Tag Archives: questions

Team Rock! Questions

Do you guys have to do daylight savings time on the sea?

Time at sea is an interesting thing.  The three of us could declare it to be any time we want, and it wouldn’t much matter, EXCEPT that sometimes we have scheduled radio calls with other boats.  Our time has to be in sync with their time or we miss the call.  If their boat is far east or west of ours, then it might be in a different “time zone,” and saying we’re going to have a call at 3pm could lead to problems — 3pm their time might not be the same as 3pm our time.  (In California, for example, it is 3 hours earlier than in Maine, so 3pm on the West Coast is 6pm in Maine.)

In order to avoid this confusion at sea, sailors refer to UTC time.  (UTC stands for the French phrase for Universal Coordinated Time.)  This used to be called GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), referring to the time in Greenwich, England, and it may also be called Zulu time.  All of these refer to the time at longitude 0 degrees.  If another boat agrees to a radio call at 1600 UTC (4pm at 0 degrees longitude), each boat can figure out what time that is locally.  In our current time zone (same as Maine), we are 5 hours earlier than UTC, so it would be at 1100 (11am) local time.  UTC time does not get adjusted for daylight savings.  So once Maine goes on daylight savings time, the difference between Maine and UTC will become 4 hours instead of 5 hours.

To keep things simple, many boats at sea just set the clock to UTC time and stop thinking about what time it is locally, so you don’t have to keep converting back and forth.  In that case the crew doesn’t have to “do” daylight savings time, until they interact with people ashore, when you have to get in sync with everyone else.

What do you mean by “gringos?”

In most of Latin America, including in Panama, “gringo” generally refers to any citizen of the United States.  In some cases it is applied primarily to white people, but not exclusively so.  It sometimes is used in a disparaging way (an American who does not respect the local culture, maybe doesn’t speak Spanish or doesn’t try to, who expects things to be like what they are accustomed to in the USA instead of adapting to the local ways), but often it is simply referring to one’s origin.  The three of us aboard No Regrets are gringos.

How long do you think it might be before global warming goes into full effect?

This is a hard one!  First of all, the term “global warming” is not used much anymore, because when Maine has a winter with record snowfall and cold temperatures, it doesn’t appear that “warming” is occurring at all.  Usually the term “climate change” is used instead, since this is all-encompassing of temperature variations, shifts in rain and snowfall, length of seasons, and other factors that scientists tell us are changing primarily due to increased carbon levels in our atmosphere.  Climate change is not intrinsically a bad thing, and in fact we know that there are huge changes to the climate over thousands of years due to factors that are mostly beyond human control (e.g., volcanic eruptions; ice ages).  But climate change is very disruptive.  It will change the coastline; it will force people near the coast out of their homes; it may cause droughts that will destroy traditional farmlands; it may cause floods; etc.  So climate change is generally considered “bad” in the context of things under human control (like how much coal and oil we burn), and “just the way it is” in the context of “geologic time” (many thousands of years).

I am no expert on climate change.  But my belief is that the effects caused by humans burning fossil fuels are already happening, and cannot be readily turned back.  We know that the average ocean water temperature has been rising.  This causes the water to expand a little, and the only way it can expand is “up,” so sea level rises slightly.  We also know that Greenland and Antarctic ice has been melting, which also contributes to sea level rise.  I think these trends cannot quickly be reversed.  So even though they have not yet caused widespread disruptions, I think we will see incremental changes/disruptions over many years to come, even if humans were to reduce the burning of fossil fuels now.

One aspect of the Blue Planet Odyssey is to raise these questions and call attention to them.  We need to think about the possible long-term effects of our collective behavior, and push our leaders to make well-informed policy choices.

Is it easy to sleep on the boat?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.   When we are in a marina like we are now, where the water is calm and the boat is well protected, it’s pretty much like sleeping at home.  When we’re sailing in substantial waves, it is much harder.  It becomes noisy, the boat can toss you around on your berth, and occasinally a wave will slap the side or bottom of the boat with a jarring thud that is almost impossible to sleep through.

But on passage we get into a rhythm of sleeping when we can, and even when it is rough we eventually become so exhausted that we sleep, or do something close to it.

When sailing in smooth waters it can be delightful to lie in your berth and feel the energy of the boat moving, and the gentle surge of the ocean, and this can put one right to sleep.  But smooth waters generally means “along shore,” which usually means short day sails, and thus we are not often trying to sleep in these conditions.

If you had all the money in the world, what would you buy for the people on the island, and why?

I’m going to assume by “people on the island” you refer to the local Guna people on the many San Blas islands.  Let me know if I’m not answering your intended question.

When Jimmy Cornell planned the Blue Planet Odyssey, he wrote to an administrator of the Guna, and asked if there was some way that we could contribute.  Jimmy was thinking of helping to build something — a school or a water cachement system.  The response he got was that they didn’t want our help with such things, and if we wanted to help we should contribute money to a scholarship fund to help send some young people to college.

