietnam where at Na Trang, the Heraclitus was used as a meeting place between the American ambassador and the head of VN commission arranging the new, precedent breaking, trade agreement.
Raffles Marina became the Heraclitus’ Indian Ocean Headquarters for the remainder of this expedition. Major repairs were done there and in Darwin, Australia. Coral reef explorations continued on from SE Asian countries to include the Coral Sea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, New Guinea.
Second Stage of Planetary Coral Reef Expedition: Heraclitus sailed to Guam and across the Northern Pacific to Seattle to San Francisco where it docked in Oakland, for a return to where the ship was built 28 years earlier. The crew visited its building and launching site at the Fifth Avenue Marina. A number of talks to educational institutions were made.
From Oakland, the ship continued to Los Angeles and Ensenada, Mexico, where it launched its second voyage across the South Pacific, doing coral studies from the Marquesas to the Coral Sea countries including a major stop at Rarotonga. Then to SE Asia and again back to the Coral Sea.
Commenced in Cairns in 2006, thence to the Southern Indian Ocean, to South Africa, where it underwent a drydock with assistance from the South African Navy. Then the Heraclitus traversed around the dangerous Cape of Good Hope, across the Atlantic to Brazil, meeting with an affiliated project, Matutu Foundation. From Brazil to the Caribbean: Trinidad, Bequia, Mustique, and Puerto Rico, again interacting with the Ecotechnics project Las Casas de la Selva; thence to Cuba and the Bahamas. In June, the ship crossed the Atlantic, making landfall in the Azores and Tangier. The Mediterranean leg of the expedition commenced in September, 2010, when the Heraclitus sailed to Valencia, Spain, for the winter.
Lives and Legends of the Mediterranean Sea, a study of the changing port cultures of key ports, 2011-2013. Over 40 interviews have been done as of December, 2011, in Valencia, Ebro Delta/Sant Carles de la Rapita, Barcelona, Marseille and Sete. The IREHOM Foundation of Barcelona has formed an alliance with Ecotechnics and the Heraclitus project. An agreement has been made with the Museu Valencia d’Etnologia, and in process, with the Maritime Museum of Barcelona. In Marseille, the ship returned to dock at the Quai d’Honneur in the Vieux Port. The Heraclitus was a featured visit of the 2011 Institute of Ecotechnics’ Mediterranean Conference, held in Aix en Provence.