We have been enjoying sailing in the easterly trade winds with the wind and seas at our backs for the vast majority of the expedition. Unfortunately, a few days ago after passing Wake Island, we sailed out of the easterly trade winds and into a windless void nearly 800 miles wide. The last 1,500 miles to Japan will be the most difficult of the journey. We face light winds, head winds and low pressure systems capable of becoming a typhoon. After sailing over 5,000 miles we feel so close, yet so far away.
Two weeks ago we passed 180 degrees west and sailed from the western hemisphere into the eastern hemisphere, 24 hours vanished, and like magic, an entire day disappeared. All of our micro-plastic samples have to be properly logged with descriptions about things like wind speed, sea state and time of day. All of our samples are logged using UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time. It’s crazy to think that when we logged our micro-plastic samples two weeks ago we were using a time zone that’s literally on the opposite side of the planet. Since longitude defines where time zones begin and end, Greenwich England is the beginning and end of time. The king of all time zones.
Life at sea can be pretty basic. A bucket on a line is one of our most important multi-purpose pieces of gear on this boat. We actually have two buckets: a clean bucket and a dirty bucket. Our buckets provide our dishwasher, our laundry machine, our shower, and if things got really bad, our emergency bilge pump. Making fresh water with a manual water-maker is a time-consuming process, so we only have fresh water for drinking and rehydrating our freeze-dried food. For everything else, it’s good old sea water in a bucket.
We don’t have refrigeration, nor have I in the past, so once again we are living on freeze-dried food. It’s healthy food, at least I’ve never gotten scurvy. It tastes good too, but it always has the same consistency. Every meal is some version of what I call ‘sailor slop’.
Around halfway to Japan the ocean started to take its toll on my body. The salty air attacked my scalp, and I had to cut all the hair off my head and face. My scalp looked like it had been burned, and I’m now as bald as a Buddhist monk. Since the boat is small, I find myself sitting and sweating a lot, so now I have an epic heat rash in the last place you want a heat rash. I’ve dealt with this before on previous expeditions, it’s just part of being a Celt, you have sensitive skin. Nicole, on the other hand, has no problems and has been holding up just fine.
The Harbor 29 sailboat has been holding up well, although there was one small issue. New standing rigging will stretch and become loose. That’s typically not an issue, you just tighten the rigging at the turnbuckles. The problem is that this boat has a semi high performance double spreader rig, so the upper inner shrouds become loose and the only way to tighten them is to climb that mast. Normally this would be an easy thing to do, but climbing a mast under sail then reaching out to the end of the spreader with a tool in each hand is a nightmare. You have to use two wrenches to tighten the rigging, so how are you going to hold on to the mast? Luckily I received an ATN mast climber right before I left. This device lets you climb a mast comfortably without having someone winch you up. At a dock it would have taken 20 minutes to tighten the rigging, but since riding the mast under sail was like riding a bucking bronco, it took two hours.
The luxuries of civilization only satisfy those wants which they themselves create. Well, at least that’s what the great scientist and Antarctic explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard used to say. I can’t say I disagree, yet some luxuries of civilization sound awfully nice right about now. After 46 days at sea, we miss the basic comforts of life on land: running water, freshwater shower, clean clothes. Although, we can’t think too much about that right now, we have to claw our way north to Japan and continue taking micro-plastic samples along the way. Just 1,500 miles to go.
Expeditions don’t come together easily; you have to will them into existence. This Pacific plastics expedition took 10 months of planning and fundraising to put together. We had to write six grants before we were awarded one by the Save Our Seas Foundation. The Save Our Seas Foundation really saved this expedition.