After 3 weeks of storms, where is the wind when you need it?

So, our intrepid adventurer and her crew mates sail ever eastward. They crossed the internation dateline and enjoyed June 23 2012 twice (see the post but now have entered an area where there is little wind. The very sparse messages from Tracey indicate that they have left the worst of the weather behiond them and have entered an area of sun, calmer seas but little wind. They are roughly 1,000 nautical miles from Maui. Current estimate is that they will arrive in Maui on the 5th July, about a week behind schedule.  Latest track below.



Blowing a Gale

A very interesting post from Alex via Pangea posted today.

Feeling Low 1005, a Gale, and The Synthetic Specter on Deck










Well, at least we’re consistent on this voyage. We’re like a magnet for crap weather out here and once again have found ourselves stuck in a low pressure system that’s spewing big winds, drenching us in torrential downpours and making my eyes glue to the barometer for any signs of respite. The needle has hung at 1005 for a long time now–days.  Before weatherfax and grib files emailed via satellite, mariners depended on the barometer for all.  Even the most sophisticated heavy weather sailing books will all say this:  know your ocean (meaning, know where the low pressure storm systems originate and which way they track and spin typically), know where to position yourself (at the bottom of the low) and go towards high pressure. Even being four to five degrees of latitude away (240-300 nautical miles) can mean the difference between 90 mile an hour winds and 30-40, like we’ve had.  Right now, we’re steering Northeast about 250 nautical miles west from Midway Atoll marine park (a protected area) and south winds are pushing the low pressure system we’re in north, but it’s a big system, and we we’re sitting in the center of it right now at 1005, the reading on the barometer.

Below deck is like a gym locker room where wet clothing and leaky foul weather gear ferments like Kim Chi in a salty mix of sea and human juices making for a stench that hits the nose like rice vinegar in sunlight.  Sea Dragon was made to get to where you want to go safely and swiftly, but where she excels in seaworthiness she lacks in creature comforts.  Without the ability to open the hatches because of rain and splashing, it turns into a sweat locker, where it’s so moist inside it actually drips condensation from the ceiling. Below deck, we have created our own weather system, and without any backup ventilation, we’re essentially forced to just grin and bear it.  To be fair, this is typically the case with any boat in a similar circumstance.  We’re building character quickly out here, and we’re more than ready to quit building character and experience the brochure like beach party we were told about on the first leg of this expedition.

Last night we had a full gale.  Crazy squalls came and went, taking the wind from 7 to 40 knots and back down inside of a couple hours. Put in a reef, take out a reef, turn on the engine, turn off the engine—and buckets of rain. Rain like someone spraying you in the face full blast with a hose for hours on end.  We’re wet, we’re bumped, we’re bruised and we’re building character.  SOOO DAMN much character. In these sorts of conditions, exhaustion settles in. I had a small hallucination last night where I saw a man run across the bow of the ship—amazing that I could see anything whilst being exfoliated by sideways rain, but yes, I saw something—he wasn’t creepy, but he’s not on the crew roster. Shannon has seen the man too, as has Rodrigo. We’ve named him The Synthetic Specter.

But still, even in these conditions, we’re managing to gather data. We’re logging the myriad plastic flotsam that passes by like a human stain of a promise kept.  Pray for sun and next time you open your window, don’t take it for granted.



Tsunami Debris, Plastic & Stars

Tsunami Debris, Plastic & Stars

Received from Tracey today 25th June 2012

Current Position Lat 29 28.7 N, Lon 179 2.6 E

My watch the other night was 12 until 3 am which is usually my least favorite.  No sunrise like the 3am to 6 am watch and no expectation of a full night’s sleep like you have after the 9pm to 12am watch.  But that night was different, the stars were out in spectacular form with the milky way stretching brightly across the whole sky.  The stars on the horizon appeared to be in the water they were so low.  I saw 11 shooting stars and the bioluminescence in the waves off the sides and the back of the boat was like a reflection from the sky.  It was incredible sailing through the calm waters using the stars as a guide rather than the compass.

Then it all changed.

The clouds covered the stars, the rain came in and the wind picked up.  All of a sudden I was sailing with one leg braced against the angled boat and steering at 8knot speeds as the Sea Dragon sped through the dark water and the 20 knot winds filled the sails and whipped up the waves.  It is exciting and certainly keeps you awake in the middle of the night.  That was pretty much the end of any conversation between Marcus, Mandy and myself as the wind made it so difficult to hear.

