Midway Atoll, Midnight Philosophy, and A Plastic Buffet For Albatrosses.

Jul 02 2012

albi

We’re just west of Midway Atoll and we’ve found the sun, thankfully. Sea Dragon is dried out, but we’re under provisioned and almost entirely out of vegetables (even canned) and the watermaker is acting up (again) and so the crew isn’t allowed fresh water showers. We have 1500 liters of fresh water until Maui which is enough for hydration and dishwashing, but that’s it.  Not a big deal, but getting clean once every few days is something that keeps morale up for crew that’s
had a pretty hard passage.  Saltwater showers are what mariners have done forever and slowly but surely the crew is acquiescing to fact that a primitive brine bath is the only option for now.  But for all the challenges, and to be frank–the weather and mechanical issues have put people to brink at times, one is always reminded that we’re not on a cruise, and we’re sailing across the ocean in small boat. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

But the joys are myriad and poignant, too. Recently we’ve had some of the most stunningly starry nights of the trip peppered by a fast waxing moon that casts us all in soft silhouettes and drifting moon shadows. When the stars come out, night watch becomes a forum for waxing poetic and philosophical. Starry nights also make for easy steering of the ship. Pick a star and keep it between the mast and the shrouds, and you’ll steer course.  Meteor showers have become commonplace, expected. Paul and Dani are all a marvel at the night sky; The Northern Hemisphere constellations are new to them being from
Australia and Brasil.

To do nothing but drive a ship through a void and stare at the stars for hours on ends makes the mind go big; reach for the sublime.  It’s when the angst of life on land is resolved, the personal tragedies that color our lives are shared and empathized with, all of which creates for an alchemy of healing and transcendence.  To touch timelessness adrift at sea is to grasp quietly at infinity in the heavens above—and organically, without conjuring or initiation, strife resolves and we imbue ourselves in the beauty that reveals itself in these moments.

When you spend a month at sea with a group of people the first week is all about feeling each other out, looking for one’s place in the pecking order and what contributions one can make that are the most useful. But quickly, barriers are dropped, as are inhibitions; if you need to change your underwear, you just do it as discreetly as you can, but there isn’t much privacy and walking all the way to the head (toilet) in a pitching boat isn’t worth it. This sort of stripping down to one’s bare self makes the superficial dissolve, replaced by true humanness.  It’s beautiful and sets the stage for personal interactions that spring from innocence, trust and a faculty to being present to, indeed, a gift at the speed of life seen from a child’s eye.

We’ve become close as a crew.  We monitor the Korean’s epic sea-sickness and delight that he’s moving about and eating again.  We make sure everyone’s getting enough to eat, that mentally, we’re all keeping on.  And everyday we practice our individual arts that consider this marine eco disaster we travel through known as plastic pollution.

For my part, I’ve been chasing albatrosses with my camera. For days, being so close to Midway, we’re seeing the regal birds all around. I’m in awe; they soar effortlessly, barely flapping their wings. They approach, circle, fish, then alight in the water for a rest and we leave them bobbing in Sea Dragon’s wake. But then, and again, they return only to alight once more.  I’ve been photographing these birds which has proven difficult. Shooting a moving object from a pitching object at distance with a 200 mil lens is not easy. But I’ve managed to get a few shots that catch these marvelous creatures
soaring and wandering the big blue.  It’s this beauty, like that which I’ve described before that makes us care for this ocean and makes this voyage, ‘life changing.’

When we pull up the trawl it’s like daggers—what remains from seining a just a sliver of the ocean is what kills albatross on Midway, what creates the subject for Chris Jordan’s seminal work.  But because there is beauty and camaraderie, care and common purpose, we’re ship of souls working to reverse this tragic new order, because we see everyday with delight and respect, what the ocean world should look like.

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The wind is on the nose of Sea Dragon making for difficult headway eastward—bad wind directions gnaw on the nerves of our captains.  All of us are looking for land where loved ones and arugula salads wait for us.  But as we bash our way forward, I can’t help but draw a metaphor: sailing against the wind is like fighting against the tide of indifference that makes for an ocean full of plastic. Yet like you, we keep moving forward.