Category Archives: Tsunami Debris Expedition

Land ho!

DAy 26   –  7th July 2012

21N 15.6” 157W 49.9
Finally we’ve sighted land, not the land we originally intended, it’s the peaks of Oahu we can see silhouetted in the clouds.
The prevailing winds and seas were slowing us on our course for Maui and our fuel situation was becoming critical.  After consulting the weather report our skipper Rodrigo made the decision to change course for Oahu. Giving us a more favourable wind angle this has allowed to sight land earlier and with fuel enough to enter the port.

The mood on board has shifted as expedition members anticipate landfall and meeting family and loved ones, or heading off to their next destination. It seems as if tonight we’ll be anchored off the coast ready to head in to the customs dock first thing Sunday morning to clear immigration.

Tracy, Lindsay and Shannon are baking a chocolate cake in celebration. It will be strange cooking on dry land, with kitchens that aren’t heeled over and constantly moving. Today while cooking lunch I had to hold the pots on the stove with brackets, as they kept trying to jump off!

It’s kind of sad that this will be our last night together as crew on the Sea Dragon and the voyage will be over. I am looking forward to being at sea again already, though I am anticipating seeing loved ones and enjoying some fresh food on land.

We have achieved our goals in recovering tsunami wreckage and bought back samples of plastic pollution from parts of the North Pacific not sampled before. We also dodged typhoons and saw some rough weather. Stiv says this was the longest time spent sailing into the wind on any of the 5 Gyres expeditions he’s been on.

Tomorrow Marcus and I will be of to do some beach combing, I’m curious to see if we find anything tsunami related, there shouldn’t be much on Oahu at this point.

Last Trawl- 5Gyres

It really has been cool being a part of this, the 5 Gyres/Algalita  Tsunami Debris Expedition, Thanks again to all those who helped put Two Hands Project and myself on board. Working with a diverse team from around the world has been fantastic and our conversations have given us all a greater understanding of plastic pollution on a global scale.

Getting to know Marcus and Stiv from 5 Gyres has been great, 5 Gyres and Two Hands Project are well aligned on the issue of plastic pollution and I am sure there will be future collaboration.

Well, back to Australia soon, I’ll have some plastic pollution samples to show and a few good stories to share. Anyone up for a cold beverage? I hear the ‘on-shore crew’ has lines up some Murray’s Whale Ale & Monteith’s Cider for the first presentation at the  newly reopened  Manly Sea Life Sanctuary on the 24th July

if you can’t make the 24th or are closer to BONDI on the 25th … please follow the link:
Tsunami Debris Presentation- Bucklers Canteen

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toothbrushes in the middle of the ocean

DAy 23   –  4th July 2012

Sea Dragon is now 24N 17” 164W 44” and slowly reaching towards Maui. This last stretch is taking time, beating against the wind and motor-sailing if the wind drops. Our course takes us close to Necker Island, a small rocky outcrop which supports hundreds of frigate birds.

We are looking to arrive five to six days later than schedule (perhaps on the 7th..) and have ceased trawling for plastic after the trawl was found to be acting as a sea anchor and slowing the boat by up to 20%! It is unfortunate to stop sampling, though expedition members have flights to catch and family to meet. I think I may be the only one content to keep sailing, each sunrise is beautiful, the North Pacific rollers forming the perfect foreground for the painted skies.

This expedition has planted the seed for Two Hands Project to sample for plastic at sea offshore around Australia, if you’d be interested in joining such an expedition drop us a line, particularly if you own a seaworthy yacht! ;-)

Last entry I asked for any questions about the expedition, and some great ones have come in, mostly concerning radioactivity from Fukushima.

-Is any of the debris radioactive? We have a Geiger counter on board and have been taking readings from the tsunami debris we’ve recovered, all have been within normal limits (I even took normal readings off my sneakers which I wore while volunteering within the exclusion zone around the reactor …I was kind of disappointed they weren’t a little bit hot;) So far we have not recovered anything our instruments have shown to be above normal radioactivity levels.

-Is the seawater in the North Pacific radioactive? Last year Woods Hole found unusual spikes in the levels of Cesium in the waters off Japan, the 5 Gyres/Algalita Tsunami Debris Expedition has been collecting water samples as a follow up study, we will have to wait on the results from the lab to see whether levels are still elevated.

-How much tsunami debris is out there? This is really hard to quantify, so I won’t even try. It is a substantial amount though. As for the ratio of tsunami debris to plastic pollution in the North Pacific I would be surprised if more than 2% of what is out here is tsunami related. ( Which means there is an enormous amount of  plastic out here!

