Authors: Khati Hendri & Sally Kilbug, M/V Galapagos Legend

Photos By: Hamid D. Khodashenas

 

Day 10 Saturday, April 9, 2005

Day after eclipse day, with many miles and days to go before we return to land.  We are really out in the middle of nowhere.  This area is out of usual commerce routes, there is nothing to visit, and we haven’t seen a ship since the day after we left the Galapagos.  A couple of flying fish skimmed over the ocean surface from the ship’s bow.  As usual, in the early morning hours dark silhouettes gather on the decks to see the setting stars and rising sun.  The clouds gathered into a thick gray blanket and a fine drizzle fell most of the day, making it seem even more remarkable that we had been able to find the spot of clear sky along the eclipse path.

 

Our ship was not really designed to spend most of its time on the open sea, and can get a good roll going even in calm weather.  The kitchen staff has been severely challenged by flying pots, pans, dishes, and utensils—we occasionally hear loud crashes behind the doors—and we have gotten used to grabbing water glasses and plates when we feel the motion pick up.  Truly a minor miracle of the trip is the consistently beautiful, fresh, and abundant food that nonetheless appears three times a day.

 

Eclipse chasers are an unusual lot, and it seems that everyone has an interesting story to tell and hidden talents to exhibit.  It is easy to while away the time in conversation, if not writing journals, processing pictures, creating website material, or attending the lectures.  The focus has moved away from the eclipse, and in the morning one of the naturalist guides reviewed the story of tectonic plates.  In the afternoon, Naomi Pasachoff read from some biographies of famous scientists she wrote for a teenage audience— but enjoyable for all.  We heard excerpts from books on Marie Curie and Neils Bohr.   She told the story of a time in Marie Curie’s life after her husband had died, and how the press of the day made her life miserable with speculation on a relationship with a colleague—how times have not changed!  Neils Bohr played a key role from Denmark in rescuing Jewish scientists and academics during the Second World War, then ultimately fleeing to Sweden and helping others to do the same. 

 

David Levy (associated with Sky and Telescope) and David Eicher (from Astronomy magazine) spoke about deep sky observing and amateur astronomy.  It used to be assumed that amateurs would not be able to see anything significant in the deep sky, but that has changed as more people have searched the sky with ever better equipment.  The Dobsonian revolution in inexpensive, self-made large telescopes made faint images more accessible, the “go to” computerized scopes have helped others go deep, and astrophotography has captured images in new detail.  Careful observing has picked up comets, variable stars, asteroids, and even planets (Pluto).

 

After dinner, James Downing from the Natural History Museum in Denver gave a lively recounting of the story of Darwin’s years of travel on the Beagle.  This was a true expedition, complete with a volatile ship’s captain, months of journeying through inland mountains and valleys, harrowing sea passages, near misses, and even mortar attacks from Argentina.  Although best known for the theory of evolution and observations in the Galapagos, he was influenced by what he found throughout South America and the southern hemisphere.  He saw sea shells in uplifted mountain ranges, and experienced a major earthquake, which gave him clues to how the earth could change over time—a new concept in his day.  He met many types of people, both aboriginal and those more recently arrived, and noted how they had different skills and physical abilities in different geographical settings.  He saw a huge variety of plants and animals throughout and drew connections between similar specimens, setting the stage for his Galapagos work on the origin of species.  

 

At dinner, the captain and engineer shared their stories of traveling the world, and some of the changes wrought by 9-11.  We also found out that the Galapagos Legend was home to some of the Hollywood crew during the filming of “Master and Commander”, and for a trip by the former US President Jimmy Carter and family.  Chasing eclipses is just another chapter in their story, but a good one.

