Day 7 Friday, May 24 2013
1415 Position: Latitude 14 01.9 S, Longitude 159 24.2 W
Speed 14, Course 040,
Barometer 1007.5, Weather Sunny, partly cloudy, hot
Total miles run: 1823
The clocks were turned ahead one hour last night. I'm (K) getting a bit relaxed lately about recording our daily position at exactly noon because, 1) that's lunchtime, and 2) we aren't keeping any watches. But we are about 1/3 of the way through our crossing. And we are definitely back in the ITCZ-style tropics, with hot muggy air, scattered occasional showers and small vertical cumulus clouds. A nice day, with both of us working on various projects in the comfort of our now air-conditioned cabin. Jim assembled some slides of our voyage, and also of home, to show Oleksandr, the Second Officer, who is very curious about it and is himself a good photographer who has been all around Russia taking photos of beautiful landscapes, polar bears, walruses, birds and other wildlife.
A few flying fish and a couple of birds are all the wildlife we've seen. But Oleksandr saw a sailboat today! The Captain later remarked that this looked like a perfect sailing day, and we agreed: in the afternoon the trade wind was about 17 knots from the SE, with 2-3 meter swells and a few whitecaps.
Lots of trips up and down the 5 flights of stairs to the mess hall (add two more flights for the main deck, and another for the bridge) are keeping us at least minimally active, and a few walks around the ship add up, as each circuit is about 1600 feet. So, 3 ½ laps around the ship is about a mile. You can't run or go too fast because of the narrowness of the side deck and the many things to step over, but it's too hot to go fast anyway. Plus there is a surprising amount of swaying in these 2-3 meter swells that requires keeping one's balance. I remember in the Marquesas the exertion of a simple walk up a steep hill; we'd be soaked in sweat, with the incentive for brisk walking gone.
The ship has a small saltwater swimming pool, and our fellow passenger Barbara is having daily swims, but says the water sloshes around a lot. Planning for the Equator crossing ceremony is coming along nicely, and we will have it on Monday at dinner, after we've crossed. We've made up a spiffy trident out of aluminum foil-covered cardboard and a mop handle, a beard for Neptune (from the other end of the mop), a cape for Aphrodite, some foil crowns, two bright orange epaulets made of flattened turk's head knots for Neptune, and some other stuff. We also made up a special Equator Crossing Diploma with signature lines for the Captain, Neptune, and Aphrodite. Printing it out in color and laminating it took the combined chuckling efforts of the Captain, Chief Engineer and Third Officer. The cook is going to bake a cake, our steward is going to be the "photographer," and the whole crew is enjoying being in on the secret. We'll let you know how it goes.
Day 8 Saturday, May 54 2013
1300 Position: Latitude 09 57.5 S, Longitude 155 53.4 W
Speed 14.7, Course 040,
Barometer 1008, Weather Sunny, partly cloudy, hot
Total miles run: 2163
A classic sunrise this morning, with more vertical cumulus and those delicate tropical colors highlighting the clouds. The sea is so magnificent! A foaming bow wave roars off the ship to collide with incoming waves, and the horizon in all directions is blue and flat. When I think about the size of the sea it is at once both immense and small. Although everyone agrees on its immensity, saying it's also small might be questionable unless you look at relative size. At around 3,000 fathoms, or 18,000 feet deep in the area we're in, and with an average depth worldwide depth of two miles, the oceans, when compared to the diameter of the planet, could be said to be the thickness of drops of water on the skin of an apple. If you look at the ocean like that, it can be both immense and fragile. We are passing over creatures completely unknown to science, and the idea of there still being great mysteries on a weary planet also makes me happy.
Our steward is RJ, from the Philippines, and he is excellent. Always smiling, he takes care of us at mealtimes and makes sure our cabins are adequately supplied with linens and other things. He also operates the ship's "Slop Chest," which is the ship's goodies store. You can buy candy, soda, chips, beer, wine, cigarettes and other stuff. Although thankfully there's no smoking on our deck, the crew deck is thick with it. The interesting thing about the slop chest is how the accounting is done. Passengers write down what they want, and RJ delivers it to our cabins. No money exchanges hands until the end of the voyage, and we were surprised to learn that everything we buy is deducted from the steward's wages! This gives a terrific incentive to everyone, to passengers to make sure RJ gets paid, and to RJ to ensure his accounting is accurate. Crew purchases are deducted from their own wages.
Yesterday we had Filipino-style Adobo chicken for lunch. I had asked RJ about Filipino food, and what adobo style tasted like. He and the cook obliged us by making a delicious meal. The Captain and the Chief Engineer were amazed when we described what cooking a meal is like at sea on a small boat (see blog post on chasing food.) They especially liked the imagery of onions bouncing through the cabin. Saturday is Pizza Night aboard ship, and the cook outdid himself with home made thick crust and a supreme-style topping. No matter how big the boat, at sea on normal days. meals are the main event.
