The seas foamed and the winds roared

Hi Everyone,

This is the second post by 1plasticDad, on behalf of 1plasticMum as she has been incommunicado since leaving the Port of Tokyo last Sunday morning.

In the week they have been sailing we have only sporadic posts from her co-sailors, which tell  of 5 meter swells, 30 knot winds, sea sickness, rain, rain and more rain. Life on board is described as damp, rough and demoralizing as the crew is focusing on continually adjusting the sails to suit the ever changing weather, rather than on the science.

The track below shows they have travelled around 1,800 kms as the crow flies, although surely longer as they traverse the remains of Typhoon Mawar. There are still over 4,600 kms to go and we at home are all hoping that the SeaDragon finds calmer weather soon.

Current position 17th June – this a.m

Below, I have reposted photos and comments from the other websites, www.5gyres.org, www.algalita.org and www.panexplore.com. Post are in order of posting so you can get a feel for what they have gone through this week. Also, if you want to get a feel for life aboard the SeaDragon, check out this youtube link below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7ghnpyLcW4&feature=plcp

Smooth sailing!

1plasticDad.

This expedition is as far from a “cruise” as you can get

June 12th 2012, Katie, www.algalita.org

The past 3 days have been extremely trying for our crew sailing across the Western Pacific. The weather has been rough – 30 knot winds from the SW coupled with 4-5 meter seas. Needless to say, the difficulties of crossing a turbulent ocean are weighing down on our crew. Here is an update from Skipper Rodrigo Olson:

“We set sail the day after a major storm and found ourselves entering a very confused sea. The wind came on the nose and strengthened for the first 36 hours. The high behind the low caught up with us and giving us a break for few hours, only to have the next system bash us with more head winds and extremely heavy rain. We sailed to the SE to get away from the head winds. Last night at midnight, the center of the depression went by leaving us with a few hours of lighter winds but heavy torrential rain. An hour later, the SW wind came in and started to blow with gusts up to 40 knots.”

Please stay tuned as we anxiously await further communication. -Katie

Message in a Bottle, and a brutal bash east

June 13th 2012, Alex, www.panexplore.com

We’re in the thick of it. After delay upon delay getting out of port; weather, mechanical and an unfortunate illness that knocked out one of our crew from making the voyage (Shout out Nick Mallos, we miss you buddy), we’re now finally out to sea. We’re trying to bash our way eastward, positioning the boat on the bottom of an uncooperative low pressure system, that we were hoping would swing the wind around to fall behind us, and allow us to get some latitude points north, where we’d then hug the tsunami debris line as we venture east, with following seas. But no, right now we’re sailing south by east, the wind right on the nose. Yesterday, we had pretty big and bashing seas, but luckily they’ve subsided a bit today, but the rain is washing the vomit from Sea Dragon’s sides without the aid of the hose. Slowly, the crew is coming back to life after serious bouts with seasickness that claimed about half the crew, and put them DOWN. The Aussies are well, as are the Limeys, but the Korean and the Swiss are having a rough go. The rest are about a 5 on a scale of ten. Nonetheless, everyone is fighting it. But watch gives no reprieve for fresh air. No, watch means getting soaked through rain gear—as the wind, sometimes hitting 30 knots pushes water down through where your head and wrists pop through the sleeve and neck of your jacket. Rodrigo knocked a about 80 liters of rainwater out of the second reef of the sail today, and even dipped his mouth in for a taste as if to not insult Poseidon for providing with the same amount of fresh water our watermaker can make, but within ten minutes. It rained HARD.

When the weather broke for a few minutes, Marcus and Lindsey got in the water off the stearn to drop our drifters. Encased in 500 glass bottles sealed with wax is a message in several languages. It’s our hope that these drifters will make landfall, be found by someone and that person would report back to us. Drifters, though a crude technology, remain to be some of the best tool for learning ocean currents and how flotsam behaves at sea. We dumped ours just off Japan, and hopefully, they’ll help with predicting how objects will move across the Pacific, though they’ll be behind the tsunami debris.

We’re in for it still. The beach party of the first leg from the Marshalls to Tokyo is over. This is real sailing; brutal, wet and difficult—making longitude is proving hard, and our time is limited here and we’re trying to make up miles. But this is the North Pacific and when one makes plans here, Poseidon is known to laugh.

