Voices in the Night

11.09.13 - 33.08023W, 2.79826SAs I write this, it’s Friday out here … right about noon. We continue banging and slapping our way down around that bulge of the Brazilian coast heading in the direction of Recife (the fifth largest city in Brazil, with a population of ONLY 3.7 million!) It’s around 285 miles away yet, and we expect the winds to keep building today and tomorrow, as we get closer. Hopefully once we get there, the winds will start to shift easterly, and make our passage a bit less bumpy.

To be honest, I could use a break, as these “tossed around” conditions have been going on now for about ten days straight … beginning in the more northern trade winds, then even into the doldrums, which instead of living up to their name, turned into just another heavy squall zone. And now through these more southern trades.

In any case, we’re here and feeling good and knocking them off – one mile at a time. Maybe 48 more hours … which seems like a long time, but I’ve been out here 5 weeks now, so I guess a couple more days will be just fine.

Waves and more wavesOtto the auto-pilot … and the waves … and the clouds.

Last night at 22:27 hours, Bodacious Dream, Franklin and myself all sailed across the equator for the first time. Bo may count her “taxi” ride from her birthplace in Wellington, New Zealand as her first time, but on her own hull, under her own sail – this was her first too. It’s customary out at sea to have a bit of a celebration on such occasions – and those whose first times it is, often get played upon – dumped on with a bowl of leftovers from the galley … oatmeal, mayonnaise and such gooey things … and then made to sing a song or something. Well, last night was a bit more civilized … we shared the last of the cookies, ate chocolate and tossed a few morsels to Neptune. I was just about to open a bottle of special stuff that Joe Harris had thoughtfully provided, when blam – new winds and squalls forced me to put it away. I’ll offer up a toast tonight at sunset for everyone, for all of you, for Neptune and for us three newbies.

So, maybe you’re wondering who’s Franklin? Well, Franklin is my designated guardian … provided to me after this year’s Trans-Pac by my awesome crewmates aboard Bodacious IV. Franklin is a soccer ball complete with a drawn on face! A cousin of Wilson, no doubt … that other soccer ball made famous in the “Cast Away” movie with Tom Hanks.

FranklinSay what you want about him being only a ball, he’s still fun to have around.

In other news, yesterday I spotted and photographed these birds flying overhead. Out here any bird sighting instantly piques your interest. You kinda feel like a cat … “Oh boy! A bird! Come over this way, little bird!” Anyway, I’m not all that good at identifying birds … so, I sent the photo to Tegan Mortimer, our Earthwatch scientist, who wrote that great Science Notes blog post directly preceding this one … and she said …The birds are a type of Tropicbird. I’m not 100% sure what species they are. They’re probably White-Tailed Tropicbirds, though they might be Red-Tailed Tropicbirds. I’ve uploaded the sighting to iNaturalist and put out a request for help with the identification. New Englander that I am, I don’t know much about these birds, so will try to get back to you with some more information.” Good enough for now. Thanks Tegan!

Tropic BirdsWhite-Tailed Tropicbirds or Red-Tailed Tropicbirds?

Put this in the “long_time_at_sea” folder, but there are a LOT of curious sounds out here and they become especially noticeable at night. Also, as time goes on, and especially once fatigue sets in … the sounds take on these eerily human meanings. Most prominent among them, is the “chorus” (which emanates from the whine of the auto-pilot motors) and there is the “old man” whispering incoherent things to me (that would be the humming sounds from the hydro-generator) and so on.

Last night, there was a new sound – a kind of urgent cracking sound. It seemed to come from below decks. I could hear it snap more intensely each time the boat hit a flat trough. I finally dove below and looked around. Turned out it was my Atlantic Cup Co-Skipper  Matt Scharl‘s fishing pole, which had come loose, which caused the tip to whip around with each bounce and slap against the underside of the deck. Whew … another voice in the night put to rest! Grateful it wasn’t anything worse than that. I tell you though, the less sleep you get, and the more repetitive conditions become, the easier it is to understand how people might begin to see and hear things that may or may not really be there. So far, think we’re doing ok on that score.

Well, that’s enough for now. Hopefully in a day or so, conditions will be better and I can sit for a longer period of time and do a more thorough update.

Signing off,

- Dave, Bodacious Dream and Franklin
33.08023W, 2.79826S

Tegan’s Science Notes: #1 – Bird Migrations

So, while I’m out here at … oh, let’s see … 32.74017W, 0.61875N, getting pretty close to the equator … and still spending a lot of time dealing with the unruly elements, it seemed like a good time to introduce you to Tegan Mortimer. Tegan is an ocean scientist with Earthwatch who you might remember from the Boston Harbor whale watch videos. Tegan is helping us on the expedition on several levels.