Day 9 Sunday, May 26, 2013
1000 Position: Latitude 06 04.5 S, Longitude 155 53.4 W
Speed 14.3, Course 036,
Barometer 1009, Weather Sunny, partly cloudy, hot
Total miles run: 2467
I'm going to start recording the position at 1000 instead of aiming for noon.
We're 200 miles east of Starbuck Island and about 650 miles north of Bora Bora. Tomorrow we cross the Equator! Weather is hot and sunny, with small clumping cumulus clouds. This ship is so big that you wouldn't think these small 2-meter swells could move her much. I've been wondering if perhaps it's the effect of being so high in the towering structure that houses everyone, but I've been thinking these smaller swells might also be riding atop a low, long-distance, long-period imperceptible swell that moves the bow up and down, slowly and gently. This would be undetectable in a small boat, as all we'd feel would be the more easily observable wind-generated swell. Today the wind is down, and those long swells are clearly visible under the wind waves. They come from the east and, occasionally, from the south.
This is a remote part of the world where, like in Tonga, small ephemeral reefs and islets have appeared and then disappeared over time. Others never existed in the first place, but were marked on charts. For example, paper charts of the South Pacific used to mark a lot of "vigias," which were recordings from the 1800s and early 1900s, of unconfirmed sightings of reefs or islands. They date from when the accuracy of charts depended on the skills of navigators with sextants, who would mark locations of potential hazards to navigation. Now in the time of satellite digital imagery, these doubts are gone, but older paper charts still abound. On these the vigias are labeled either "P D" for Position Determined, or "E D" for Existence Doubtful.
I don't know how long paper charts will carry these "E D" markings, but according to our Central Pacific Ocean chart issued in 1983, there are three of them close by our course ahead: three dotted circles, one saying Filippo Reef (rep 1886,) a second saying Breakers (reported 1926,) and a third saying Breakers (rep 1944.) Gradually over the years these vigias get sorted out, but we were curious and checked the electronic chart: nothing is shown there; the marked circles have been removed. How could a reef disappear in 117 years? I suppose if a volcano can come and go just west of Tonga so that it's not marked on any charts, it must be possible for an isolated reef to come and go. Perhaps the two "breakers" sightings were the last of that reef. Or perhaps that navigator in 1886 was having a bad day. It's not even shown as a shallow spot now. On our chart there are many of these, and it's fascinating to speculate on them.
The good thing about electronic charts is that Notice to Mariners updates are electronically incorporated, and navigators don't have to spend hours manually correcting them, because the contractors that supply charts to ships do it for them with each new round of updated e-charts. The bad thing about this is that these charts are made of electrons, not paper, and are vulnerable to power outages or dollops of water. And unless you subscribe (in the US) to the free Coast Guard Notice to Mariners bulletins, your version of e-charts needs updating as time passes, in the same way paper ones do. In the 1970s and early 80s I subscribed, and each week would receive a small pamphlet giving hundreds corrections over a region. Dutifully, I would correct my charts, but it was a lot of work reading through the bulletins to find the few corrections for my area. Most of the changes were small stuff, like some inland buoy being moved or missing; the big things, like harbor entrance channels, rarely changed unless major dredging or a storm had affected them. It's a lot of work to correct charts, so having it done for you is a blessing.
But you can't get the same "feel" for a geographic area on a screen as you can on a big paper chart that you can spread out and gaze at. Older navigators tend to agree on this. There's always a "Wow!" feeling for me when I look at one of our small-scale charts that show a huge swath of ocean and islands. I get a feel for relative distances and a sense of direction and location. I don't get that as much from a small screen.
Our 1983-era chart of this area is a black-and-white copy that has not been corrected. The reason we use B&W charts now is cost. Paper charts issued by the government are in color on heavy-duty paper that can get wet and not fall apart. In the 1980s you could buy them for $2 or $3 apiece. Now they cost $30 each, and when you need hundreds of charts it's just not affordable. There are companies that photocopy the latest paper charts on lightweight paper and sell them in portfolios, but they're not updated past the chart's issue date. So small boat mariners learn to rely on many sources of information, and old, out-of-date paper charts get passed around from one cruising boat to another, sometimes with notes written on them.
Electronic charts are convenient, accurate, and save a ton of work. But to many, navigation is a form of pleasure. Having old paper charts to back up the electronics is still a less than perfect situation, but for prudent small-boat sailors who avoid night entrances into strange harbors and who don't rely on just one source for their information, paper charts are still good, and necessary. My philosophy about them is: Rocks and reefs seldom move, so they'll be in position. Buoys often change, so regard every marker with doubt until you confirm its identity and location.
Captain Zoran Mufa uses paper charts as backup to the comprehensive navigation aboard, and the ship's position is plotted on paper by hand twice in every watch. In a few years, the Captain told us, ships may find it mandatory to go paperless, which means paper charts would be optional. None of us thought that was a good idea.
We've been watching movies every other night: Les Miserables, Lincoln, Skyfall, and The Bourne Legacy so far. Movies are big aboard ship, and the officer's rec room has a huge supply of them… in Russian. Luckily, we also have some in English. Meals, especially lunch and dinner, are the main social times for the officers and passengers, and we're enjoying their company very much.