On Thursday whilst steering, a black dot caught my eye near the horizon.  It took a while before we could ascertain if it was in fact something in-between the waves.  Luckily the wind was low and we were motoring rather than under full sails so we could easily maneuver in the direction of the object.  As we got closer with all of us on deck wondering if it was a whale or something else we realized it was actually a partially submerged boat.  It was definitely out here as a result of the tsunami.  We had the chance to swim out to the boat which is when we saw that it was only the bow and it appeared to have been ripped from its moorings as it was trailing a ragged-end rope.  It was very sobering seeing the violence inflicted onto the boat and certainly a strong reminder that it was part of a huge tragic event.  There were still visible characters that hopefully can lead to ownership identification and hopefully the owner escaped the harm that destroyed his boat.

Swimming in the sea was incredible, the color is a magical blue and the temperature was a very pleasant 25C.  The fishing boat that we had found had a huge number of fish using it as their protection and food source.  There were lots of trigger fish, chub, bream, amberjack and the wahu circling menacingly below.  The fish were quite curious of all of us swimming around and some of them stayed quite close.  There was a lot of excitement about finally getting to swim in the middle of the ocean in water that has been calling for us to jump in for 2 weeks now.  Knowing that we are just tiny specks swimming in the top few metres of the ocean that is miles deep and with no land for many hundreds of miles is pretty cool!











The difficulty with spotting plastic is that when the sea picks up, the plastic is submerged somewhat.  So our observation watches that we do over an hour each daylight watch record different amounts of plastic depending on the sea state.  When it is calm you can see considerably more larger pieces such as bottles, crates, buoys, fishing lines & ropes, and significantly more fragments of plastic and bobbing styrofoam pieces as well as bottle lids.  It is much harder to see the larger pieces in the distance as they are easily masked by waves.

One analogy that was used on the boat today was a comparison with an olympic sized swimming pool, our path through the ocean is less than a hairs width in that pool so the amount of plastic and debris that we pass and identify is minuscule compared to what is out there.  Over the week we have been out here in the garbage patch we have witnessed and documented over 500 pieces of plastic drift past, some of this we have retrieved if possible.  The trawls that are done twice a day reveal significant amounts of small plastic fragments sometimes over 100 pieces.  The trawl collects from an almost insignificant sample of the ocean yet there is still a frightening amount present.

It is amazing for me to be swimming and sailing through The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It is definitely not an island of plastic and unless you are looking above and below the water you could be mistaken for thinking the plastic problem isn’t so bad.  But the problem is real and it is vast.  Our small samples have shown that this is another one of man’s massive problems that we need to find a solution for and now, before it becomes even worse out here in what should be a pristine environment.


And a short addendum:

We are having some really rough weather at the moment.  Last night we were sailing through 40 knot winds.  It is a lot of fun but it is hard getting round the boat safely and we don’t talk much on the watch as the wind is too loud and the rain too stingy.  It is good today though as we can sit a bit on deck.  Because all the hatches are closed it is stinking hot below deck and the smell from all the foul weather gear that has no chance of drying is pretty … well.. foul!

Last night in bed the hatches above me were open and at about 2am I got dumped on by a wave.  My bed was half soaked.  It was like someone had just thrown a bucket full of water on me.  Luckily the lean of the boat meant I could squash myself against the side of the wall that was dry so I could at least sleep a little bit.

We can’t do much plastic spotting whilst the waves are this big.  At times they have been 6-7m which is actually like being on a roller coaster.  The boat is amazing to be on.

Just in – Boat Boot Camp, Sperm Whales and go DB Cobras!

This just in in the last five minutes via satellite phone. We are having problems with recieving fragmented messages in the last two days, but now seems to be working if no punctuation is included, makes it more interesting I think!