-What do you miss most while at sea? Fresh fruit and vegetables, good cheese and rye bread. Beer.. That about sums it up. I hope I can find a good beer in Maui.. Next voyage I’d like to do with all the Two Hands Project team on board :)

-Are there really plastic toothbrushes in the middle of the ocean? Yes! We’ve recovered two and spotted more. ( not mine!  I have a Bamboo Toothbrush :-) We’ve also recovered a hair-comb and cotton bud (Q-tip)

Just heard our fuel is down to 550 litres, less than a third of our capacity, so we’ll cut back on the motor sailing for a few days and make way wholly under sail. To me that’s great news, as long as we get to Maui by the 7th, it’s so much nicer sailing rather than motoring.

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Trade winds& plastic head on-

2nd July 2012 – 29N21 171E 06

Sea Dragon sails on towards Hawaii… We are now in the trade winds which means we have to tack into the wind, making slow progress. We have around 900 nautical miles to go on a direct line, though the tacking will add much more distance.
Finally some respite from the rain! Laundry has been done, the railing was aflutter with our clothes and foul weather gear, it is almost dry below and the smell has almost gone. (or we have become accustomed)
This expedition certainly hasn’t been a pleasure cruise, as well as having to keep low to avoid the typhoons we’ve had gear failure and heavy sailing, and one of the doco makers has been laid low with seasickness. So much so we almost diverted to Midway Island to put him ashore, fortunately he has responded to a new medication, which allows him to take some food so he has decided to stay on board.
Our water maker has been failing, so now we are limited to salt water showers on deck, as well as salt water for laundry (which means our clothes stay damp, as the salt attracts moistures). Water is not being rationed yet and we should be good for the rest of the trip as long as we aren’t wasteful.

The high speed trawl was destroyed by the swell, so Marcus from 5 Gyres and I sat on deck and improvised a repair, we are now back in action.Sampling for plastics as we sail. We are finding large amounts of microplastic in our samples.

One visual survey, in which we sit on deck for an hour noting the plastic pollution we pass resulted in 64 pieces of large plastic objects and pieces in one hour! This was in a difficult sea state for observation as well..so the true number would be higher. It’s remarkable we can sail for so long without seeing another boat or plane, yet still be constantly sighting plastic in the sea.

Personal highlights thus far are being at the helm of Sea Dragon in 40 knot winds and on another occasion having Sea dragon cruising at 12 knots. Brilliant stuff. Sea Dragon was built for an ocean race circumnavigating the globe, and it is a privilege to get a small taste of what this boat is capable of.

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Years to come

DAY 15 – Tuesday 26th June 2012   29° 17′ N 178° 20′ E

We’ve been sailing for  over two weeks now, the Sea Dragon is a beautiful vessel, it’s incredible to be at the helm or on bow lookout as she moves through the swells. Weather has been a bit wearing, squalls regularly soaking us with rain and seas coming on board covering us in saltwater. Below decks is pretty disgusting, wet and smelly, we need some sunshine and dry weather soon.

I’d like to thank everyone who helped Two Hands Project send me on this expedition, I feel immense gratitude to you all, without your support I wouldn’t be here. I am learning so much out here.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask? About the voyage,  tsunami debris, plastic pollution or life on board Sea Dragon? If so fire away, our shore support will relay the questions and I will endeavour to answer them next post.

Today we’ve been joined by a Wandering Albatross, a privilege indeed, these incredible birds spend the majority of their lives on the wing, effortlessly gliding for thousands of miles. They actually lock their wings in flight position so as not to expend muscle energy holding them in place.

Our other avian companions are a quartet of Tropic Birds, white bodied with black beaks and trailing tail plumes as long again as their bodies. These guys are so perfectly set up for life in the air their legs are practically useless, when they make landfall for breeding they’ll crash land and drag themselves about on the ground.

We’re still spotting tsunami debris, our most significant find has been the bow of a Japanese fishing boat, with ID markings intact. We hope the owner will be found alive and safe in Japan. Having visited devastated fishing villages in Japan finds like this are sobering.

Finding tsunami debris this far south west is important, as it demonstrates the debris field is incredibly widespread. We’ll be seeing flotsam from the tsunami reaching the US mainland for many years to come.

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me, is that in two weeks of sampling and observing we have only found one piece of natural driftwood. Compared with the abundance of synthetic flotsam this simply blows my mind.

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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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