Category Archives: Expeditions

Tsunami debris& Boobies AHOY!

DAY 11 – Tuesday 20th June 2012   30° 30.5′ N 167° 26.6′ E

The dawn watch is the best, particularly when sailing east, I am fast falling in love with the open ocean. I greet the sun standing in the bows, with a pool net in hand, scooping plastic from the sea.  The ocean looks like a giant swimming pool, clear depths and gentle swell….

A pair of Boobies (birds that is) were flying about Sea Dragon, dropping to pluck flying fish out of the air as our bow wave startled the fish into leaping from the water. Such an amazing behaviour to observe, a bird catching fish on the wing!

Boobies indicate land is near, they don’t range as far as some birds, on checking the charts we saw we are around 600 Nautical Miles north of Wake Is. where they are known to nest.

We are now in the south eastern part of the tsunami debris field and are spotting objects regularly. The tsunami debris we find here will be floating on or just below the waterline, providing little windage to be blown east, indeed that is reflected in what we are finding. Buckets, shoes, bottles, toys and so forth.

Two items we have recovered that are almost certainly tsunami debris is some traditional Japanese floor matting and a light truck tyre of the sort used in Japan. The rate of degradation and colonisation by marine life puts both of these objects as entering the ocean in the correct time period. We still hope to find some traceable debris.

I spotted a rare glass float, it appears to be a recent one, and we bought it on board. Marcus said some fish farms in Korea are still using them. Glass is a much better material than plastic in this application, is inert when in the environment and does not carry toxins or pollute.. Bring back glass floats! These floats are beautiful, I have dreamed of finding one for years.. I offered to fight Marcus for possession of the float, though lucky for me he refused (the guy is an ex Marine, my only hope of winning would be to shout “look, tsunami debris!!” then hit him from behind  :-D )

Typhoon Guchol is moving fast up the Japanese coast, bringing flood & strong winds. Though it is unlikely to hit us directly it is a huge storm, comparable to Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans…. Rodrigo our skipper is unsure of what it will mean to us, though 30ft plus swells and high winds aren’t out of the question. Our storm sails have been checked and are on deck in readiness.With luck that is how they will stay.

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Japanese characters

DAY 7 – Saturday 16th June 2012

30° 6.4′ N 159° 34.2′ E  ( 1800km of japan)                                                                Today was a brilliant, sun shining with a gentle swell, it’s Saturday and we have been at sea for seven days. The wind has dropped and as we are under time restraints we have been motoring all day. This isn’t ideal, though it does allow us more maneuverability when we spot debris, and this morning we hit a dense patch.

15 year projection of tsunami Debris- by Uni of Hawaii

We recovered a bucket with Japanese characters (which may be tsunami debris), a bundle of rope and packing strap, some kind of natural fibre/plastic/foam composite building material or cladding and numerous small items, including a hair comb. We passed dozens of other small fragments of plastic, bottles and debris which we couldn’t collect.

The most striking thing about this plastic is it is all being colonised by a wide variety of life, it is being used as substrate for animals to lay eggs on and as shelter from predators. Some of the larger pieces are becoming floating eco-systems of their own, allowing species to exist where they shouldn’t. On our bundle of rope we found a frog-fish! Certainly not an animal one would expect to encounter mid-ocean.. This ability for plastic pollution to shelter and transport exotic species is cause for concern.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was spotting a pod of Sperm Whale off our starboard bow, we didn’t get that close though they have a distinctive spout pattern which made an id possible. The whales hung around for a while then we lost them when they dived. These animals can dive to great depths and spend over 45 minutes under water.

Looks like we’ll have a few more days of weather like this, hopefully the wind will pick up and we can make our way under sail instead of motoring.

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little red dot

Finally on our way!

DAY 5 – Thursday 14th June 2012

The Sea Dragon left Yokohoma port on Sunday and we have been sailing for five days!!  The GPS puts us 33° 15.9′ North, 151° 3.6′ East.  Over 1000km of the coast for Japan, but  much farther south than we intended, though at the mercy of the winds this is our best course! We’ll be heading north east soon to intercept the Tsunami Debris field.

There’s been some pretty uncomfortable sailing, heavy rain at times. With around half the crew seasick…Reporting some minor damage to the boat, an unexpected swell tore one of our four life rings from the rail. Everyone has pretty much settled in though and we are keeping three hour watches, 24 hours a day.

