Team Rock Questions/Answers

Here is another set of questions posed by the Team Rock! 7th graders, and my attempts to answer them.

In Science class we are learning about adaptations and evolution, especially with Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos! It’s funny how you mentioned them in your blog, what a coincidence! Have you seen any finches with noticeably different beaks? What do you think about their evolution?

I’m afraid all the finches look pretty much the same to me, other than the coloring if males/females. Many of the finches I’ve seen have been in the towns, often hanging around restaurants. Do you think their beaks will eventually adapt to foraging human-food…?

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Has there been any recent droughts that affected the large finches?

I don’t know. I will relate one thing I learned, though, that impressed me about the impact of climate change. Back 30 years ago (I think, I may be off with the years) there was a very strong “El Nino” year — where the usual ocean currents are disrupted, and with them the weather. Our guide on one of our tours said that in this one year 90% of the coral around the Galapagos died off. He attributes this to the ocean currents. One day the waters would be cold, brought north by the Humboldt Current. The next day the water would be warm, from the Panama Current. Coral can live in both temperatures, but he said that he believes the constant switching back and forth killed the coral.

This year is a strange one, in that we are now in the rainy season, but there has been almost no rain. There was a lot of talk about this among locals, though no one seems to know why or what the impact might be.

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Were the iguanas mean?

For the most part the iguanas ignored people, and while the tourists didn’t ignore them, we never touched them or tried to scare them. I did have one “spit” at me once though.

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Would you ever find yourself wanting to return to the Galapagos Islands?

I did not fall in love with the Galapagos. But I probably would if we were free to explore the remote areas. What a great cruising ground! But as I’ve reported, it is increasingly “protected” from tourists. So I doubt I will go back.

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Were you able to touch any of the animals on the islands?

There was a strong local ethic of not touching animals, and we almost always adhered to that. I did touch the back of a sea turtle that was swimming with me. He didn’t care; maybe he (she?) even liked it.

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What was your favorite part of being in the Galapagos?

Three things come to mind. First, the sea lions were a hoot — very entertaining. But that got old quickly as they “invaded” our boat. Second, visiting the island of Isabela (going by ferry and spending the night there in a little hotel) was fun. The town was smaller and life seemed more relaxed, and it was fun to explore a little on my own. But the winner has to be snorkeling around Kicker Rock, where both the cliffs above and the cliffs underwater were incredible.

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How many different species of finches did you see? What was the most unique species you saw?
Sorry — I don’t know!

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We are learning about Darwin’s finches and I would like to know if you saw any of the birds dying or fighting for food?

This is not apparent. The birds all looked healthy and “happy.” I think the competition that leads to some birds having advantages over others happens over many thousands of years, and would be very difficult to detect at any one moment in time.

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What your favorite place you have been so far?

Hard to choose one. Some of the places in the San Blas islands were interesting and fun. The Panama Canal was a cool experience. Parts of the Galapagos were unique and wondrous. And another favorite is right where I am now — in the middle of the ocean, where there is nothing around by more ocean, and the night sky is amazing in its brilliance and its vastness!

Seeking Trade Winds

PLEASE NOTE: This post belongs after “Westward to Distant Marquesas” and before “Broken Shroud.”

This passage isn’t going the way I pictured it. No surprise, right? None of the places we’ve visited have matched my preconceived notions of what they’d be like. But I’ve crossed oceans before, so I thought I knew what to expect at sea. After a few hundred miles sailing or motoring SW from the Galapagos, we should hit constant trade winds of about 15 knots, and be zipping along on a broad reach under spinnaker for the last two-thirds of the trip. We’re going into our sixth day, and we’re still looking for that constant trade wind, and we have yet to set a spinnaker. Right now we have about 10 knots, from the expected SE. But for much of the day we had 7 or 8 knots — very light. Plus patches where it changes 45 degrees and/or nearly stops blowing. What’s happened to the trade winds!?

And what should our strategy be to make the most of the situation? The wind is generally stronger further south. And when the wind is light, we sail fastest on a close reach — going across the wind rather than with it. So we’ve been continuing to sail SW, beyond what we had planned. Getting more South, and keeping our boat speed up. We are now south of the two boats ahead of us. Soon we will have to turn west for the Marquesas. Will our additional “southing” give us a payoff, or are we simply sailing unnecessary added distance?

