Things fall apart

Current position: 24 26 886 S, 125 29 376 W

# miles to Gambier: 529

Wind speed: <15

# of times hit head on hatch today: 0, but made up with it by hitting back of head on a low hanging ceiling. Cried a little.

# of gallons of diesel fumes consumed: 12,583

IQ score: -2

# of completely intact toe nails: 7

Avast me hardies. It’s time to trim the main! Baton down the hatches! Flibber the gibbits! We are off to sail the ocean blue. Actually… don’t do any of those things I just mentioned because there is no wind, and once again we are using the engines to make it on time to our next island, the Polynesian island of Gambier. In truth, its Polynesian name is Managreva and only the French call it Gambier. But I’m sailing with a French crew so I will continue to call it Gambier unapologetically. We left Ducie Island this morning and should reach our destination by the 20th. Then we will have six days to complete our mission on this portion of the Tara Pacific expedition. For today’s longish blog, however, I will recap some of the events and issues of the last few days of work at Ducie.


Ducie got all scienced up

In all regards the past trip to Ducie, it was a remarkable success. We did all the things we aimed to with the exception of collecting a coral core because we couldn’t find any coral heads big enough. Along with the things we aimed to do, the coral team also managed to conduct two additional unplanned projects. Given the remoteness of this location, only a single study has ever been published about it. So we reasoned that since we were here, let’s science the crap out of this place. So we (one microbiologist, one phylogeneticist, one physiologist, and one biogeochemist who doesn’t study corals at all) did it to the best of our abilities. We conducted a coral biodiversity study were we basically took tiny bits of everything we could visual distinguish as a coral and put it in some buffer for genetic and microbiological analyses. We also conducted a bleaching prevalence and severity study. That means this microbiologist got to wear her ‘marine ecologist’ hat, which in this case took the form of a transect tape and stuff made out of PVC with holes drilled in it, duct tape, and zip ties. Definitely zip ties. Can’t forget the zip ties.

So with our quadrats and transect tapes, we did 18 bleaching transects across three sites on the island. And there was a shocking amount of bleaching, although again the reef is insanely beautiful. But to our knowledge, this will be the first report of bleaching in Ducie. And how weird is that? Well one way to tell you how weird that is, is to give you the water temperature I endured for 70 minutes yesterday in my 5mm wetsuit. 19C (66F, ‘Mericans)! I was so cold by the end of that last dive at Ducie I could barely write on my slate. After I got on board and finished all my clean up duties I spent two hours under my goose down comforter to warm up. Shit was Arctic down there.

So if it’s so damn cold here then why are ~100% of the Pocillopora and 50% of the Montipora at 10-15 meters water depth bleached, you ask? Good question, the one person reading this entirely too long blog. In truth, I have no good answer, and we will likely never know. But I suspect it’s because sometime in the recent past is wasn’t so cold and was hot enough to bleach the corals. Now remember kids, this is the Southern hemisphere so its winter now. But in just April there was bleaching in Moorea, also in the Southern hemisphere. But Moorea is also 12 degrees north, while its 24 at Ducie. So much farther south. Nevertheless, perhaps during the summer months it got warmer than the sub-Antarctic waters we experienced this week. And I guess if that was true, then most of the corals have recovered but a few sensitive species have not. Now I am no bleaching expert, so I just don’t know, but that’s what collaborators are for.  So when I get back, I’ll consult with them (Adrienne Correa I’m looking at you). Everyone will have to sit tight on this story until then.

Sailor feet and dishes

Now if you were paying attention, then you’ll note the title of this blog. We are now three weeks into the five week trip and stuff is seriously starting to falling apart. The boat. The gear. People. Everything has a breaking point, and at sea, that point is left of center. Right now every crew member is trying to fix stuff before we get to Gambier ’cause too many serious things can go wrong when stuff falls apart. For example, the first concerning thing to break was the desalination machine. Water. We need it. Not that salty stuff we’re sailing in, but fresh, sweet water. To drink. To cook with. And to clean stuff in. But no desalinator and no fresh water. Luckily we have a crew that can fix almost anything. So now it’s sort of working but showers are short and we clean our dishes in salt water.  

