July 14 – 27, 2015 – by Anne – PASSAGE FROM BORA BORA TO NEIAFU, VAVA’U, KINGDOM OF TONGA – “LAND HO! TONGA HO!”
This 14 day passage from the exotic, almost unbelievably beautiful island of Bora Bora in the Society Islands of French Polynesia to another South Pacific island group of equal charm and beauty, called Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga, was pure delight! God blessed Joyful and all aboard once again with a safe passage featuring extraordinary sunsets, sea bird visitations, rollicking seas, and lots of fun times as we sailed the high seas to another enchanted landfall. Please read on and look at the photos! You may wish to also read the captions under the photos because they will explain lots more than does this text article. That is because pictures contain a thousand words and transcend languages!
A special note should be made regarding the hand drawn encouragement cards (PHOTO 13) the children at the Round Hill Elementary School in Virginia made for Jeff and me for us to open throughout the circumnavigation. The children thoughtfully said, “Please open one of our cards when you feel sad.” Well, we never feel sad! So we open them when we are happy, and we have a great time reaching into the envelope and pull out a new hand drawn card! Flat Mr. Davis is always with us as we read the card and look how beautiful it is! Thank you Round Hill Bears! We love you, our land based crew! The Round Hill Bears are the students and educators who chose to partner with Joyful in the Sail the Odyssey Educational Program.
INTERESTING WAVES: Once again, the trusty trade winds carried Joyful along on this beautiful passage, allowing us to experience winds from 6 knots to gusts up to 34 knots (PHOTO 10) and seas up to 5 meters. Those 16 foot (5 meter) waves were extra fascinating to observe because of their height. They had unique textures, foamy patches and other characteristics making the passage even more exciting than others so far on this circumnavigation. It was quite fun watching a wave approach Joyful, because as the crest of an approaching nearby wave reached its maximum height, we could feel Joyful being smoothly lifted by the wave, not pushed over, just lifted up as if she was experiencing a smooth short ride in an elevator (like “third floor – lingeries, perfumes, and cosmetics), and we could see the wave travel under her hull, and out the opposite side, continuing onward as it lowered itself into a valley only to be raised again, and lowered again, and on and on and on! Really amazing, fun, and fascinating! The sea is always mesmerizing, and if anyone tells you that ocean passages are boring, they are probably ignoring the water around them. The sea’s color, texture, density, wave length, wave height, and many more parameters are in constant flux, and it is a delight and a challenge to sail a boat through the water to obtain a desired speed, course, and motion. Just ask Flat Mr. Davis, who is now considered an “old salt” on Joyful (PHOTOS 5 & 6)!
Observing Sea Birds
We are sending the pictures we take on Joyful and relevant data to Birding Aboard, an organization that “benefits seabird conservation by mobilizing the worldwide boating community to document ocean bird sightings, providing critical and otherwise seldom-recorded data on seabird abundance and distribution and on ocean migration routes”. Birding Aboard sends the observations to eBird, which is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. eBird has a large, fast growing biodiversity data collection (e.g. in May 2015, they reported collecting over 9.5 million bird observations), which it shares with international ornithology, conservation biology, education, and land management communities.
The scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society welcome photos of sea bird sightings even if the photo is out of focus and even if we cannot identify the bird. They can usually tell the type of bird from its silhouette! I’m impressed!
