Reflections and random thoughts...
V has raised a number questions about the voyage and the ship and I have received other questions from readers and friends; I plan to do a post in the next couple of days to try and answer as many of these as I can. In the meantime I thought I’d jot down some of the interesting incidents/experiences of the last couple of weeks.
Flying fish really do fly or at least glide. I’m sure everyone already knows this but it was truly facinating and amazing to see them actually do it. Because of their size, about 12-14 inches long, and the height at which they travel, only about a metre above the water, I would imagine that anyone on a larger vessel, eg cruise ship, would not normally be able to see them. However they are readily viewable on a sailing ship and they were frequently to be seen. Without warning a silvery little torpedo with spiny-ribbed, translucent fins stuck out at right angles like wings would suddenly pop out of the sea next to the ship and then glide for 40 or 50 metres, aloft for 5 or 10 seconds, and then dive back into the sea. Seemingly it is their way of escaping predators and while we saw them regularly throughout the voyage, unsurprisingly they seemed to be most active when we were being followed by dolphins. Unfortunately none of them ever landed on deck where they would have made someone, me, a great breakfast. I emphasize my interest in them for breakfast because I discovered that no one on the ship believed them to be edible. As a Bajan for whom flying fish is one of the national dishes, I was even more surprised to learn in Bermuda when I asked some of the locals about their availability that they use it only as a bait fish and would not believe me that anyone would ever eat one. Bermuda may have a lot of things going for it but…
I have read all my life about the Sargasso Sea so it was an interesting bonus, had not thought about it when planning the trip, to actually sail through portions of it. I don’t believe that we ever sailed through the most concentrated parts of it but for the first week or so of our voyage we saw significant amounts of a bright yellow-orange plant floating just under the surface, either in small patches or occasionally in large mats covering a couple of hundred square metres. They were particularly colourful when in larger mats because under a bright blue sky, the sea was an intense, rich indigo and the mats of rich yellow looked as if the seascape had been designed by Ikea. Apparently the larger mats have very rich micro ecosystems with a variety of small crabs and crustaceans that are indigineous to the sargassum weed.
There were a number of nights when we passed through areas of the sea that were particularly rich in phosphorescent micro-organisms so that waves would be filled with twinkling lights and waves that broke on the deck would, in the words of one of the crew “make the deck look like a disco dance floor”. There was one phenomenon that I never saw but others did; because the ship was very modern, built in the 1990’s, it had a number of design features that would not have been found on earlier generations of boats. One of these was the portholes that were designed to be just above the waterline so that the swells would rise and fall covering the portholes, in fact for the whole of the first week when we were on the port tack, my cabin being on the starboard side meant that my porthole was submerged for virtually that whole time and my view, like a submarine, was underwater. It was during this time that others on the starboard side saw the water bright with phosphorescence through their portholes, like looking at underwater fireworks. I presumably slept right through it!
One unexpected physical issue that I had not anticipated arose during our rough sailing in the first 7 or 8 days. Those of you who read my journal during my Camino walk through Portugal and Spain a couple of years ago may recall that as a result of the downhill portions of our daily walks the pressure on the front of my shoes was so great that the nail on the big toe of my right foot became black and I subsequently lost it. I resorted to cutting out the left front portion of my right shoe so that I could continue on my walk, I nearly had to do the same thing on the sail. When at the helm, with the seas and swells running as high as they were, the hip was rolling pretty vigourously and as a swell passed under the ship from the port side, the ship would lift and then roll severely over to starboard. You couldn’t use the helm to aid in balancing as that would incline the wheel to turn and so turn the ship so it was a matter of digging in your right foot and trying to use your right leg as a brace to keep your balance. Over the course of many hours on the helm during that period my right toe now looks Camino-worthy. Plus ça change…
Unfortunately did not see any whales which was on of my hopes and as this is the middle of the whale migration season, expected that we would see some. We did see dolphins however and they were a joy to watch, frisking like marine dogs chasing a car, could almost imagine that there tongues were lolling as they swam after us.
One of the crew is a marine scientist who has been traveling on Blue Clipper for many months to complete a study of micro-plastics in the ocean. She put out a fine-meshed drag net daily on a timed routine to filter the water we were sailing through and to retain any micro-plastics too large to pass through the mesh. The samples that she is capturing are sealed in containers and logged as to location and will be analysed later in her lab. The sad news is that every drag retained significant quantities and that has been the case throughout her voyages. These micro-plastics are tiny, each grain barely visible, and are taken up by the micro-organisms and plankton that are at the base of the food chain. Consequently they now are part of the living tissue of all marine animals and obviously are concentrated in the creatures at the top, including us. Chilling!
Off the ship and back from 3 weeks away from the information flood. I have been noticing recently, last couple of years, that I’m less and less interested in the mass of daily news and information. Function of age or a result of stepping away from it and realizing that nothing was actually missed during my times away? Don’t know but 18 days out of contact is hugely refreshing. When I began this trip I was unsure if it would work for me, my first sailing trip last fall had stops in the Faroes, the Shetlands and the Orkneys and I wasn’t sure if a long run with no stops to break it up would be difficult to manage. V said that I should think of it as a retreat and she was right. There is a sense of that, constrained space, closed community, lots of time for reflection, hard work and a disciplined, structured setting. Interesting sidelight, on our last night at sea, Emma, our First Mate, put together a series of questions and placed them in a cup. We each drew one in turn and then had to answer it for everybody to hear. There were lots of easy and fun question, “What was your favourite meal?”, “What was your most interesting moment?”. In keeping with the theme of retreats, it was fated of course that my question was “What did you learn about yourself?” Still trying to answer it, but certainly part of the answer includes the need for stepping back. All the papers and magazines have been saved since I left for catching up but still haven’t opened a paper since we returned, it will be interesting to see how long that lasts.
Next, the Azores and V’ s Q&A. Stay tuned!