The Endurance Continues

June 14th 2012, Stiv Wilson, www.5gyres.org

Ideas of beach party and sun are quickly diminishing as crew search desperately for places to dry base layers. When I was awoken for watch yesterday morning by Tracey, I asked, “How is it?” and she said, “Horrible.” I’ve done five crossings on this ship, and that’s the first time I’ve heard that word to describe conditions outside. The clammy insides of the Sea Dragon isn’t providing much comfort. Without being able to open the hatches, and without the ability to charge the batteries adequately (the alternator isn’t charging the engine, so we’re relying on the generator) we can’t use excessive power — so we can’t run the dehumidifer in the foul weather gear locker, which means we’re staying wet for the most part.

But it’s not all bad. Sailing is an endurance activity, not one for the meek and what this crew is learning straight away is that the sea is boss and she’ll do what she’ll do. Many of the crew understand that, stripped of his or her personal power to affect their comfort in a situation, and they’re embracing it. It makes us stronger as people. Yesterday I saw a whale off the port stern. She rode with us for a few minutes, which is always a welcome sign. Above me, as I write this, the hatch is open and I’m hoping to see some breaks in the clouds. Stay tuned. Research gets underway shortly. -Stiv Wilson, 5 Gyres

Shooting the Soup and a Microcosm Movement In the Middle of Nowhere

June 15th 2012, Stiv Wilson, www.5gyres.org

If you haven’t googled “Mandy Barker, SOUP” do so. Crewmember and photographic artist Mandy Barker from Leeds, UK has a series called SOUP–which pretty much went viral when her images hit the internet. Her work is based on the North Pacific Gyre, and she photographs plastic ‘rubbish’ collected from beaches all over the world. As a device, Mandy photographs her rubbish on black velvet to essentially give the effect of suspending the material in space. Beautiful, haunting, and some of the best ‘plastic art’ I’ve seen yet, as it’s abstract enough to not be didactic—an issue that has plagued plastic art and relegated it to second tier. But Mandy, like a handful of artists like Chris Jordan and Barbara Benish, are transcending the trappings of the plastic art genre and defining a new aesthetic for the movement.

On this voyage it’s Mandy’s goal to create another body work to compliment SOUP, from the ideas she conjures and the rubbish she pulls out of the sea on this voyage. And let it be said, for an activist and communicator like me who works on this issue, I can’t express how beautiful and inspiring it is to watch the process of thinkers on this ship. Science, though important for our understanding of the scope of plastic pollution in the world, is only one piece of the puzzle. For instance, one of our waypoints (which we’ve since abandoned due to gnarly winds at higher latitudes) was a point where scientist Robert Day collected one of the highest concentrations of plastic pollution in the North Pacific in the 80s. The New York Times didn’t publish a story on marine plastic pollution til the 21st century, and that’s because the movement didn’t have a charismatic figure like Charles Moore, founder of Algalita, and the reason scientific institutions all of the world are working on this issue today. Have you ever heard of Robert Day? No? Yep–that’s right, that’s because scientists tend to do a pretty poor job of communicating their findings to the public, and thus we don’t have policies in place that keep the pollution from happening in the first place.

But our model works and it’s why we take people like Mandy to sea. Here’s the basics of how things work aboard—first, we’re all equals—everyone cooks, cleans, maintains watches and steers the ship. Second, we give everyone access to the samples we collect. Marcus ensures that protocols aren’t corrupted, but then gives materials to the crew to interpret how ever their respective discipline demands. Here’s an example: one of the crew scoops up a derelict fishing buoy from the ocean, then Marcus enlists crew members to help him take samples of rafting organisms from the buoy for a scientist from Hawaii named Hank Carson—much cheaper for Hank to get samples from us, then for him to hire a boat to get out here himself. Marcus explains to crew about how plBastic has become a vector for transporting invasive species, which is the area of Hank’s field of study (We also had Hank speak on this work at the science symposium we organized in Tokyo that this crew attended). After the science is done and samples are taken, the artists go at the object. Mandy takes the buoy down in the cockpit and places it on her signature black velvet, and shoots it. Others film the process, commenting on the histories of when fishing floats went from glass to plastic, and how their perceived value has gone down accordingly which makes them more likely to be abandoned.