Sometimes on this passage, as during other passages, we witnessed individual seabirds or flocks of them flying near Joyful, sometimes for an hour at a time. We tried to take photos of these interesting citizens of the air, but sometimes it was impossible due to high waves, the motion of the boat, or other reasons. You will see in the small collection of photos for this passage, a really exotic seabird flying near Joyful (PHOTOS 18 & 19). We don’t know the name of the type of bird, but it reminded me of a “tropic” bird who followed me across the North Atlantic Ocean on a friend’s yacht during a transatlantic crossing. It, like the bird flying around Joyful on this passage to Tonga, was brilliant white, had long trailing tail feathers, orange beak, and was an excellent fisherman, or should I say, fisher bird! However, they differed insomuch as the North Atlantic bird had orange legs, whereas this South Pacific bird had black legs. If you look closely at the photo, and use your computer’s zoom feature, you can see the bird’s webbed feet. This bird totally liked Joyful, and made many attempts for a short field landing onto the top of Joyful’s Hydrovane (her wind steering device)! Whoever was on watch during the times birds flew around Joyful always wondered if a bird would succeed at this valiant attempt of aerodynamics. At lease one time a bird did succeed, as shown by the punctures on the top of the red cloth covering the aluminum frame of the Hydrovane wind vane! Later, the UV rays from the sun created more issues with the red cloth, so we had to repair the punctures and rips with special bimini repair tape and clear packing tape. This was a challenging endeavor to do while we were underway on the moving seas! Needless to say, as I was leaning out over the sea to repair the damaged cover, I wore my life jacket, safety harness, and its tether, securely affixed to a strong point in Joyful’s cockpit (PHOTO 14)!
During the Blue Planet Odyssey, we on Joyful attempt to contribute scientific data to the University of Plymouth in London, pertaining to their study on phytoplankton.
Because large numbers of phytoplankton make seawater cloudy, measuring the turbidity (cloudiness) of the water will provide data for scientists to better assess the impact of changing ocean temperatures.
Measuring the turbidity of the water is done with a Secchi disk. A Secchi disk is a 30 cm round white disk that is connected to a 50 meter tape measure. Measurements are taken by lowering it into the water until it is no longer visible. The depth at which the disk disappears from view is called the Secchi depth. The scientists at Plymouth University in England have developed an app that allows us to input the Secchi depth and send the data directly to Plymouth University.
Joyful’s Secchi disk is a very special one that was made by the 5th grade students at the Round Hill Elementary School, who are partnering with Joyful through the Sail the Odyssey Science and Sail the Odyssey Educational Programs.
One of the parameters for obtaining a useable Secchi Depth, which is the depth at which the human eye cannot see the Secchi disk anymore after it has been lowered into the sea between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM on a sunny or partially sunny day, is that there cannot be more than a 2 knot current in the sea. During this passage, the sea conditions never allowed us to take a Secchi Depth reading. However, we kept the Secchi disk ready to use at the first opportunity; it was in Joyful’s fender locker located just aft of her anchor chain locker on the foredeck.
Red Tide (Algae Bloom)
Most of the time, the ocean is a beautiful field of various shades of blue. However, just as we saw on passage from Panama to Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia, we encountered another algae bloom between Bora Bora and Tonga (PHOTO 12). This “red tide” we saw on this passage was not near the intensity of red as that first encounter, but the water as far as we could see did have a violet tint caused by the presence of billions of phytoplankton. According to NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, “Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, occur when colonies of algae—simple plants that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. The human illnesses caused by HABs, though rare, can be debilitating or even fatal.” Accordingly, we did not use our watermaker to make drinking water when were anywhere near harmful algal blooms.
Because NOAA monitors HABs in certain areas, we sent the information about the dates and locations of the red tides to NOAA for inclusion in their data bases.
For more information on phytoplankton and the Secchi disk program, please go to:
Observing Other Marine Wildlife
As for ocean life, sometimes on this passage we saw whales, sea birds, and from time to time fish. Most of the time we saw many birds swooping around Joyful in vast circles, diving, and climbing high near her and sometimes even flying through her rigging! They were fishing! Some birds fished in groups, others by themselves (PHOTO 17). They were fascinating and entertaining reminders that just below the surface was a vast world of life, populated by magnificent creatures of all types ranging from microscopic phytoplankton (possibly bioluminescent phytoplankton as possibly seen in PHOTO 11), to squid, to the graceful squadrons of flying fish, whose individual members glided above the sea’s surface by a close two inches, raising and falling with the shape of the waves, all to try to escape the jaws of hungry fish racing after them for a tasty meal! It is almost impossible to take a photo of a flying fish in flight due to the time lag of a digital camera. Sorry! I will keep trying!
