Thursday, June 30, 2011

Henderson Island - where there should be lots of fish

Sometime in the early morning we saw our first glimpse of Henderson Island.

Henderson is in the Pitcairn Island Chain.  Pitcairn is famous for being the actual island where the mutineers from the H.M.S. Bounty fled to after steeling men, women and children from Tahiti. But like my friend said, "You have to go to sleep sometime." One mutineer was left after only two short years on their island paradise. More on all of that in an upcoming post. 

For now, I am looking forward to a day in the water. A day to explore the most beach I've ever been to. I have many short videos that I will be uploading that capture what we saw. 

There were many wildly beautiful and unexpected things to be seen as we sailed closer to French Polynesia. But on Henderson Island, we saw way too much plastic crap, and far too few fish to even begin to come to terms with the disturbing contrasts. 
Videos coming soon. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

I look at a lot of scenery that's exactly like this. Change the clouds slightly, vary the light and voila, you have my "back yard" for the time being. I can't type on my computer, or read for more than a few minutes at a time because of sea sickness (even with a patch of medication) so this is it. 

Not a bad picture to stare at. And really, a good way to spend my time. Life is boiled down the the essence of simplicity on the boat. 

Unless of course I get busy doing something else, like cutting Clive's hair so that when he goes home to his wife and kids in a few weeks he's not too shaggy. 

And then there are the friends I am making. This is Jess. She is AH-MAZING, (to use a common term of hers.) GO check her out at DESTINATION GLOBAL GOOD

This woman is seeing what she can do with a year, her own savvy and a small savings account to change the world. Her focus - all things water. Right now, she is taking the Cook Islands by storm setting up shark sanctuaries, mapping coral reefs, and getting certified as a dive master. 

How many days in the week are there? Seriously, I love this woman, admire her courage and spirit and would like you to leave my blog right now, no really, go, check Jess out. I'll forgive you if you get pulled away from this post, or welcome you to come right back. 

Then there are people like Jason and Colleen, co-founders of Stand For Tomorrow

What a good idea! We need to do that, think about how our actions, or in-actions impact the world of tomorrow and the future inhabitants of it. They live in Washington D.C.. Jason is an "rocket scientist", no really he IS an Aerospace Engineer, and Colleen is a writer, and a teacher. 

I feel so privileged to have gotten to spend time with people like J and Colleen and hope to help them with Stand For Tomorrow in any way that I can! 

Please go read about them right now. I'll be here when you get back. 

Excuse me for repeating myself if you've read this quote in a previous post, but here it is again. "However big you imagine the ocean to be, it's bigger." - Wallace J Nichols, marine biologist, ocean activist and personal hero of mine.

I can verify this quote from recent personal experience. 

So with the above quote in mind, when you see a bird fly out of the "wild blue yonder" you stop and take notice. 

And then when the day ends with a sunset like this, you stop and say thank you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

West across the South Pacific

The mast on the Sea Dragon is 95 feet tall. 

We are back at it. Only three days of research needs to be done because then we will be far enough outside of the range of the gyre that further sampling will not be needed. But you can also tell from the contents of the trawls that you've gone out of range of the South Pacific Gyre because there is hardly any plastic bits in the samples when we pull them in. In fact, on the first leg of the trip from Chile, we were wll into the gyre when we started seeing anything but plankton, jellies and other blob-ular life forms in the nets. 

When you are on watch though, one of your duties is to pull the trawls in and out of the water. Grappling with the high speed trawl, even at less than 3 knots, takes more than one pair of hands. 

It doesn't take long for Garen to get back to a full beard. I know the number of grey hairs in it surprises him. But I think he looks handsome. I can hear the collective AWWWH....

The rope in the photo is a more flexible variety than any of the other lines on the Sea Dragon on purpose. On the Atlantic Ocean crossing from South Africa, the line on the trawl got wrapped around the gear box for the engine and pulled it almost entirely off of the back of the boat. They had to use the sails to get home from that point on. They were half way across. And for the first 72+ hours there was no wind. Welcome to life on a sailboat. 