“Ok no punctuation  I am missing you and the kids a lot today  I spottoed the most interesting bit of debris today with my eagle eye  far far away I saw a bobbing black spot and we were able to sail to a half submerged  half boat from the tsunami  We finally got to go for a swim in the beautiful blue ocean around the boat and it was pretty amazing  The amount of fish surrounding the boat was surprising and the colour below was so intense and incredible

I am looking forward to having a shower where i can stand upright and wash my hair without headbutting a door exclamation mark  I have so many bruises

Yesterday we did boat slash boot camp and a sperm whale breached 20 m away from the boat again v v cool it was the best exercise class I have done smiley face

Have fun at Hems tonight say hi and good luck to the Cobras”

Tracey aka 1plasticMum

Latest from the Sea Dragon

Hi Everyone,

Below an update on the progress of the Sea Dragon, as posted by the Captain, Rodrigo and the First Mate Jessie, in the last 24 hrs. They are in constant communication with Pangea Explorations obtaining weather updates and advice as they skirt the edges of typhoon Guchol.

“We have been making slow progress yesterday and today, yesterday going NE and today going SE. Wind has been from WNW. Also yesterday there was a lot of stopping to pick up stuff all day. Today we have been moving mostly but at times the winds slack and we have to motor. Looking forward for the SW wind from the lows to make better progress. Don’t want to motor too much as we still are half way across and we already finished 1 of the fwd tanks of fuel, and half of the 2nd one.l I am looking forward to have more speed and progress. – Rodrigo”

“Thanks for the weather info guys, keep it coming. Just an update. Found front bow portion of Japanese fishing skiff today. dove on it, took pics and then pulled it on board. (carefully!) Lots of interesting stuff out here. winds are minimal so lots more motoring than we would like, and seas are mixed swell, so speeds about 5kt. East, ever east…. – Jessie”

Also, some pics below of interesting things found in the last couple of days.

Spare tyre in the Gyre


Bottom of a bucket found adrift

There are also several very interesting posts on the expedition websites where you can see the sort of debris they are encountering. See links below.

The Greatest Migration on Earth and Plastic is on the Menu – Katie Transue

Typhoon Guchol, Plastic Every 1.5 Minutes and Anemone of The People. – Alex

Critical decisions on the high seas – Markus Eriksen

Finally, below is their latest position track, showing roughly 3,200 Kms to go. They are expected to be two days late arriving in Maui which may change depending on the weather and the amount of interesting things they spot. Last message from the Sea Dragon was that they had spotted a Japanese Fishing Boat adrift so I imagine they will spend quite a bit of time documenting that.

All the best,




An update from Tracey via Satellite Phone

Hello Everyone

Well it has been over a week now on the boat sailing and I am finally getting a blog post out.  Time moves in blocks at the moment, 3 hours on watch and 6 hours off (a good portion the first few days spent sleeping) and often I have no idea which day it is.  For the first 3 days there wasn’t much socialising either as we were all trying to get our bodies used to the motion.  I have been one of the lucky few that hasn’t been sick which was great as we have sailed through some pretty rough seas for a couple of days straight.  It was unpleasant at times getting up in the middle of the night to do a 3 hr watch dressed in wet foul weather gear with howling winds and stinging rain whilst trying to steer a boat in the dark.  We have had 40 knot gusts on a couple of occasions and we are all covered in bruises from banging into handles and walls as we navigate our way around the boat.  Cooking meals is a fun challenge when the stove keeps level with the boat’s movements resulting in big swaying motions.

We are now currently sailing through the Pacific Garbage Patch.  It is a little different to what I had thought it would be like.  We do see debris of varying sizes floating past every minute or so which may not seem like much but if you think of the miniscule path we are taking through this area then the amount of visible floating plastic adds up.

The seas over the last few days have been calm enough that we have been able to put the trawls out several times a day.  We have 2 trawls – the high speed trawl that is left out overnight or for many  hours during the day and the manta trawl that is a timed one hour trawl in low speed conditions.  In each of the trawls we have done so far there has been significant micro plastic samples, not visible from the boat.  There has been innumerable small coloured plastic fragments, rope tendrils, a BB gun ball and nurdles as well as a lot of sea life – small fish, some little crabs and lots of jellies.

It is really fascinating the size, shape and colours of the captured marine animals. Today’s manta trawl collected a high amount of purple copopods and last night’s had a mictophid fish which comes up to the surface from hundreds of metres below to feed at night on all the surface food (and plastic).  The disturbing thing about the mictophid is that they are near the bottom of the food chain and in huge abundance in the ocean and the main source of food for bigger fish such as tuna.  So their ingestion of plastic has significant implications.

