Thursday, November 25, 2010

Blue and Calm in the South Atlantic: Day 17

Blog 8-- Thursday November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yesterday, finally we could all spend the day out on the deck.  It had been the first since the day we left.  It was the place to be.  The sky was completely blue and the sea state calmed to a three-- winds between 10-20 knots (a guesstimate since our wind meter is down) and 2-3 foot waves, though there was an occasional rogue wave capable of knocking us off our feet.

It was my watch from noon to 6pm, so I did what I usually do when the weather and visibility allows during my watch-- I spied the seas for plastic.  Through the course of two weeks, I had seen a laundry basket, several water bottles, a basketball, and numerous large fragments from unidentifiable items.  In all that I had witnessed in the very rough sea state, I saw more in two hours in relatively calm seas.  I believe a windrow of plastic was forming.  It wasn't the first time that I observed this phenomenon.  July of '09, I saw windrows of seaweed called sargassum form in the North Atlantic.  Because plastic floats like the sargassum, it actually does form a windrow of plastic during certain sea states.  I observed this in the North Pacific gyre with Captain Charlie Moore in the fall of '09.

The windrow was about 20 yards portside.  I stood on a three foot high wooden box at the bow of the ship with my GoPro camera strapped to my forehead hoping the fisheye lens would be able to capture the debris floating by.  Anna had been standing on the box moments before holding onto the guide wire and when a rouge wave would hit, she'd pull herself up, lifting her legs like a pole dancer to avoid getting wet.  But once she noticed the plastic floating close to the ship, she took action.  I filmed.  I had moved to the box to get a better angle  of the teamwork that irrupted-- getting nets out, taking down sails, and slowing the boat so that we could start collecting debris.  Anna was going after one bottle when I noticed another one coming at her.  I yelled to her, "Anna, look there's another one!"  Just then a rogue wave slammed into the side of the ship.  I had been holding on with one hand and pointing with the other.  I quickly grabbed on with both hands as I began to spin around the guide wire that Anna had used, but with not so graceful moves.  As my body spun, my feet were planted and something had to give.  Unfortunately, I felt my hands slowly slip off and I dropped down 3 feet hard, slamming my right side onto the edge of a porthole frame.  I heard a very distinct pop.  I lied there completely out of sight from the others.  I laid perfectly still telling myself, "I am not broken, I am not broken."  Though I was sure I had cracked a rib.

I slowly peeled myself off the floor, confident that I had talked my body out of being seriously injured.  I had to.  There was way to much action going on.  Marcus came to the bow to pull down the staysail, Dale maneuvered the boat so we could attempt to net plastics.  Some of the crew had cameras in hand to catch images while the others had nets.

Yet it didn't matter which way we went, the plastics alluded us.  In total frustration, Marcus took off his shirt and dove in, grabbed a floating water bottle, put it between his teeth like a retriever and started swimming back.  But just as the plastics had out maneuvered us, so began the challenge of pulling Marcus out of the water.  Ten minutes went by.  Every time he swam toward us, a wave would come and wash him back.  He struggled a bit to tell us the water was cold.  Fear started to set in.  At one point he was 30 yards out.  With the fantastic navigational abilities of Dale and Clive, we were able to get him back on board.  The exercise reiterated just how difficult it is to find, then extract someone if they go overboard.

As for me, I'll be gimping around for a little bit.  Mary Osbourne gave me her chilled water bottle to use as ice, then later applied some icy spray.  Chelsea Rochman generously gave me Advil and her bag of Jelly Bellies her friend labeled "Do not open until your birthday."  Prematurely opened by two days.  How sweet was that!!  Later, Dale gave me a chilled hemorrhoid gelatinous ring (you use what's available on a ship) and my watch team let me sleep instead of getting up for my 2am-6am watch.  I'm in good hands.

Our two samples yesterday were among the largest we've collected from the manta trawl so far.  (How I wish I could send pictures!!)  Evidence of plastic accumulates in the high?  Perhaps.  We should have perfect conditions from here to Cape Town to get good samples.

We'll be having Thanksgiving dinner out in the cockpit and will share what we are thankful for.  After yesterday, I've added a few more things to my list.

More later.

Bonnie spies over the ocean

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