 

Day 11 Sunday, April 10, 2005

We continued the long journey home, sky lightening, scattered clouds producing fantastic sunrises and sunsets.  We saw more evidence of life—a couple of whale sightings, several groups of dolphins gracefully arcing out of the water, small storm petrels skimming the waves, two distant ships, and lots of flying fish. They burst out of the water as the ships passed to fly dozens of yards out before returning to the ocean—far better flight than the Galapagos flightless cormorants or penguins.  Although the water looked calm, the swells continued to play tricks on the boat, tipping people out of chairs, toppling coffee machines, making us all look like drunks staggering around.  When a really good swell came through, we gave a collective “whooooooaaaaaa!”

 

Byron, one of the naturalist guides, told stories about some of the more colorful history of people of the Galapagos Islands.  The islands were apparently uninhabited by humans before they were discovered in the 1500’s by a bishop from Panama.  His expedition found the dry landscape difficult, and they lost three men and ten horses from thirst before it was over.  Later, prisoners were sent to the Galapagos to try to populate them, but perhaps predictably they ended up fighting with and killing each other.  For a while an abandoned Irish sailor nicknamed “Iguana Man” for his red hair and peeling, red skin lived on one of the islands, ultimately leaving in the company of some other stranded sailors from a whaling boat, plying them with homemade rum and then eating them for sustenance on his trip to shore.  Several German recluses sought out Floreana Island, including a dentist with his mistress, a family of four, and a baroness with three lovers.  After much intrigue and infighting, they all met untimely ends as well.  Today there are three islands where people live, but 97% of the land is national park.  The tourism and park work is the driving force of the economy, and the $100 park fee helps sustain the efforts to preserve the natural flora and fauna of the Galapagos.

 

Hamid Khodashenas showed the video he took of the eclipse two days ago, tracking it with a large lens on our rocky ship.  Hamid sent this video to his web site by satellite phone so people around the world could see what we came so far to experience.  It captured many of the sights and sounds, although no image can reproduce what it feels like to witness the event in person. Besides the video, we were treated to a film about the Iranian astronomical society, and some beautiful pictures of Iranian people and countryside, plus some delicious Iranian pistachios. 

 

“Klipsi”, an avid eclipse and weather chaser from Switzerland, showed pictures he has taken from around the world—partial eclipses, annular eclipses, total eclipses, tornadoes, lightning strikes, storm clouds, sunsets--a feast of photographic marvels.

 

Vojtech Rusin of Slovakia shared more information about the sun, using a series of video clips showing the fantastic surface, constantly changing, with relatively cooler sunspots.  We saw images of periodic mass coronal ejections blasting out past the earth to disrupt our magnetic fields, interfere with satellites, endanger astronauts, and yet produce lovely auroras in the night sky.  Because the sun is supposed to be near minimum in the 11-year sunspot cycle, the corona during the eclipse was expected to be oval, with long streamers extending from the center and shorter emissions at the poles.  However, we observed a corona that was somewhat more even all around than expected.  Images from this eclipse will be studied together with data from ongoing SOHO images to better understand space weather.

 

Day 12 Monday, April 11, 2005

 It is beginning to seem as if we have always been out on the open sea, cruising along in familiar company.  We did travel to just about as far away from any land you can get on the planet—a good thousand miles from the closest island in any direction.  There were more hints we were getting closer to land however—a couple of ships in the distance and a few swallow-tailed gulls showed up, along with our friends the flying fish and rare whale.  Sunrises and sunsets have been dramatic with low clouds and brilliant colors, but no elusive “green flash” at the end.  Weather was pleasant and warm with mixed sun and clouds and a fine breeze.

 

In the morning we were treated to a interview with Galileo (David Levy) and his daughter Suor Maria Celeste (Dava Sobel—author of “Galileo’s Daughter”), moderated by Wendy Levy.  This will be available later on the www.letstalkstars.com show which the Levys host.  Marie Celeste was only 10 when her father made his famous observations of the moon of Jupiter and phases of Venus, and was put into a convent by Galileo when he was being prosecuted for heresy by the Catholic Church.  The letters she wrote to him reveal the love between father and daughter, and how they helped each other during the difficult times. 