  • Curating our Citizen Science Resources page
  • Advising us on our Explorer Guides (working to get them up there soon!) 
  • Fielding my questions and helping with identification of wildlife sightings
  • Posting those wildlife sightings to a cool site named iNaturalist.org
  • Receiving and recording all the research data that we gather

Thank you Tegan, it’s great to have you along for the trip!

Yellow Rump WarblerNow, if you recall, when I was 200 miles off the coast of New Jersey, a bird landed on the boat. Tegan helped us to identify it as a yellow-rumped warbler. The whole issue of bird migrations struck a spark and we asked Tegan to tell us more about bird migrations – because after all it is that time of year. This then is the first of her series of “Science Notes” … and I think you’ll find it worth your while to follow along … and especially good to share with the young’uns.. Take it away, Tegan!

:: TEGAN’S SCIENCE NOTES: #1 – BIRD MIGRATIONS

A songbird over 200 miles from land? That seems like an unusual sighting! How could a little bird get that far from land? Did it get caught in a storm? It’s certainly true that birds can get blown off course and end up in strange places; this is usually followed by storms of excited bird watchers camped out in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a rare sighting!

Dave’s visit from a Yellow-Rumped Warbler on his way to Bermuda was probably not one of these lost birds. If you read my response in a recent post, then that you know that this tiny songbird is probably migrating; heading south to the Caribbean Islands to spend the winter while food in its northern summer home is hard to find.

Warbler PatternsSome yellow-rumped warblers fly farther than others; the maximum distance is about 2,500 miles from right up at the top of the tundra down to the Caribbean, but that’s really nothing compared to species that fly 8,000 to 12,000 miles in a single migration.

Some yellow-rumped warblers, like those that summer here in New England might only go as far south as the Carolinas, but those that spend the summer farther north tend to go much farther south. Still other varieties can survive a cold winter where other species of warbler would just starve. This is because they have a secret weapon! They are some warblers which are able to digest the waxes found in wax-myrtle berries and bayberries, thus providing themselves a wintertime food source without needing to fly as far south as other warbler species.

Bird AltitudesEvery fall millions of birds ranging in size from small warblers like Bodacious Dream’s visitor, to shorebirds and hawks fly to the Caribbean, Central America and South America to wait out the winter. These huge flocks of migrating birds often go unnoticed because they fly very high up in the air and often fly at night. Flocks of songbirds crossing stretches of water, like the Gulf of Mexico, usually fly around 10,000 feet up, but they have been recorded flying twice as high as that! Migrating birds have even been identified by passenger jets at cruising altitude. An amazing example is the bar-headed goose which migrates over the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas, at heights of 29,500 feet. Even more amazing is that these geese fly over the mountains in a single day!

So how do these birds find their way, especially if they’re flying over the water? It was thought for a very long time that migrating birds flew at night so that they could use the stars for navigation, but then researchers realized that these birds are still able to navigate on cloudy nights. How exactly they navigate over such long distances is still a mystery, but scientists think that they may use many different senses to navigate including using the stars. Pigeons have been proven to be able to use their sense of smell to navigate and birds contain small amounts of the mineral Magnetite which is thought to help them sense the earth’s magnetic fields and see polarized light which can all help to navigate.

Animals that migrate are of special conservation concern because they travel so far and often traverse many countries with different laws. A species that is protected in one country may be hunted heavily in another. Luckily, the yellow-rumped warbler and many other migratory birds are protected by a treaty between the United States and other countries which protects these birds and their habitats as collective natural heritage. Additionally, the yellow-rumped warbler is widespread and has a large population so for conservation purposes it is considered to be of “least concern.” This species is not expected to face extinction any time in the near future. However that does not mean that climate change, habitat destruction, and human impacts won’t have effects on it which could possibly lead to declines or even extinction.

Earthwatch scientists are studying migratory songbirds that nest in the Rocky Mountains. Over the past 5 years these researchers and Earthwatch volunteers have seen a trend which indicates that many of these common and widespread songbirds are less successful nesting closer to human development. Human development is pushing further and further into “wild” land in some parts of the world, what could this mean for even our most common animals and birds?

Birds might be the most remarkable migrators, but they are hardly the only animals that Dave will see mid-migration. Can you think of some other ocean animals that migrate? Where are they going and why are they going there?