We see the moon, Venus and the Sun rise and fall. We watch the stars come out or sail beneath a dark blanket of night when the clouds have taken over.

I never get sick of watching the ever changing sky. 

Every night after dinner, one of us "presents" for the evening. Clive is taking the new crew through all the instruments on the navigation station. He's already given Sailing 101 on deck. Now we are all down below doing our best to remember all of the bells and whistles necessary that run the boat. 

I admire Clive's state of mind when it comes to living on the boat for long periods of time. He would say (and I am liberally paraphrasing here) that the news doesn't matter, that you have to find things to do with your time, and that your time is what you make of it. That life on board shows people who they are and the dynamics of the crew are molded out of the restless, or serene energy that every one of us brings to a given situation. He loves the simplicity of life at sea. From his point of view, I can see why. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Back on the Sea Dragon

I'm lying on my bunk, hoping that we don't have to close the hatches anytime soon because it's roasting down here. Jess has to sleep under the hatch so she gets none of the benefits of the trickle of fresh air breezing through our cabin. But we'll sleep two feet apart from each other, and on the bunk above Jeff for the next 20/- days hatch open or not.

Garen and I are back on board getting to know a new crew. I imagine that it must be hard for Dale and Clive to have a constant turnover of friends leaving the boat. Getting to know one another is accelerated here and most of the time there is a working respect for your fellow crew mates regardless of whether or not full fledged friendship results from your time together.

We're in good hands with these two. Dale is from New Zealand, has been with the Sea Dragon for all of its cruises over the last year, and is a dive master. Clive raced a boat identical to the Sea Dragon around the world against the winds. He's from England and was made to live at sea.

If we keep following the path of the setting sun, we will get to Tahiti. I know it is only the first day back, but part of me feels like the stereotypical little kid saying to myself, "Are we there yet?" I remember what 20 nights on the boat feels like. A lot can, and does happen in three short weeks out on the water.

But Toby is right to take a moment and shoot a photo of this first night's sunset. This is the time of day when I would like to freeze time, or at least burn this memory into my head as we all wait to see if tonight will be the night that we see the elusive green flash shoot across the Pacific just as the sun slips behind the horizon for the day.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This place defies imagination.

A rough translation - "Look at the vistas of this crater that is 1600 meters (approx. 5600 feet) in diameter, and 200 (approx. 700 feet) meters deep." It sounds impressive, but in person this volcanic crater blows your mind.

Here we are just seconds after our minds have been blown. 

Mats of native vegetation grow across the basin.

On the drive up to this crater we passed groves of eucalyptus trees. They seemed out of place although we have come across them a few times before. I'll find out later that the native palm trees that have gone extinct, and are now being reintroduced to the island, will not take root because the eucalyptus trees have changed the Ph of the soil. 

Nature bounces back if you leave it alone, but there are unforeseen consequences along the way to righting an environmental wrong.

Down the hill from this crater lies the remains of a village that hosted an annual contest. You were crowned bird man of the year if you could swim to one of the two closest islands, or motus, retrieve one of the first laid tern eggs of the season, and swim home with it intact. 

To get into the water though, you started from the top of the island and slid down the face of the cliffs on a reed mat. Any takers? I'd rather body surf the pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu.

But I am enchanted with this part of the island, like all of the rest of Rapa Nui that I have seen.

Down another hill, the kind that you can drive down safely, is Taku Vave - the restaurant that serves the BEST ceviche I've ever tasted. 

It's the day before we depart Rapa Nui, and I am already planning on returning. But I'm told that an influx of tourism is partly to blame for the massive extinction of 500 native Flora and Fauna that have been wiped off of this island in the last five years. 

Can this really be? 

Dale, our first mate, says so. This new information stuns me, bringing to mind a very legitimate question.

 What is the true impact of traveling to far away places? Does the impact of what you bring, and the insights that you take away, equal the toll your physical presence and transport exact on the environment along the way?