 

David Levy talked about his life as a seeker of comets.  When he was in school in Canada, he had to answer the question, “what career do you want to pursue?” in French.  He replied, “Je veux decouvrir un comete!” (I want to discover a comet).  To which his astonished examiner retorted, in English, “How the hell are you going to make a living doing that?”  He followed his passion nonetheless, and in 1984 discovered the first of many comets.  The most famous was Shoemaker-Levy 9, which broke into over 20 pieces and plummeted spectacularly into Jupiter in 1994, supporting the theory that comets have played a key role in the history of the planets, even bringing water and life to earth.  Someone later gave him a shirt reading “My Damn Comet Crashed!” to commemorate the historic event.  The find happened on a night of observation when he and the Shoemakers almost gave up because the film for the telescope had been spoiled and was only marginally usable.  But, as Gene Shoemaker said, you never know what you’re going to find and it’s always worth a try. And what an historic find it was!

 

James Downing had gathered a willing cast of passengers and they presented a reading of his award-winning play, “Charles and Emma”.  The play was developed from letters by Charles Darwin and his wife, and showed the human side of Darwin’s life.  His health was not good, he struggled to publish his research, the Anglican Church fueled opposition to his theory of evolution, and he had to deal with reluctance in his own marriage to accept the implications of his work.  It was believed that everything in the world was created in full form directly by a divine hand, and evidence that continents shifted, sea beds rose up to become mountains, and plants and animals changed over time to adapt to their particular environments was troubling to the prevailing world view.  As scientific inquiry has supported evolution, and as our understanding of our planet’s place in the universe has grown, it seems incredible that the battles Darwin fought are still being played out today in some parts of the world.

 

In the evening, more people shared pictures they took of the eclipse and the journey.  Despite the challenges of a moving ship, there were many beautiful, clear shots of the different stages, including the double diamond ring effect caused by the particular alignment of lunar mountains as the sun’s rays peeked between.  The sunset outside was a brilliant orange, and the deck filled with people looking for the famous “green flash” that sometimes occurs just at the sunset’s end, but without luck.  Later, the slender crescent moon passed directly by the Pleiades, looking like a cascade of stars falling out of the tipped crescent, while the Milky Way filled the center of the sky, the Large Magellanic Cloud below it near the horizon, the Southern Cross and Omega Centauri globular cluster reminding us that we were still in the Southern Hemisphere.

 

Day 13 Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Land ho!  We all stood on the deck and couldn’t take out eyes off the sight of landfall—RedondoIsland, Fernandina, Isabella, Santiago.    Home at last.  How beautiful it was to see the earth, the green, the life all around.  The ocean swells subsided for the first time in over a week, and we almost missed their presence.  Redondo is a bird rookery, the first outcropping we passed, with clouds of birds massing off the cliffs, filling the air, and occupying every crevice suitable for a nest.  Red-billed tropic birds with their long showy tail feathers flew elegantly by, as did boobies, gulls, petrels, frigate birds, and pelicans.  Then off the bow—porpoises!  Lots and lots of bottle-nosed porpoises, showing off with gymnastic leaps high above the waves, splashing all about us.  Right behind them came a pod of false orcas, larger, darker dolphins that travel in large groups and breach the water in a slower, more stately fashion.  They show off their dorsal fin and hump as they arc downwards, which does look a bit like a whale.  What a wonderful welcome back.

 

We passed by “Buccaneer’s Cove”, a hideaway used by pirates in years past, and now just a beautiful cove on Santiago Island guarded by a striking red rock outcropping and home to many birds.  The crew came onto the pool deck for a group picture.  One!  One hand in the air.  Two!  Two fingers in a V.  Three!  Both hands in the air.  We did it!