I’m very skeptical about efforts to help other people, other than to help them do what they are committed to doing anyway.  So I think a scholarship fund to help students who want to attend college is a good idea, and that is one thing I would do.  Other things tend to have unexpected/unintended consequences.  It’s tempting to give outboard motors to people paddling canoes, but this might cause big (and potentially troublesome) changes in the culture that I couldn’t foresee.

What kind of transportation did they use on San Blas island?

You may have already figured out the answer to this from my recent posts.  Almost all transportation is by boat, and in most cases the boats are dugout canoes (some with little sailing rigs) or larger skiffs with outboards.  There are no cars, because the individual islands are too tiny.  I don’t recall even seeing any carts or wheelbarrows.  There are small airports on a couple of the islands, usually with one small plane per day coming/going to the mainland.

Q & A

The Lewiston “Team Rock!” 7th graders sent me some excellent questions.  The questions and my answers are below.

*Emma–Are you going to run out of money, since you had all those unexpected repairs?

We each set aside money for the long trip, including money for “contingencies” like major repairs. But we’ve certainly spent a lot more than we expected so far! We might find we didn’t allow enough for contingencies. If we run low, we will still find a way to complete the trip, but it may change our financial plans. For example, I’m not planning to go back to paid work when I return home, but maybe I would have to get another job for a while to bring in more income.

*Renee–How is the culture different in South Carolina?

My impression is that people in South Carolina, and in the South generally, are more outwardly friendly than in New England. They are much more likely to say, “Hello, how’s it going?” when you simply pass them in the street. And more likely to make eye contact and smile. I think this is an aspect of traditional “southern hospitality.” I don’t think people in New England are unfriendly, though — just more “reserved.”

There are far more African-American people in South Carolina than in Maine. Where we were in Charleston the mix seemed to be about 50-50. Blacks and whites appear to get along with each other very comfortably, at least on the surface. I find this interesting, given Charleston’s history as a center of the slave trade. I was told that half of all the slaves brought to North America came through Charleston. The people in this area seem to have accepted this as an unfortunate part of their history, but it is in the past — a lot has changed in 150 years. On the other hand, some people still identify with the Confederate South, and may still resent the “aggression” of the North in the Civil War.

*Alia–What will your next stop be?

Originally the plan was for our first stop outside the USA to be Cuba, just 90 miles from Key West. But due to the trade embargo the US has against Cuba, this was not allowed. You may have heard that President Obama is relaxing the restrictions on travel to Cuba, but he does not have the power to lift the trade embargo, so I believe we are still not permitted to go there. Instead, the first stop on the Blue Planet Odyssey is Montego Bay, Jamaica. We do not expect to stay there long. It is mostly a place to rest after our first long-ish passage at sea — about 800 miles, I think — before we continue on to the San Blas islands in Panama.

*Ahmed–Have you gone snorkeling?

Well, yes, but not the kind of snorkeling you have in mind. We thought we might do some snorkeling in the Florida Keys between Miami and Key West. But we had very strong easterly winds at that time, which stir up the water and make it difficult to see the reefs and fish. The commercial snorkeling trips were all canceled. We ended up sailing by without stopping. Since arriving at Key West, I went “snorkeling” to clear a lobster trap line from our propeller. That’s all so far, but I expect we’ll have many chances coming up to do more interesting snorkeling.

*Katelyn I.–Will your trip go overtime since you had this unexpected delay?

Although we’ve had unexpected problems, and spent an unexpected amount of time “on the hard,” I wouldn’t say we’ve had a delay. We allowed time for working through problems, and we actually arrived in Key West ahead of our plan, due to the jumps offshore and through the night, rather than staying on the Intracoastal Waterway. The all-important date is January 10th. That is when we, and most of the other Blue Planet Odyssey boats, are scheduled to leave Key West and the USA. As long as we can be ready to go then, which of course we plan to be, then we’re still good.

*Jordyn–Thanks for telling us about your Thanksgiving. Will you be having a New Year’s Eve party?

Bill and I will be traveling back to the boat on New Year’s Eve, arriving just after midnight. So we won’t be joining a traditional party. But in the sense that New Year’s celebrations are about new beginnings, we will be right there — beginning our “odyssey.”

*Jaden–Since you only had a few inches to spare in parking the boat, what would you have done if your boat had been too wide?

I’m not sure! There is another way to pick up a wide boat, which is with a crane. The boat yard probably would not have been able to do this right away, and I’m sure it would have cost us more, so I’m glad we didn’t have to experience this alternative. Probably the first thing we would have done is call other boat yards in the vicinity to see if they have a lift wide enough for us. But I haven’t seen another yard with greater capacity, so I think we were lucky to be referred to the yard we’re at.