We are collecting samples for scientists around the world too such as sea water to test for organic pollutants or cesium from radiation, some predatory sea snails and also halobates which are the ‘water boatman’ insects that lay their eggs on floating debris. The latter we manually extract from the trawl samples & the snails from floating debris.  On every piece of debris that we have found there has been eggs from fish, snails, crabs and other species. With the increase in unnatural plastic debris used as transport mediums for eggs and adults, the chances of spreading invasive species is high.

During each watch along with sailing duties we are on the lookout and maintaining a log of plastic and other debris sighted in the water.  We have picked up a barnacle encrusted buoy, a Japanese bucket and some insulated building material covered in grass matting which looks like it may have come from the tsunami, an egg covered comb with some net fragments and seen numerous other bottles, styrofoam blocks and pieces go by.  Because of the rough seas a lot of the debris is easily pushed down from the surface.

Earlier in the week we did a bottle release to collect data on currents and wind direction.    500 wax sealed glass bottles with a message in 8 languages noting return contact details to 5 Gyres were let go about 250 miles offshore from Japan.  Who knows where & when they will end up.

It hasn’t all been plastic though, we have also been lucky enough to see whales, a pod of dolphins playing alongside the boat, numerous seabirds including Laysan albatross hang around us and we had a juvenile Petrel join our crew for half a day as it sat on the boat and rested. We have only seen one boat during the week, other than that the ocean has been all ours.

The weather is predicted to be good for the next couple of days so it is intense work on deck whilst we can.  The forecast though shows typhoon Guchol is heading to Japan with reports of 130 knot winds which we really don’t want to be anywhere near.  With luck we will be far enough away that the aftermath isn’t too unpleasant.

We are all really enjoying the great sailing and the chance to be involved in some very interesting science and data collection, hopefully the good days continue.

Tracey Read aka 1plasticmum

20th June 2012

On the edge of the debris field

This post issued yesterday by

This could have been someones home

June 18th 2012, Marcus Eriksen,

Noontime position: 30.50N, 156.30E

We are heading along 31N trying to make as many miles east as possible in the next few days to sail clear of Typhoon Guchol, where 100 knot winds already churn the seas near the Phillipines. But here with sunny skies and calm seas we spent the majority of the day chasing debris. First a few bottles and large pieces of Styrofoam. Jesse on the bow nets a plastic comb.

Shannon yells, “Blue bucket off the bow,” so we all scramble to her side of the boat to help keep an eye on it as we flip around. On deck, we determine it’s a Japanese product, and will send photos of the logo to our colleagues in Japan. Minutes later Paul, from Two Hands Project in Australia, is pointing in all directions.  “There are a few big pieces that went by in the last minute.” We turn around and snag a bundle of tangled rope the size of a basketball and a square piece of blue foam. The rope is a treasure of marine life, with 4 bristle worms, two oysters, dozens of crabs and anemones. From it, a frog fish drops to the deck.

The square piece of blue foam is sandwiched between to woven sheets of thatch material. It’s roughly the size and thickness of a telephone book. One side has a thin outer layer of weathered plastic sheeting from a blue tarp, with long fibers flowing in all directions. The thatch is natural organic plant material, looks like reeds, layered with what looks like thin wooden veneer. The stitches that hold it all together are roughly an inch apart, spaced evenly, likely factory made.

It’s either a piece of a wall or floor, but from where? If it were from the tsunami, could it have lasted 15 months? Was it part of a larger object that weathered the sea all this time? Or did this arrive here, more than 1000 miles from land, from a more recent departure? We don’t know, but we do know that we’re in the southwestern edge of the tsunami debris field, as predicted by IPRC in Hawaii. The International Pacific Research Center mapped the distribution of tsunami debris based on current alone, independent of wind. We are using this map to guide our expedition. We know that there’s already wind-blown debris washing ashore in North America. Every piece reported from there has a large portion of it above the surface, acting like a sail to move it eastward. The objects we’re seeing here do not.
We let the piece of floor or wall, from some home far away, rest on the deck of our ship drying in the rare sunlight. We’ll put it away for now, fully aware that it has a history, perhaps a tragic one. We sail away from dangerous weather and deeper into the tsunami debris field, cautious in both directions.