South Atlantic Gyre: Under the weather

30 09.02 South, 23 49.78 West

November 21, 2010

5:30 am. 5th straight day of screaming southern seas. We’re still heading South East to try and escape a bit of this weather system, but the charts show at least another day or so of nastiness. Still, we’re sticking to our trawling schedule of every 60 miles - which at times seems ludicrous. Like  last night.....

“Marcus, are you sure about this?” I poke my head out of the hatch, gripping the side rails as gale force winds hurl sheets of rain at my face, sideways. I wonder if it’s even worth it. In a sea state this turbulent and agitated, plastic tends to be pushed down just below the surface. To say nothing of the danger of deploying and retrieving the manta trawl, while sliding along the wet deck as the boat pitches and  slams wildly. A rainbow of shin bruises illustrate this point.

“Yes, we need the data points”.

On our last expedition to the North Atlantic, gale force winds drove a 600-mile gap in our sampling. We called it the “hurricane gap”. From a research perspective, this was a real disappointment. Still, there’s not much one can do about the weather. This time, we’re simply pushing through it.

And the results have been fascinating. Even skimming our trawl along these frothing, angry seas, we’re still finding the usual synthetic suspects - larger fragments of plastic amidst shredded salps and small, silvery juvenile fish.

We’d expected going into this expedition to be sailing straight through a high pressure system that normally hovers right over our current position. Unfortunately for us, this high has scooted much further south, tempting us with visions of flat, windless seas. And its beginning to take a toll.

Tight quarters are made even tighter when weather drives us into the galley, 13 tired, anxious bodies. Patience wears just a wee bit thinner, and more of the crew begin to sass back at Dale, our resident Kiwi with a relentless repertoire of wise ass remarks. Still, given the conditions,

I’m amazed by everyone’s efforts to keep their spirits up. Chelsea keeps us constantly entertained with her infectious laugh and her truly remarkable tongue tricks – you’d have to see this to believe it....Both Mary’s are always ready with a cheerful smile. Mike has officially bounced back from a wicked run of debilitating seasickness, and takes bread making on with a vengeance. Stiv continues whipping up masterpiece after masterpiece in the violently swaying kitchen. Rich tapes up a daily reminder from his pack of 4 agreements cards – today, “be impeccable with your word”.  James somehow maintains his laid back good-natured attitude, even after slipping dangerously close to the edge during a trawl episode – his harness keeps him on board. Jody is truly a jack of all trades, energetic sailor, chef, Irish-accent impersonator and master photographer. Clive and Dale maintain order amidst the climate chaos – making sure we all keep to a healthy routine.

And Marcus has one thing on his mind: TRAWL. I’ve just taken off my “foulies”, which are beginning to live up to their name. Despite a dehumidifier in the foulie locker, our outerwear can’t quite get dry between our watches. The entire locker smells like feet. Its time for a shower – a slip and slide adventure in and of itself. One or two more days of this (we hope) and things will calm down a bit....though as Clive keeps reminding us about weather, (read with a lovely British accent) “she’ll do what she wants now, really”.