We were ever so amazed to see Humpback whales greeting us as we approached the island of Vava’u in Tonga! It was calving season, and lots of whales were about! Boats are supposed to keep 500 meters from a whale, but when we set our course to make landfall in Vava’u, all of a sudden several whales began jumping into the air, spouting water, and otherwise presenting an awesome show! They were in front of us, to the sides, and to the rear of Joyful! There was nothing we could do but sail as slowly as possible. Also, it was extremely difficult to take a good photo of the whales because digital cameras are so sluggish. By the time we pushed the button to take the photo, the whale was finished putting on her airshow, and was already disappearing into the sea! So look closely at our two photos and you will see a whale tail in Joyful’s wake behind her (PHOTO 23), and some ripples of their backs in front of Joyful (PHOTO 22). By the way, hitting a whale at speed can sink boats and kill whales! Visa versa, too! Whales sink yachts every year! We thanked the good Lord for His hedge of protection, again!
Monitoring Radiation Levels
Dosimeter Radioactive Fallout Measurements
One of the scientific projects with which Joyful is involved is that of recording the radiation levels that we experience along our sailing route. Radiation is a form of energy that comes from various sources (e.g. x-rays, radon gas, nuclear power plants, etc.), which, if the levels are too high, could cause a health hazard. On Joyful, we use a GQ Electronics GMC-320 Geiger Counter to take radiation level readings. The data we record is sent to the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center (NETC), a world wide volunteer radiation reporting site. NETC posts radiation readings from numerous sources, including the US Environmental Protection Agency and volunteer reporting sites, into a data base; the summary is shown on http://www.netc.com. We take hourly readings when we are on passage.
The really good news is that we have experienced / recorded very low radiation levels on this passage in the South Pacific Ocean between Bora Bora and Tonga. We hope that we will experience the same low radiation levels for the remainder of the circumnavigation. The levels on this passage ranged from 6 to 21counts per minute.
Artistic Inspirations from the Lord About this Passage
When I sail on ocean passages I spend my watches working the boat, navigating, helming, adjusting the sails, monitoring the Hydrovane, radar, VHF, weather, and all sorts of instruments, watching for boats and aids to navigation, and a myriad of other duties required to sail safely. Even though those duties are time consuming and always to be taken seriously because the lives of all on board are in the hands of the sailor on watch, I do usually have some moments during peaceful times on watch to think of the Lord and pray. That is my favorite thing to do during those peaceful moments at sea.
As some of my faithful readers of this blog and all our Mission Joyful followers know, I am writing/illustrating a book regarding Joyful’s circumnavigation which will feature watercolor and illuminated/gilded paintings I will create. Each painting will reflect every passage and every landfall around the world which Joyful encounters. Within the design of every painting will be the Word of God, in other words, Bible verses which have been of significant importance to me during the days and nights of each passage or landfall. Within each painting I will utilize gilding in the form of 24 karat gold and silver in the same method as the medieval monks of Europe decorated their Bibles and Books of Hours.
I am always open to an inspiration from the Holy Spirit for what is becoming the essence of a particular passage or landfall experience for me. That will be the Bible verse I use, and will be the motivation for the image portrayed in my painting.
On this lovely passage from Bora Bora to Tonga, I was inspired to incorporate the Bible verse from John 8:12
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And the image I will paint depicting this will be my interpretation of the most beautiful sunset I have observed from Joyful on this circumnavigation so far. That sunset is shown in photo number 8, which I took from Joyful’s cockpit during my night watch on the evening of July 21, 2015, while on passage from Bora Bora to Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga. Does it also remind you of the light of Christ?