The other night, Herb took a direct and pungent hit while eating pizza. One minute he was minding his own business in the cockpit of the 64-foot Ocean Watch, and the next, he'd taken a body blow to the chest and had some laundry to do. His attacker?
A large squid that had jumped out of the Pacific Ocean at the same moment that Ocean Watch had sailed by, not far from Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.
That may seem strange to some readers, but having seen Galapagos wildlife myself, I'm not surprised. What impressed me is that an offshore crew would be eating pizza!
Then again, the expedition of this big steel sloop on its 25,000-mile circumnavigation of the American continents has had daily surprises, written up by Mr. McCormick and photographed by David Thoreson, and I encourage you to visit and dig into Around the Americas, a site that recounts this self-described "expedition of discovery to raise awareness of the threats to our oceans and the need to take action."
Skipper Mark Schrader, a veteran of around the world races, brought Ocean Watch to Rhode Island last fall, and I stepped aboard to visit with him and Herb (who I once worked with at Sailing World and Cruising World magazines). The boat is not an ostentatious yacht nor high-performance racing machine; it's all business, equipped to safely carry a crew, including teachers and scientists and a load of gear ranging from the scientific, to communications and navigation, to multi-media.
At the point that I got aboard for a tour, late one afternoon, they had just completed the "summer" leg from Seattle, Washington, around Alaska and through the Northwest Passage, emerging south of Greenland in the Atlantic Ocean. Even a few years ago, the likelihood of making it through the ice-strewn waters of northern Canada in one summer was a low probability, but while Ocean Watch had luck on her side, no doubt about it, it's a sign of the changing Arctic climate that the passage has become easier to navigate.
In a talk to a large group at the New York Yacht Club that evening, Schrader emphasized that it might be more possible than previously to make it through the passage, but that it's not necessarily easier. "There are chunks of multi-year ice that have broken off the ice-cap," he said, "and they're clogging up the channels" through which Ocean Watch had to pass.
The Around the America's voyage of Ocean Watch has been heavily supported by Sailors for the Sea, and its mission includes a reflection of the organization's environmental advocacy. David Rockefeller, a co-founder of Sailors for the Sea who has cruised and raced sailboats all his life, introduced Schrader to the club audience and set the stage for the ambitious nature of the trip around the "Americas." They're an "island surrounded by one ocean," he said. "Everything we do affects that ocean. We must pay attention to the fine balance between a healthy and unhealthy ocean."
Also sponsoring the 13-month voyage is the Pacific Science Center, of Seattle, Washington, and naturally enough the crew of Ocean Watch includes scientists and teachers who are observing, sampling, measuring, and explaining to students of all ages what they're finding. One notable observation made during the Northwest Passage leg was the northward migration of jellyfish, which Schrader said can be like the "canary in a coal mine" — indicative of a troubled and changing environment.
Schrader said although he's sailed around the world twice, becoming more aware of the science of the oceans on this voyage has taught him how little he knows about it. "It's a fragile system," he said. "We should act now and hope it can get healthier in 50 to 100 years."
The steel sloop, which started out in Seattle, Washington, in June 2009, left Newport, Rhode Island, in early October and sailed south to the Caribbean, down the east coast of South America, and rounded Cape Horn in late January, 2010. It was sailing off the coast of Chile during that country's terrible earthquake, visited the Galapagos Islands en route to Costa Rica, and the adventures haven't stopped.
If you don't have an appetite for fresh squid on your pizza as Herb did, check out his latest blog post (number 211!) called Handholds and Hammerheads, which includes a great selection of Dave Thoreson's slides. In fact, I insist you read it, especially if you have ever done any diving, or even imagined it. When you get to his last line, which includes the memorable phrase "in a moment that was both serious as a heart attack and as soothing as a sonnet," you'll know why.