Our experienced seafarer Stiv puts it this way:

“the rain is washing our stomach contents from Sea Dragon’s sides without the aid of the hose. Slowly, the crew is coming back to life after serious bouts with seasickness that claimed about half the crew, and put them DOWN. The Aussi is well, as are the Brits, but the Korean and the Swiss are having a rough go. The rest are about a five on a scale of ten.”

Finally, today it’s sunny in patches, with an easy swell, we are enjoying the best sailing so far, the crew are mostly on deck, hanging up some washing and the last bananas have been consumed in the form of banana bread.                                  Micro plastic sampling has started and we are keeping a log of large debris spotted. We have also collected our first water samples for Woods Hole Institute.

I can begin to imagine what the world was like before we left our mark, watching this ocean slip by, an awesome expanse of wilderness and natural beauty. Unfortunately another piece of plastic pollution drifts past interrupting my fantasy.

Oh, we just spotted our first albatross :)

Yep, the little red dot is us….

 

 

 

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Still in Yokohama, ready to leave…

After a week’s lay up in Yokohama we are finally making last preparations for departure… Fingers crossed!

It’s raining here and we’ve taken on last provisions.

Typhoon Mawar has passed and our weather window is open, it’ll be reasonably heavy going with gusts up to 35 knots and a decent swell, but the Sea Dragon was built to race around the globe so the boat can handle it and Rodrigo the skipper is capable and experienced. We on the other hand may be a bit green for the first few days. If weather keeps building we could be stuck again.. and I’m out of Yen :)

The alternator on the main engine has been replaced, with an improvised part, we have adapted a CAT alternator  to fit a Perkins engine. (Although now the rev counter is not working, we’ll have to judge revs by ear)

Our generator and water maker is up and running again, some of our samples need to be kept frozen, so the ability to generate power is paramount.

Passports have been stamped by immigration, for the second time… we are now officially confined to port until we set sail.

The last stumbling block aside from weather is that Nick, one of the scientists on board has come down with a mystery ailment, while we clear the last formalities with the port he has been bundled off to the doctor for a diagnosis and hopefully a simple prescription so we can get going. We can’t afford to lose any more time or else the objectives of the expedition may be compromised.

Marcus the expedition leader from 5 Gyres is confident if we leave today we’ll make the projected tsunami debris field with time to spare. We need that time to conduct effective sampling and searches for large debris.

Keeping effective watch is going to be a critical safety concern, the 66ft section of dock that washed up in Oregon highlights this, regardless of waterproof bulkheads and the like a collision with a piece of debris this size could be disastrous.

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

The Japanese media are here, ready to send us off, though I’m not sure I’ll really believe we are on our way until we are in international waters.

UPDATE! WEATHER BUILDING DELAYED AGAIN!

As I type this Rodrigo our skipper has updated the weather status, 4.5 meter swell strong headwinds, his opinion is departure today would be stupid. Rodrigo says when in higher latitudes you really have to watch your departure timing, if you don’t want to “get your arse kicked by the weather”

Looks like regardless of the outcome with Nick and his mystery ailment we will be unlikely to depart today.

Safety first. I’m happy to delay if the skipper says so.

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Waiting for typhoon Mawar to pass

We’ve now been on the Sea dragon for a week, settling in and waiting for our weather window to open to allow departure.

The major hold up has been Typhoon Mawar (Rose) which has killed eight in the Phillipines and is currently heading towards our projected course.

This storm is pretty wild, with gusts up to 130mph!! We certainly don’t want to experience those kind of conditions at sea.

One person with no choice but to weather the storm is British adventurer Sarah Outen, who is currently in the path of the storm in her attempt to row solo across the Pacific. Sarah is buckling down in the face of Mawar. It will be intense though Sarah and her state of the art carbon-fibre boat should stand up to the pounding.

Sarah Outen's current location, in the path of typhoon Mawar

 

Sea Dragon may attempt to rendezvous with Sarah to offer assistance (and chocolate) if she requires it. Her position is not too far from our first way-point.  After her ordeal friendly faces may be welcome.

Life in the harbour has been exciting too, with dodgy shipping agents trying to fleece us and clearing immigration only to be delayed and having to get our passports re stamped.. effectively we have entered Japan twice without leaving!