 

There is an ancient tradition of mariners who crossed the equator—kind of an initiation rite to appease Neptune, the god of the ocean.  We had crossed the equator numerous times on this voyage, and our ship followed the tradition with a modern version, throwing a Neptune party for the passengers.  They conscripted a cast including King Neptune, his Queen, the Prince of Tides, pirates, sea creatures, and some demons.  Neptune declared that he was very upset at the captain for crossing the equator without permission, and the “pirates” grabbed the captain to come before him.  He protested that it was the passengers wanting to see the eclipse who made him do it, and the pirates then grabbed a number of passengers to come before Neptune and be his slaves.  However, they would be granted freedom if they would drink a concoction of “turtle blood” or “iguana pee” and then perform tasks—each one had to imitate a Galapagos animal--which they did with great creativity.  Thus appeased, Neptune then declared a party!  It started with a round songs by “Sir Edmund Halley and the Comets”—specially composed and sung by the passengers, including such new hits as “Rockin’, Rollin’, Ridin’” (apologies to “Morningtown” and Raffi), “Home” (apologies to Home on the Range), and “Rock Around the Ship” (apologies to “Rock around the Clock” and Bill Haley and the Comets). After the songs, there was dancing and celebrating into the night.

 

Rock Around the Clock (apologies to Bill Haley and the Comets, words by Khati Hendry)

 

Well, it’s one for the captain, two for the ship

Out on the ocean, gotta move your hips

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock and rock and roll ‘til the broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, we’re gonna rock around the ship tonight.

 

At breakfast time, better say grace

There’s scrambled eggs all over the place

They’re on the floor, they’re on the wall

It’s a miracle there’s food at all

We’re gonna rock, we’re gonna rock around the ship tonight

 

If you lose your spoon, don’t you cry

Grab another as it sails by

This cruise is cool ‘cause I got to see

A real flying saucer as it flew past me

We’re gonna rock, we’re gonna rock around the ship tonight

 

In the lecture hall they all were wowed

When my armchair tipped and I mooned the crowd

You know I tried to leave, didn’t get far

When the bottles crashed down off the bar

We’re gonna rock, we’re gonna rock around the ship tonight

 

Went to the doctor--couldn’t stand--

She shot me up with Phenergan

I took the pills, I used the patch,

A little ginger—down the hatch

We’re gonna rock, we’re gonna rock around the ship tonight

 

Well I went to sleep, began to snore

When I woke up I was on the floor!

Next time I cruise, my wardrobe’s hue

Will coordinate with black and blue

We’re gonna rock, we’re gonna rock around the ship tonight

 

On e-clipse day, I swear it’s true

The sun was a-rockin’ and the moon was too

That old rock star put on a show—

You can see it in my video

We’re gonna rock, we’re gonna rock around the ship tonight.

 

Home (apologies to Home on the Range, words by Khati Hendry)

Oh give me a home where land tortoises roam

A place where my camera won’t sway

Where I’ll walk around, without falling down

And the floor stays beneath me all day.

 

The ocean is grand, but when you’re far from land

The waves aren’t so swell when they swell

Much china was lost, and cookies were tossed,

Oh the stories the kitchen could tell!

 

Home, home from the sea

And though we saw totality

We rolled and we thrashed, and it cost lots of cash

Now home I am ready to be.

 

Eclipse was our quest as we traveled out west

As far from dry land you can get

And we sailed and we sailed, and we sailed and we sailed

And I think that we’re still sailing yet.

 

Sunsets were sublime though we never did find

The notorious final green flash.

Now the land’s drawing nigh and the boobies fly by

Terra firma I see you at last!

 

Home, home soon I’ll be.

There’s e-mail that’s waiting for me.

That thought’s such a fright, I think that I might

Decide to go back out to sea.

 

Rockin’ Rollin’ Ridin’ (apologies to Morningtown and Raffi, word by Khati Hendry)

 

Rockin’, rollin’, ridin’ out along the bay

Bound for totality many miles away.

Somewhere sun is shining, somewhere skies aren’t gray,

Somewhere I’ll see the eclipse, many miles away.

 

Rockin’, rollin’, ridin’, back along the bay

Bound for Galapagos many miles away.

Somewhere birds are singing, land iguanas play,

Safe and sound we’re homeward bound, many miles away.