(Tegan Mortimer is a scientist with Earthwatch Institute.  Contact Tegan directly at Tegan Mortimer <tmortimer (at) earthwatch (dot) org>)

Storm-Riding, Rain Squalls and Science

The last 36 hours or so have been a bit frustrating and a bit exciting too. On one hand, we’ve had little or no wind which has made the going slow and with little cloud cover, the days have been quite hot. On the other hand, we’ve been monitoring a growing tropical depression, which has developed into a storm called Lorenzo. Presently, Lorenzo is south and east of me, and the interesting recommendation this morning from our online naval guidance system, Commanders Weather is … “Let’s go try to catch it!”

Weather _LorenzoLorenzo appears to the right there …

STORM-RIDING: Now, I know that may not sound too smart … and in most cases it wouldn’t be. But in our particular case, and at this particular time, we are trying to get to a point where I can pick up the NE trade winds and ride them down to the waypoint where we will enter and cross the “doldrums.” (The doldrums, being the term for that low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are almost always calm.) So, in order to move forward, we need whatever wind we can get, and if I can use the cold front that is supposed to pass through today to push me in that direction, and so catch the outside bands of Lorenzo, then it can help pull me east, which is just what we want to do.

With tropical storms and hurricanes, there is never a truly good side to them, but what is considered the generally navigable quadrant is the forward left corner. So if the storm is moving, as Lorenzo is to the North and East, then the left forward corner is where Bodacious Dream and I can hitch a ride around the underside to the East. Guess we’ll have to see if this works or not. Right now, the winds from the cold front, which began to pass over us just an hour ago, are still less than 8 knots, but we expect them to build to 15 and maybe 20 later this afternoon. If that happens, I’ll sail those winds to the Southeast, and hopefully catch those outer bands of Lorenzo.

sunset1_550Sunset Passing …

WATER CONSERVATION: Yesterday, as the day went on, we had a squall pass over us. What a grand and refreshing thing it is to stand in the middle of the ocean in a fresh water rain! It’s easy to lose track of how important the little things in life are, until you don’t have them.

I have not discussed this before, but Bodacious Dream has no onboard freshwater shower, so cleaning up (or “bathing” – if you want to get real liberal with the term) involves using a bit of saltwater, followed by just a bit of fresh water on the face. I don’t want to use up too much fresh water for such purposes … as I’m never sure how much I’ll need for drinking on the trip to Cape Town. I also have to keep in mind, that I’m only into Day 6 from Bermuda of what is likely going to be a 40-day trip to Cape Town. So, the 60 gallons of fresh water I have will be pretty close to gone by then. I plan to drink or use up to 1 gallon a day, but we always want to take precautions in case something were to go wrong. What if one of the jugs springs a leak? What if I get a cut and have to wash it regularly … or who knows? What if the mast breaks and I had to drift across the ocean? What if? What if? What if? This is the song of the sea, and it is why the art of careful preparation is so important for extended adventures like this.

sail1_400
What I see when my eyes drift up …

CITIZEN SCIENCE: In my role as a fledgling citizen scientist, we’re taking regular readings for Earthwatch Institute. These include filtering water, observing debris in the ocean, watching for wild life, taking readings with the “Secchi Disc,” as well as using these updates to help educate people on the interesting ways of the ocean.

citizen_science_200

As far as debris goes, I’ve only seen two pieces of plastic so far. One looked like a storage box or container, the other some ort of plastic cylinder. I’m sure neither were buoys marking fishing nets. I’ve taken pictures of them with the geo-tagging camera, so they can be logged onto the iPad and when I’m next in port, I’ll upload the information to the research sites.

Take a look at our CITIZEN SCIENCE PAGE … it’s chock full of great resources, put together for us by our Earthwatch ocean scientist, Tegan Mortimer.

In fact, I heard from Tegan the other day, about that Yellow Rump Warbler that joined me onboard a couple hundred miles off the coast of New Jersey. Here’s what she had to say.

Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 2.58.11 PM“I’m happy to report that Dave’s bird sighting has been uploaded to iNaturalist and has had the species id confirmed which makes it a “research grade” observation. This means that it will be included in a global biodiversity database, which provides scientists and managers information about the distribution and movement of animals. So very exciting!

As unusual as this sighting seems, it’s actually probably a bird, which was on its fall migration from Canada down to the Caribbean, maybe got a little tired and caught a little ride with Dave to get a rest! Bird migrations are pretty interesting (and migration in general) so I’m writing up a little piece for some educational background on it.”

Thanks Tegan, we look forward to reading the piece!

