Thursday, June 29, 2017

Plastics and Pinnipeds

A colleague asked me to report on how much floating plastic we encountered on this passage, since our path between Hawai'i and Kodiak had us skirting the center of the North Pacific high, where the legendary Texas-size patch of floating plastic is meant to lie.

On a normal two and a half week ocean passage we might notice a single piece of random plastic jetsam floating by us. On this trip we were seeing much more than that - very roughly speaking, about 10 or 15 items a day, roughly between 30° and 45° North latitude. A lot of that was fishing debris - floats, and one memorably large chunk of net. We didn't go through the windless center of the high, of course, so I can't report on what the plastics concentration might be there.

We were also seeing occasional pinnipeds for a while there...quite a treat to spot those animals, which I can't help but think of as coastal beasts, a thousand miles out from the West Coast of North America. We never got a good enough look to ID one, but I think the consensus was that they were likely Otariids - maybe California sea lions?

And that's us, except that I'll note we are smelling the barn pretty strongly. Only about 260 miles to go. We've spent the day close hauled on the wrong side of a low, and it looks like the wind from that system should last through tomorrow, which has us very pleased indeed. I started the day by hand stitching a parted seam on our main, and we've spent the rest of the day with the sails reefed down and strapped in tight, Galactic going with a vengeance, well on her ear and a bone in her teeth, the spray at the bow and her somewhat raggedy sails the only white things to be seen on this gray gray stage that we are slowly crossing to the other side. For much of yesterday and last night we were reduced to standing watch with the radar alone, as a thick fog had visibility down to uselessly close confines.

And, final wonder of the natural world to note: As I write this, my 10 year old son Elias is happily keeping watch. Basically, he was so keen to do it and give me a break that there was no stopping him. So he's all rugged up in raingear and various sweaters and two hats and a neck gaiter, with my watch set to rouse him at ten minute intervals to scan the horizon, and otherwise laughing out loud at whatever book it is that he is reading.

When I think back to the little nubbin that he was when we set sail...well. Parents know the abyss of time that you look down when you consider that sort of progression, from drooler to watchkeeper. We can natter on about Twice In A Lifetime this and that for the sailing life that Alisa and I have been lucky enough to lead over the last ten years, but for our boys this trip has been exactly one lifetime long a piece. And I'd like to think that the proof of what sort of life it is for kids, being raised on a traveling boat, is coming back to Kodiak with us - one of them currently sacked out under the raised saloon table, where he likes to sleep no matter what tack we're on, and the other looking out for ships on a somewhat shitty evening on the wide-open North Pacific, completely unfazed by the experience, and what is even more remarkable, trusted by Alisa and me to do an adult's job, or better, in the face of all that responsibility.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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  1. Interesting to hear about your plastics sightings. It's at last an issue that's receiving increased attention in global media. And it's great to hear that Elias happily stands watch. Our boys used to at his age too, even tough helming watches. Incidentally I wrote 'Those Shipwreck Kids'with Elias in the back of my mind. Barbara and I are thinking of your four on the cold home straight. Fair winds , Jon

  2. Excited to see you in Kodiak again after all these years. You may be pleasantly surprised as to who you will be moored up next to in St.Herman's. I may have a car for you to borrow (again!), depending on when you make it here.