 

 

   

 

Day 14 Wednesday, April 13, 2005

For the first time in over a week, we finally set foot on land again, starting out on Santiago Island.  After rocking in the ship, it took a bit to get used to the change.   First we followed a footpath along the shore, past lava tide pools.  Fur seals live here, unfazed by the curious tourists filing past with cameras pointing.  Marine iguanas sun themselves on the rocks in colonies, blending in with the lava and periodically spitting to spray themselves with salt water to modulate their temperature, and creating even better camouflage as the salt dries into a whitish crust on their heads and backs.  Oyster catchers sport bright orange bills that catch the eye as they wade through the tide pools, one of the few animals to feed on some of the larger Sally Lightfoot crabs, which are in great abundance.  We also saw Galapagos hawks, doves, yellow warblers, blue footed boobies, and pelicans.  After the hike, we went swimming along the reef in warm, sunlit water filled with brilliant fish, and some saw turtle and (non aggressive) shark.  But the most dramatic moments came when the boobies started diving in their distinctive streamlined straight-down style, right into the water in front of the snorkelers.  We could see the plume of bubbles under the surface and the birds transformed from arrow-like creatures into birds “flying” underwater, with a fish in their beak if their aim had been good.  Many fabulous species of tropical fish grazed the reef.

 

Every island seems to have its own personality, and the afternoon outing to Rabida Island was no exception.  It is made of red terra cotta colored volcanic rock—even more striking as it contrasted with the green salt bush, white palo santo trees, yellow flowers, and blue ocean.  A large bull sea lion was patrolling the red sand beach so we had to watch out when snorkeling.  Just inland we hiked by a brackish lagoon now home to bachelor sea lions, and the rare flamingo.  There were more flamingos a few years ago when the El Nino upset the usual feeding patterns, but the sea lions have since taken over.  As Darwin noted, each island has slight variations of flora and fauna, and on Rabida the cactus grows quite low to the ground because the animals on this island don’t eat the low branches.

 

Back on board the ship, we took group pictures, said goodbyes to the crew, and had our final dinner together.  It was hard to believe it would soon be over.  The Galapagos Islands by themselves would have been fabulous enough, but the long journey through the ocean swells to the middle of the ocean, the successful quest to see the eclipse, and the shared times with crew and passengers made this a particularly unique and memorable experience.

   

Day 15 Thursday, April 14, 2005

We awoke early in the morning, after many spent long hours packing the night before, in order to visit one last island before disembarking the Galapagos Legend for good.  North Seymour was certainly worth the early departure, as it is a breeding site for blue footed boobies and frigate birds. This was the season when the boobies were performing their mating rituals, lifting their big blue webbed feet in an exaggerated waddle, sticking tail feathers straight up towards the sky, flaring their wings, whistling and calling, clacking bills together, males offering bits of sticks as presents to impress the females. They find a single mate, lay eggs in shallow scrapings on the ground, and take turns minding the nest. They seemed unconcerned with their human observers, and carried on within a few feet of our path.  The frigate birds build nests in low bushes and trees, and the males have a strange method of attracting mates: they sit in the bush with a bright red sac under their neck puffed out to extraordinary size.  Frigates are large birds and scavengers, and it apparently takes some time for the juveniles to learn to feed themselves successfully.  We saw the evidence of those who did not make it in the carcasses scattered near nesting sites.  North Seymour is also home to land iguanas that were moved from Baltra.   During the Second World War, Baltra  was used as a U.S. airbase, and iguanas were moved in an attempt to save them. They have done so well on North Seymour that there is now an effort to return some of them to Baltra.  Our old friends the sea lions and marine iguanas were also there to greet us as we got on and off the island landing.

 

This really was the end though, and the next stop was back to Baltra for the airport, to board the AeroGal plane for Guayaquil, and then our separate ways and lives--onwards to Japan, South Africa, Slovakia, the United States, Ireland, Poland, the Netherlands, Great Britain, or perhaps to continue traveling in South America.  We left the Galapagos Legend hoping that our paths will cross again, cross the path of future eclipses, and with each other.

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