So, enough for now. I have to get back to business here … and catch up on our gusty “friend” Lorenzo. Be back soon to tell you what happens.

We all know how spotty Facebook can be, so make sure you’re getting the major updates by signing up for the email list here! Thx!

- Dave & Bodacious Dream

Coordinates as of 12:30 UTC (06:30 CDT)
054.5947W, 33.3195N 
Our Speed Over Ground (SOG) – 5.5 knots.
Our Course Over Ground (COG) – 130 Wind speed – 8 knots.
Cookies left- Not enough!

Getting Up to Speed on Citizen-Science

Well, departure time is fast approaching and while it looks like we’re still on track to launch the circumnavigation next Tuesday, October 1st … there looks to be a big storm brewing out in the Atlantic that may delay us a day or so.

That said, I want to start by heaping thanks on Tim Eades for hanging in there with me as we work through the action list, gather pieces and parts, argue with people about time frames, hope for things to arrive on time and commiserate when special orders don’t arrive when expected. But, isn’t that what preparing boats (or ourselves) for life’s challenges is all about? And truth be told, we are having a ball – LOL at ourselves over here. I’m sure if you were here watching us from the pier, you’d be laughing too at our SDSS (Semi-Disorganized Sailor’s Shuffle!)

Everyday has its highlights too. The first of today’s “moments” was adding the new Hurricane Island Outward Bound School logographic up on the boat. Capt. Tim and I are getting pretty tight to the line there.

logo-signage

Even better was yesterday’s highlight … the arrival of Tegan Mortimer from Earthwatch Institute with a box full of scientific research tools for me to use during the circumnavigation.

Here’s a video of Tegan and I opening my box of new science tools. I would have been excited about it … even if there were no vacuum-sealed cookies in the box!

As you may remember (from a previous post,) Tegan is a science coordinator at Earthwatch, and she has been instrumental in bringing me up to speed on the research programs I’ll be contributing to when I’m traveling out into the “data sparse” parts of the oceans. It’s relatively easy to draw data from coastal and near-coastal areas, but in the open ocean, not so … hence, the term … ”data sparse.” While we travel through these areas, Tegan has outlined some ways that we can help to do our part in gathering scientific data … even if the tools we’re using aren’t quite as sophisticated as the ones full-on scientists use.

Tegan has also agreed to serve as a kind of go-to pro for your questions about the ocean. She has also begun to put together a great set of links to “Citizen Science” projects … some of which are specific to our Circumnavigation. We’re very excited about this! Thank you Tegan! You can find our evolving BDX “Citizen Science Resources” page HERE!

So, back to our training session … Tegan explained that we’ll be looking at three different areas in which to gather information. FIRST and easiest involve regular observations of animals, interesting phenomena and debris that we encounter. The great thing about this camera I have is that it geo-tags photos! So, if I see a whale … or some surprising debris, I can take a photo and it will log the GPS location, time of day and date, and that photo can then be analyzed by Tegan and other researchers and added to their geo-specific database of information.

Bodacious Science 101The SECOND area we are going to pursue involves taking samples of water and filtering them to determine the amount of micro-plastics and other microscopic types of things our samples contain. Research vessels have sophisticated ways of doing this, but since we’re more citizen-scientist than career-scientist, we’ll use a much simpler method. You can do this at home yourself if you like. It involves using coffee filters, a strainer and a measured container for water. I’ll collect a specific amount of water in a measuring cup; pour it into the coffee filter held over the strainer, which allows the coffee filter to strain out all the microscopic bits. I will then log and number these samples, take a photo of that sample so it is geo-tagged and email off the results. Easy as that! It will be interesting to see just what can be gained from inspecting these filters.

Bodacious Science 101The THIRD area involves one of Tegan’s special interests, and that is measuring plankton with what’s called a “Secchi Disc, which is a white disc, hung from a tape measure. The idea is to drop it into the water until you can’t see it any more … then once you make sure you have the proper depth, you lift it up until you can see it and then you drop it again until it disappears. You do this with the sun at your back and between 10 am and 2 pm, so the data is consistent. This same scientific method of determining water clarity has been in practice since 1865! Now, what’s cool is all this data can then be logged into the free Secchi app on my iPad and sent back to the researchers. This app (for Android too) is neat in that it will log my passage through these areas, what I found and where I was when I did so. If you check out the app, you will see that there is very little existent data south of the Equator where I am going, so I’ll be contributing some pretty rare first-hand research. Whoo-hoo for science! That’s another thing that makes this trip so much fun … is this exploring and discovering areas of the world from which research scientists very seldom get data!