This is the last restaurant where I will be eating raw fish since Garen and I are planning on starting a family soon. Toxins like mercury and various other persistent organic pollutants that my body will store as a result of enjoying some fish are too big of a price to pay knowing that when I am pregnant, I will transmit these chemicals to my child. 

There are many things that need to happen between now and the day that I may become a parent. Not least of which is crossing the rest of the freakin' Pacific Ocean starting tomorrow. 

We'll sail around to this side of the island once we have all boarded the Sea Dragon. From here, we will set out across the roughly 3,000 miles to the west that lie between Rapa Nui and Tahiti. 

But first there are ten new members of the crew to meet, thousands of miles to steer, and a few thousand steps to take back and forth across our floating 72 foot island before we arriving at the port of Papeete.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A beach in the middle of the Pacific is still a modern beach...

We went to the beach today, bringing our fins, snorkels and masks with us.

On our way down...

We got our first good luck at the trash waiting for us....

It could be the currents that bring this high level of concentration of plastics to Ovahe beach just like the way the currents push plastic trash into the cove at Palos Verde peninsula back home...

The results are the same. Synthetic debris broken down into colorful toxic bits scattered amongst the sand...

Here was the reason that we had traveled all of this way, scooped into the palm of my hand. 

I've seen this brand hanging from the trees on the side of a remote Himalayan trail, and now ten years later, degrading this remote beach.

We're supposed to change our toothbrush every 4 months of our lives.

Just disturbing...

It seems fitting that we should collect some of this mess in a Chico Bag hat that Andy Keller gave Garen after I threw up in Garen's the very first day on the Sea Dragon.

Ovahe, we were told by the locals, was a beach to get away from it all. A beach where you could be left basically undisturbed for the day, body-surfing in a safe cove. The beauty of the beach is stunning. The solitude and isolation is there to soak up like the sun's rays. But the undeniable scourge of plastics littering the beach is equally as breathtaking. 

I think Garen's expression says it all.  

Needless to say that we didn't go in the water that day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Another day in a place far, far away...

Maybe it's a matter of scale, but I find that a photograph, or at least my photographs, seem to be underwhelming when it comes to representing the magnitude of the waves waves that pounded along the coast that day. 

Here I am in my red hat that screams, "TOURIST!" A little crimson dot within the green and blue landscape of sea and sky. 

As I mentioned in my last post, these figures are called Maoi. A Maoi took many men, and natural resources to erect. Not to mention that instead of being some mythical pantheon of some nature based mysticism, these Maoi are representations of the men in the tribes that built them. Simply put, they are status symbols that absorbed the attention of their builders to the point of famine, war and the almost complete degradation of their natural environment. They had a Maoi making obsession.

There are parallel threads happening today in the western civilization that I come from. I only have to go to the movies this afternoon and watch the pre-preview advertisements for the new G4 phone, or (insert your favorite new toy or shiny car here) to see the modern day Maoi's that we have become obsessed with. 

I could be grossly oversimplifying things. And I mean no offense if I have stripped down this ancient Polynesian culture into a cautionary tale of power and environmental hazard, but I can't help thinking about how distracted their culture, and now our own, is by our respective versions of bigger, better, more. 

These bystanders seem to take no notice of their stone overseers or the gawking tourists strolling through their fields. They carry on grazing in the sun, swatting away the stray fly. But I notice them. I have been fascinated, and in love with, horses since I was a very little girl. 

I haven't counted, but it is entirely possible that I have more horse photos than Maoi shots in my iphoto library. 

So you'll just have to bear with me while I share one more with you.

But to get back to the reason why we took this hike up the is something to really gawk at. 

Whatever the reason for their existence, it is an impressive feat of engineering, collaboration, and artistic  expression that stands here along the edge of the island. 

I meant one more.....

The coast was lined with mist from waves like this on the day that we arrived. The waves left a vale around the entire island that heightened our feeling of impending adventure and the mysteries that awaited us on this remote wonderland. Day two, and I am not disappointed.