Speaking of dishes. Another thing that seriously inconvenienced our life was the discovery that “we are sinking.”  “Sinking!” At least that is what I was told by the first mate and captain in a very flat tone when I discovered about five people huddled around the galley sink the other day. My reply… “excellent…” and then I went on to finish up my duties. Apparently the kitchen sink hasn’t been flushing into the bilge area but instead into the hull of the ship. So we were taking on water, or we HAD taken on a lot of water. Days’ worth. Days’ worth of sink-water. Think about that for a moment ’cause it’s gonna be important later. But the engineers were back to the rescue. It took them two days to fix it. Unfortunately, one of those days was when I was on dish washing duties.  So I had to haul, and then wash, dishes and cookwear for 16, on the back deck, in the dark, in the rain. Both ways. No me gusta.

Importantly, when I was crouched down in that rain that night, I started to notice a strange phenomenon among the crew that I deemed “sailor feat.” Yes… sailor feet.  As each member of the crew showed up to the back deck with even more dishes, I was in close, intimate proximity to their feet. Thus I started noticing just how jacked the feet of sailors are. They are all sorts of messed up. There are toes pointing the wrong ways. There are lumps and bumps where there should be no lumps or bumps. There are cuts and bruises and scars galore.  I guess it comes with the territory where even the most seemingly innocuous part of the boat is a weapon of mass bodily destruction waiting to happen.

So fast forward a couple days to last night when in reflection, I looked at my feet and thought “yep, sailor feet, here I come.” Cause my feet now look like raw meat.  My whole left foot is mangled. I lost half my big toe nail, cut my little toe down the middle, and my foot is all black and blue half way up to my instep. Oh and did I mention my leg? Well remember that broken sink and the water in the hull? You might have wondered, “how does one get rid of water in the hull?” I thought it would involve some fancy smancy equipment but nope, just a vacuum. Wet/dry vacuum to the rescue. This precise activity was a quite a sight to behold. The engineer deftly held the hose and the first mate expertly turned on the vacuum, and whamo!, a tub full of the most disgusting old sink water from dinners, lunches, and breakfasts past… mixed with oil and grease for maximum disgust. Yummy. After I watched them do this seemingly mindless task I remarkably, stupidly, asked if I could help. I thought I could handle that turning the vacuum part on pretty well and would get super awesome cred for being so helpful. Instead, I was unceremoniously handed said bucket of yuck and told to haul it upstairs and pour it overboard. I looked at the bucket and thought, hmmm, this seems like a more than I was bargaining for… but hell yeah, I can do that! Also I didn’t want to look like a wuss, so time to get that bucket cleaning done.

What then transpired was a lesson in knowing one’s limits but then ignoring them entirely. I did manage to make my way up the stairs of a moving vessel holding in both hands a couple gallons of filth. Got to the top and onto the deck. I thought “that wasn’t so bad. I so got this.” Then for the harder part, I had to traverse the assortment of metal-thingies, ropy-thingies, with no hands to hold onto stuff, and then make it to the edge of the boat to pour bucket of yack out without falling in myself. Sadly, albeit not entirely unexpectedly, I made it only half way and slipped on the rainy wet deck. Me, bucket, and 10 liters of the most impossibly disgusting assortment of mostly rotten human edibles landed on said metal thing. Nailed it!

Lucky for me only one sailor was witness to my shame and sudden filthiness. To make matters worse I had just literally showered and changed into clean clothes which I had just gotten cause the washing machine had been broken for days. But pride being what it is, I said “I’m fine. It’s nothing. I’ll just pour the 300 mL’s left of this bucket over the gunwale and clean up the deck.” After I did, I went sheepishly back to the galley a good ten minutes later to give the bucket back to the first mate without looking him in the face and went and took another shower. So how bad was it?  Well, I didn’t break anything, but see ‘sailor feet.’ And for maximum gore I’ve attached a picture! You’re welcome!

Really, you're welcome.

Really, you’re welcome.

But I’ve had worse. And the whole thing has given me a great excuse to lie around and tell all my horrible injury stories to anyone willing to ask. You all know I love to tell a “once when I was blah blah blah, I got blah blah blah…”. Plus, drop one injury story at dinner with a bunch of people with sailor feet and you’ve got an evening to remember. And since it was our last night in Ducie, we celebrated by having dinner on the deck with some wine and good music to dance and limp to.

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