So, THAT was yesterday. Today Tim and I are finishing up the installation of the hydro-generator, which is a pretty fascinating piece of machinery that I’ll talk about more in a day or two. So, for now, it’s back to work on the boat. Lots to do, but this afternoon I’m hoping to transit into “logistical” mode as the action list grows shorter … because it’s time to start packing gear and provisions onboard!

We’ll be getting more videos on Tegan’s visit up on our BDX YouTube Channel very soon … and when you get the chance, check out the above apps that we’ll be using. Maybe you and some friends would like to sample the water around your area. And sign up for the mailing list, why don’t you?

Again, huge thanks to Tegan for her enthusiastic help in getting our science program underway! I’m sure we’ll hear more from her as the trip progresses!

Until later,

- Dave, Tim, Tegan & Bodacious Dream

A Whale of a Watch!

Well, it’s now September 5th and it’s less than 30 days until the start of the Bodacious Dream Expedition around the globe! Work continues on Bodacious Dream each day, as we continue to make modifications to improve my ability to sail the boat by myself, and also to make it easier to communicate with you the many wonders we’ll be encountering.

I mentioned briefly in the last update about my trip with Earthwatch Institute Researcher Tegan Mortimer onboard the vessel, Whale Watch. It was great spending time and learning from someone so passionate about her work. As I mentioned, Tegan specializes in plankton and whales – cool huh? – from the tiny to the titanic!

So, here are some interesting facts about whales that I learned:

  1. Did you know that all dolphins are whales, but not all whales are dolphins? Yes, there are differences.
  2. Different whale species are often most easily identified by the shape (or by the absence) of a dorsal fin?
  3. Many Humpback Whales are identified by the coloring and markings on their tails?
  4. Many of these Humpbacks have individual names given to them by researchers, and so are tracked throughout their lives?
  5. Many whale populations are rebounding, but are still greatly reduced from historical records.
  6. My own quick math says that whale populations are approximately about 10% of what they were in the 1800s? If you think about that … sometimes today’s whale watch boats see 10 or more whales at once. Can you imagine what it was like back in 1800s, when that number might have been 100! That’s a lot of big bodies in the water!
  7. There are only about 350-500 of the protected Northern Right Whales still in the Atlantic Ocean, and they ALL pass through the shipping channels outside of Boston.
  8. Each whale species has their own specific dive sequence. Some of these whales show their tail when they dive and some don’t.
  9. pink_dolphinThere is a fresh water adapted dolphin, called the Boto, in the Amazon River that is pink in color? Boto Dolphins are thought to be very magical – believed to be the spirits of ancestors because One very different thing about them is that their necks turn like a person? No other dolphin has that capability. I had to do an image search to see just what they looked like.

Well, I learned so much more from Tegan about whales too. She showed me how to spot whales and how to compare their dive sequence with the reference manual to help make sure that I’ve identified them correctly. I found this to be very helpful because whale sightings happen so quickly sometimes, that it’s not easy to get a picture that can identify the species conclusively.

Learning about Whale’s Dive Sequence

For the circumnavigation, I got a new camera that automatically geo-tags the photographs and videos I take. This will be helpful in collecting all the data necessary to allow Earthwatch whale researchers to use the information. The photos contain info on the latitude and longitude of the picture, as well as the time of day and the direction I am looking when I shot the photograph. The videos will help us to identify the whale from the dive sequences. This is going to be one of the most exciting parts of the trip as I pass through a broad variety of different whale populations and territories.

Another cool thing Tegan explained was how sensors were being used to warn ships of the small remaining world population of Right Whales who all pass through the shipping lanes near Boston.

Looking out for Right Whales

Our trip aboard Whale Watching provided us many other things to see too. We spotted some debris in the water, mostly floating wood and plastics in the harbor. We also saw a very fun and amazing thing – a feeding school of Blue Fin Tuna! These majestic fish have a very distinctive shape to them. The ones we saw were probably 60 to 100 pounds in size, jumping clearly out of the water. The tuna are a warm-blooded fish and can swim as fast as 40 miles an hour!

blue_fin
 Jumping Blue Fin Tunas!

So … many thanks to Tegan and to Earthwatch for providing me the time to learn how to research, catalog and identify the whales I’ll be seeing along the trip.

For now, it’s back to boat projects as we get ready to launch this coming Monday after completing the satellite work as well as finishing the work on and reinstalling the mast. Soon we’ll be out sailing once again, and it will be time to work on loading the boat with all the necessary equipment and food for the trip.

More soon,

- Dave & Bodacious Dream