Not much to do now except to read, spend some time writing and waiting for typhoon Mawar to let us on our way.

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Typhoon on the way!

We have been delayed again, our alternator still has not arrived and there is a typhoon heading up the Japanese coast, 30 knot winds forecast.

For now we’ll sit tight and wait for our opportunity to leave Yokohoma.

Supplies are still being stowed, and Stiv is cooking the first dinner on board, chicken curry with a vegetarian option.

This evening Rodrigo our skipper will brief us on safety gear and procedures, if someone was to go overboard rescue is unlikely, so instead we concentrate on keeping everyone on the right side of the lifeline.

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Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture tsunami cleanup

As our departure date has been put back to 2nd of June some of the expedition team decided to head north towards Fukushima and give some time volunteering at tsunami cleanup.

Furnished with a handy volunteer guide in Japanese, Marcus our expedition leader from 5 Gyres, secured our insurance cards, some safety gear and booked our bus tickets.

Akira from the Japanese broadcaster NHK was invaluable with information and advice, he even came to the rescue when yours truly left his audio recorder on a railway platform and managed to return it before our bus left Yokohoma!

The area most needing assistance is near Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, which until April has been part of the exclusion zone around the failed nuclear reactor.

This area is surreal, like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, devoid of people. Smashed infrastructure, houses and vehicles mark the landscape, reminders of the power of the sea. Mr Suzuki, who helped look after us during the cleanup said the cars with number plates still attached indicated their owners were still unaccounted for.

It is a snapshot of what the Japanese coastline looked like shortly after the tsunami hit, with nature slowly taking over.  Now this area has been opened again the survivors who chose to return  are now slowly rebuilding their homes and cleaning up their properties.

Our arrival at the volunteer center initially caused some confusion amongst the administration who were not set up to cater for international volunteers. Fortunately they were impressed to see we already had our insurance cards and were able to find some English speakers among the Japanese volunteers to help out.We were assigned to clear a drainage ditch around Kazuko Sakaida’s house which just escaped being destroyed by the Tsunami. Kazuko saw the wave approaching, flooding her fields and almost reaching her door.  She has been unable to return here until recently, being kept away due to high radiation levels.
Kazuko bought us snacks and drinks in appreciation of our efforts.

Marcus from 5 Gyres is also an accomplished sculptor, with work in the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. Kazuko agreed to let him cast her hand as part of an ongoing project on plastic pollution. With bemusement she knelt on her hardwood floor waiting for the cast to set. Kazuko was fascinated with the detail in the resulting positive of her hand.

The Japanese people possess an incredible resilience, this is apparent in the survivors and volunteers still working on rebuilding after the tsunami and nuclear disaster. It was an honour for us to be accepted by these people and to feel their warmth and appreciation . Working side by side with Mr Suzuki and the other Japanese volunteers was a great experience, one I will carry for a long time to come.

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Expedition: Whitsundays Clean Up February 2012

Two Hands Project founder Paul and co-founder Silke

Two Hands Project founder Paul and co-founder Silke

The Two Hands Project team, Paul Sharp (founder) and Silke Stuckenbrock (co-founder), were lucky enough to have the opportunity to sail around the Whitsundays as part of a week long Two Hands Project.

Paul was interviewed by Channel Whitsundays while there:

We found alot of bottle caps, bottles and toothbrushes during our clean ups.

Some of the plastic pollution in the Whitsundays

It’s a a remarkable thing to note that – of all the beaches that the Two Hands Project team have seen in Australia (and we have seen quite a few) – several of the beaches in the Whitsundays were the worst affected by plastic pollution.

Two Hands Project Team with Ben Ware from Whitsundays Plastic Pollution

Two Hands Project Team with Ben Ware from Whitsundays Plastic Pollution

We also got the chance to go diving and snorkelling too, so it wasn’t all clean ups and no play ;)

Two Hands Project Founder Paul with Ben Ware from Whitsundays Plastic Pollution...and some of the plastic collected in the tinny behind the boat

We were taken around the Whitsundays by local Ben Ware: awesome guide, passionate on solving the problem of plastic pollution in the Whitsundays and genuine all round decent human being.  You can see more of what Ben does on his Facebook Page: Whitsundays Plastic Pollution.

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