The Toftevaag left the shipbuilder's yard a century ago, destined to fish for herring in the Norwegian fjords. For the last couple of decades, though, this 60 foot veteran has been devoted to the study, protection and conservation of dolphin, whale, turtle and seabird populations of the Mediterranean.
Crewed by a team of biologists and researchers under the command of Ricardo Sagarminaga (until recently coordinator of the Spanish Cetacean Society), this floating lab also offers a chance to a few 'mere mortals' to join in and work alongside the team of experts. The tasks include the day-to-day duties of a sailor, which provides an ideal opportunity to appreciate traditional sailing techniques as well as enjoying the spectacular starry nights of the high seas and a number of shore visits scheduled along the route.
From simple observation of marine fauna from the crow's nest, to the collection of data intended to increase knowledge of the ecosystem and add basic information to help conservation efforts; from taking blood samples from some of the animals, to using satellite markings to monitor and trace; all this and more forms part of the daily routine. At times, the crew will undertake other tasks, including teaching the fishermen to reduce accidental catch rate of protected species such as the bottle-nose dolphin, and loggerhead turtle, or to release the animals trapped by hook and line, an accident that, all too often, may be fatal.
These expeditions, organised by the recently formed marine exploration and ecotourism company Kai Marine, are designed to cover the most important areas for cetacean, bird and turtle conservation in the Mediterranean. Each trip is scheduled to last 12 days, and there are various routes available: The Volcano Route sails the coast of Algeria and Cabo de Gata, the Salt Route interweaves the coast of Andalusia with the islands of Columbretes, Ibiza and Formentera; the Sperm Whale Route takes in Formentera, Mallorca and Minorca; The Wind Island Route circumnavigates Minorca; then there's the Corsair Route taking in Minorca, Corsica and Sardinia; the Wine Route, covering Sardinia, Ischia, Ustica, Ponza, Stromboli and Lipari; and finally the Turtle Route, between Almeria and Sardinia.
Each of the itineraries has been designed to carry on board four 'uninitiated' crew members, whose ticket price helps to finance the conservation and sustainability projects carried out by the Toftevaag and her crew. These are not your normal cruise trips – and certainly aren't designed for the tourist looking for onboard luxury and all mod cons. The participants sleep in bunks in the shared space inside the ship, and daily life can be quite tough as everyone helps out with every task, from the night watch to the actual sailing, from meal preparation to working with the animals. This, of course, is what makes it such a exciting opportunity, a genuine hands-on experience that may have a real effect on the future of the planet.
Price per person is 3,650 €, which includes accommodation on board for the 12 days of the voyage, all food and drink on board, harbour costs, fuel and insurance. The standard cruises are made with just four external participants, but customised trips for larger groups can be organised. The company also works with projects based in the Caribbean and the Pacific.