Mandy is also shooting each of our education samples (after Marcus removes the plastic we’re saving for toxic chemical sorption), that come from the high speed trawl—the device we use for collecting non-quantifiable plastic bits. The samples we gather here, and the images Mandy will create are for use by policymakers, teachers and activists. All this is like watching a microcosm of the movement that we’re all apart of with several different touch points for a global society that isn’t necessarily scientifically savvy. Out the middle of nowhere, we’re creating knowledge and onramps to bring our findings to an international community. Mandy is a big piece of that movement and it’s an honor to sail with her—plus she doesn’t get seasick and makes a great cuppa’

Bird in the Hand and a Brief Respite

June 16th 2012, Alex, www.panexplore.com

Day four out and we’re still soaked. The wind has finally subsided to a manageable 15-20 knots,at times we’re even nearly becalmed. But last night we had 30 knots plus, sometimes close to 40 which made for several sail changes through the night. Reef 3, Reef 1, Stay sail down, Yankee out, Reef 2, Stay sail—and so on. Typically at sea so many sail changes are unnecessary in such a short period of time, unless you’re racing.

The seas have organized a little bit too, coming down in size from about 4-5 meters at their peak last night and yesterday. There was a lot of cross swell (two distinct swell directions overlapping), making for sudden harsh jerking. The rice-maker took a serious nose dive, and it’s unclear if it will get out of critical condition. Early this afternoon, the sun came for but a brief moment and the crew quickly took advantage of some much needed heat and light to dry the saturated foul weather gear. Morale has been low, with toilets overflowing and breaking—when it happened you could see the silent contemplating in the crew’s faces—insult to injury countenanced, as well as the logistics of doing business in a 5 gallon bucket. So far, it hasn’t come to that.

But within minutes of the sun’s peek through the clouds, we had all foul weather gear, socks and shoes up and strung half the length of Sea Dragon, making her look like she was adorned with prayer flags, but the line assembled of much needed protection from the elements. We got just about an hour of sun, though the orb we desire never fully pierced through the clouds. I stood to the bow, filming and shooting (it’s been a rare moment where one can have her camera exposed above deck) the Sea Dragon turned Chinese Junk laundry barge. But then, first Mate Jesse’s head popped up and I knew it was time to get the gear in, as the rains were to come anon. Still stinky, but a bit dryer.

Though the rain is incessant, the sea state has come down, allowing us to begin the science work—we’ve been gathering water samples for Wood’s Hole, that they’ll analyze for Cesium, an indicator of radiation from Fukushima reactor meltdown. We’ve also gathered water samples for previous crew member and toxicologist, Anna Karmen, who will analyze them for persistent organic pollutants. The sea state is still too big to safely deploy the Manta Trawl but Marcus got the Flying Dutchman, or high speed trawl in at dawn. We’re hugging about 33 degrees latitude as harsh weather exists to the North, where the wind would be on the nose. But eventually we’ll have to steer Sea Dragon that way, facing what we must, as the projected debris field is up between 35 and 40 degrees latitude, about 800 nautical east by north of our present position. We’re trying to steer as steep a broad reach to due east as we can, to keep the wind at our back, and the seas following, hoping that we can hug 33 degrees (or at least not drop to low) as we move across the southern edge of the low pressure system we’re skirting–the remnants of Typhoon Mawar. Mawar’s leftovers dominants nearly the entire North Pacific at present, some 6,000 miles of ocean. The outer bands aren’t calling for much bigger wind that 35 knots, but still, 35 knots and rain can be hell. The surfers onboard are thinking about how lucky some wave-riders are going to be as this system fans out and delivers clean, long period swell. As we drop ever so slightly in latitude, we hope that with the eastward longitude we gain that we can get to the other side of the low, and have favorable southwest winds and following seas to push us north to 35-37 degrees north where we’ll investigate the Debris field. But that’s a week away still.

We’ve also started our marco-debris surveys, taking the middle hour of each watch team’s three to have two people keep their eyes peeled to the ocean to catalog any flotsam as it goes by while the other one steers the ship. On the first leg with the previous crew, the team cataloged just under 300 pieces of flotsam–97% of which was synthetic based, or plastic—which is why the expedition partners refer to this problem as plastic pollution. We also keep an eye out for wildlife. And as you can see by the picture I took of Paul Sharp, we’ve had a visitor. She circled for about an hour, then landed on the life lines, and soon, was smitten with Paul. No one is able to identify the species with the books we have onboard, but if anyone out there knows, please let us know in the comments and our land based team will send word back to us. It’s unclear if the bird is sick or just tired, but she seems to be able to fly well still and we’re hoping for the best. We’ve tried to feed her a slurry of shrimp, but she’s refused. She’s not been catching a ride on Sea Dragon for several hours.

A curious visitor

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