We make our guesses about the trade-offs based on “grib files” — wind predictions that we receive via the SSB radio, in a .GRB file format. I don’t remember what GRB stands for, if anything. A file is very slowly coming in over the radio now, as I write, but the software estimates it will take another 35 minutes to completely receive it. It will show wind predictions every six hours for the next two days. Based on what, I honestly don’t know! How much data is available, and how much is interpolation? [We have a drifter buoy aboard, that we will be deploying when we get to 108 degrees west longitude. That will add one more data point. Other BPO boats are deploying buoys at various longitudes, but still there can’t be all that many buoys transmitting weather data…]

Based on the previous grib files from the previous two mornings, we expect to see a trough of confused and light winds to our north, and gradually stronger winds as one moves further south and west from there. Two days ago it looked like we were far enough south to avoid the messy area. Yesterday it appeared that we would have to get further south. Today…we’ll know soon.

Jimmy Cornell likes to say that GRB stands for “garbage,” and we should ignore these predictions. Or at least not “outsmart” ourselves by taking the predictions too seriously, and making course changes on account of them. Yet that is what we’re doing, and so far the gribs have been helpful. We’ll see over the next few days if our southing has a payoff…

Halfway Day

Today, Day 10, around dinner time, we crossed the half way point. To celebrate, we made a coconut carrot cake (with no recipe — why don’t we have a cookbook on board…?), which was delicious.

It’s been a beautiful day, the breeze a little cool, the blues of the ocean and sky seeming to have extra richness. The wind has been light. These light winds can be frustrating, but today I didn’t much care, as it was a joy just to be gliding smoothly along at a tranquil six knots.

Tim took the relative calm as an opportunity to work on our port engine, which acted up the day we left the Galapagos. (We had a two minute conversation about turning back, but we figured we didn’t really need the engine for the ensuing three weeks, and repairs in French Polynesia seem equally plausible as repairs in the Galapagos.) We have diesel getting into the engine oil. Our hypothesis is that the fuel lift pump diaphram has failed (a common problem, according to our Calder reference book). We have a spare, and switching to the spare was Tim’s project today. He seems to have been successful, but it will be another day for the gasket goo to harden before we can try it. He couldn’t detect any problem with the old pump that he removed though, so we may need another hypothesis…

Bill took the relative calm as an opportunity to put an adhesive patch on our torn screecher. We’ve been using the big sail in stronger winds than it was designed for, and we got a two foot long tear in it. Now it is patched, but we’re not sure how strong the patch adhesive will be, so we will only be using the sail in very light winds. (Our winds are mostly light, but they come and go. When they come, they tend to be too much for the screecher.)

I baked bread and the Halfway Cake.

Being half way it was Bill’s opportunity to say if he wanted to switch night watches with me, so he could do the early watch, and I take on the middle of the night watch. But he says he is happy with the present schedule, which suits me just fine.

So I’m on my night watch (now 7:30 – 11:30 by our local “boat time”). And it’s a beautiful night. Just enough chill in the wind for a fleece over the T-shirt/shorts. Intense stars. No moon. Venus low in the western sky casting a reflected glow on the ocean. The bowl of the big dipper pointing toward the North Star, now well below our horizon. Opposite it the Southern Cross pointing at the empty space where the “South Star” would be if there was one. The Milky Way rather dim in the north, and growing brighter in the south, and brightest just before the Southern Cross, then petering out at our southern horizon. And what’s that faint glow about 20 degrees west of the Milky Way, and maybe 20 degrees away from the south celestial pole — no individual stars there but a definite patch of lightness? It must be a cluster of an unimaginable number of stars, and unimaginable distance away…?

An occasional shooting star. Not many, though. And THERE, a star is moving! A satellite heading south right past Orion’s belt. Funny how it is hard to spot satellites, but then suddenly one jumps out at you. At least, that’s my experience. This one passes behind the jib. I don’t want to move from my reclined position on the cockpit seat, so I wait what I estimate is the right interval and then try to find it again on the other side of the jib. But even when I know it must be there, I can’t spot it.

While thinking of things celestial, it is equinox time, which drives home the point that we will increasingly be looking to the north at the sun. Disorienting for a Northerner like me!