Happy Thanksgiving from The Galapagos!

ALGALITA JOINS THE “SHELLBACKS” CLUB -  11/21/2016 -  Captain Charlie. There is a venerable ceremony in which sailors crossing the Equator for the first time are inducted into the exalted ranks of the Shellbacks from their lowly status as pollywogs. Yesterday, aboard ORV Alguita, they were forced to wear clothing inside out, be smeared with garbage and grease and pelted with rotten squid.  After enduring this vomit producing ordeal, they became Shellbacks and proudly entered the Southern Ocean.

LAND HO! 00.4397167°, -090.7360500° 11/21/16-  Buck Osegueda.  LAND HO!  Raquelle screamed from the stern. I raced from the galley and sure enough there it was, Isla Darwin, the northernmost island in the Galapagos Archipelago. We all stood on deck silent for a minute, while we observed a dark landmass jutting out from the sea.  Reflecting upon it now, it may not have been that impressive to a casual observer.  The skies were gloomy and the sea foreboding so that the island looked like a dark blob on a grey background, like when you have pencil lead on your fingers and accidentally rub it on a piece of paper.  At the time, however, I remember feeling awe.  This small rock in the middle of the ocean signifies the beginning of the end of my time aboard the Alguita. Soon enough I’ll be on a plane back to San Diego, back to my full size shower and comfortable bed.

I feel so lucky to have been included on this voyage, to be able to learn about, and witness plastic’s impact on our beloved ocean.   I’ve lived on the coast all my life and have been in the ocean since I can remember.   I assumed that I had already seen the extent of humanities degradation of our waterways --- I’ve watched cigarette butts float by while paddling out to the line up ---  high tides defined by food containers, shopping carts full of trash in estuarine systems, and streams largely devoid of life from chemical dumping.  This voyage has been more eye opening than any of that.  We can’t go a day without finding plastic in some form or another and at our furthest point, we were 500 nautical miles from land.  Unfortunately for us, we are a part of a much larger ecosystem and what we do ripples across food webs, and biomes that span thousands of miles in three dimensions.   It’s scary to think that even a seemingly harmless accident, like dropping the lid of a coke bottle on the beach could someday lead to an Albatross 500 miles away from you, swallowing it and dying.  Therefore, expeditions like this are a boon for society because they illuminate unintended, but drastic consequences of our actions in faraway places that most people will never get a chance to see.  Fortunately for us, when we study these places, we’re able to learn from our mistakes and make changes for the positive.

As individuals, we have so much impact on the environment that it’s frightening, but it’s also empowering.  We can make little choices throughout our lives that will not only enrich our own life, but the lives of both aquatic and terrestrial animals. I don’t believe people intentionally cast away a Coke bottle in hopes that an Albatross will choke on it. I’d contend that most people would rather save our birds and aquatic animals as they share my view that there is an intrinsic value in life.   If you do, then the easiest thing you can do is think twice before you buy, and if you do have to buy something try to make the sustainable choice. It’s not always easy, but it will always better and not just for you, but for all your neighbors too.

Seafarers Now and Then 03.9963667°, -093.7800667° - 11/20/2016 – Raquelle de Vine.  Before embarking on a voyage such as this, there are a few things you’ll want to be sure to bring along with you. One of them is a good book. Unfortunately, I hadn’t put much thought or preparation into this one! Before leaving home, I grabbed the book a mate had recently loaned me to read (thanks Leigh!) Little did I know, this story was going to contain many parallels to my own.

The book was Nathaniel Philbrick’s ‘In the Heart of the Sea, The Epic true story that inspired Moby Dick’, a story of the Essex, a whaling ship, that left from Nantucket, an Island off the New England Coast, of the USA in 1819. Guided by the Trade Winds, they sailed East across the North Atlantic Ocean, South to Cape Verde Islands, down into the South Atlantic to round Cape Horn and then headed up the coast of South America into the Pacific.   On October 8th, 1820, they arrived at the Galapagos Islands.   While whaling offshore, an 80ft Sperm Whale attacked their ship, leaving them shipwrecked well into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  It seems every day that I pick it up, some experience, description, location or tale aligns with my own journey. The book describes their voyage through the Doldrums, which was eerily similar to what we experienced while traveling through, “Every squall was attended with the most vivid flashes of lightening and awful thunderclaps, which seemed to cause the very bosom of the deep to tremble and threw a cheerless aspect upon the face of the ocean”.  Even the rigging of their sails align, just as ours are now they had “their sails trimmed in tight on the port tack”.  Amazing that despite being centuries apart, the sea brings us together. 

Fortunately, we are not lost at sea, severely dehydrated and with rations of 3-ounces of hard tack each per day, described in the book as “biscuits with the consistency of dried plaster”.  However, their experience is a fascinating insight into the seafarers’ world both now and heavily into the past.  We can look to accounts such as these for lessons and teachings, which are so very crucial for the change in which we seek.  Two days ago while talking about plastic pollution, Captain Moore said, “in order to reverse it we need education, but not just science, technology, engineering and math but history and philosophy are imperative too.”  With centuries of experiences behind us, telling us where people have gone, what they have done, how they have done it, how they survived or what led to their ultimate demise we can skip a few stages and resolve big issues we ourselves and our bigger community, the earth, is facing.

 The Doldrums 05.9574333°, -095.1925833° - 11/18/2016 – Raqeulle de Vine.  We’ve traveled over 2000 nautical miles so far, and we’re less than 500 nautical miles from the center of the Earth! You’d think being at sea for this long would get a little mundane, however it’s actually pretty awesome! There’s something amazing about your destination just being a plot on a map.

I’ve enjoyed observing the tune of the ocean change every day.   A few days ago she was seamlessly flat, so flat you could spot a leaf, or plastic bottles in our case.   A beautiful sky blue was painted across her surface.   Yesterday after a late morning hurricane Mike and Buck led us safely through, she was a dark green, confused with where she was directing her power.   Today, she was full of life and moves with much more purpose, a definitive direction in her swells.   Her waves peak and break leaving the white horsemen trailing behind.  She is the deepest blue and despite the unyielding way in which she moves, she seems warm and soothing.

The weather out here keeps us in check and it’s been interesting to compare known weather patterns with what we observe day-to-day. For example, we’re surprised by the current conditions we’re experiencing while in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).  Also known as the Doldrums, these areas are on either side of the equator where prevailing surface winds converge, resulting in a particular influence on the weather conditions near the equator.  The air here is generally warm and humid so it rises, expands, and enormous clouds form. As Tom Garrison writes, in his Oceanography, an invitation to Marine Science text book, “The word [doldrums] has come to be associated with a gloomy, listless mood, perhaps reflecting the sultry air and variable breezes found there” p.211.

However, there’s no sign of gloomy moods aboard the ORV Alguita! Instead, it’s all a hustle and bustle aboard as usual. Captain Charles started his day with an extended watch waiting to have a phone call with Plastic Free Seas in Hong Kong.  He called in to support a fundraiser for their education programs, a fully bilingual (English and Chinese) curriculum to educate on the plastic pollution issue itself in Hong Kong.

As it happens, this coincided with the end of Zero Waste week organized and facilitated by EcoZine. Our friends Rick Anthony (ZeroWaste International) and Ruth Abbe (ZeroWaste USA) of The Save the Albatross Coalition were among some of the keynote speakers. Captain Moore and Algalita are super excited on the synthesis and efforts of the groups, as one of the founding members of the Save the Albatross Coalition. The sails are up and it has required hawk eye monitoring in order to keep the wind angle in-check as it constantly changes! And with ants in their pants, Facundo and Mike (whom are rarely found not attending to some task at hand), are cleaning out the shower drain and pump to try and locate a leak, eek!   All is well and we’re excited to be on track with an ETA of 3-days to the Galapagos Islands!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016.  Today we shoved off on the first leg of an exciting 6-month, multi-legged expedition to study plastic pollution in the South Pacific.  First stop...The Galapagos Islands.  Then on to Easter Island, the center of the South Pacific Gyre and the coastal waters of Chile.  A major goal of this journey is to learn how well the small Lantern Fish, one of the most important in the oceans, are surviving in the Gyre.