Day 244

It's usually sound that gets my attention first.  A new sound is generally not good for my future.  It's normally just a nuisance, sometimes a bigger problem, but if I'm lucky, it's nature doing something I haven't heard before.  Once, I kept hearing a faint tapping sound, but it was only audible when I laid down to rest, which is the most annoying time to hear new tapping.  After days of frustration, I identified the sound as the nozzle of my portable shower gently bumping into the side of a compartment.  Just knowing the origin, regardless if I take measures to stop it, alleviates loads of anxiety.  What is that sound?!!!  Ughhh!  Oh, it's just that stupid nozzle that leaks; now I can get on with my life.  Yesterday was a day of new sounds, but it was one of the lucky days.  

I heard what initially sounded like rain.  There wasn't any falling water I could see or feel, but the sound got louder.  The sound grew into something resembling a waterfall.  I stopped, looked in front of the boat, and saw what appeared to be boiling water.  It was an area the size of a basketball court.  Churning everywhere.  My first reaction was panic - oh no, did I miss something on the charts?  Am I about to fall into an abyss, then hopefully rise to safety on top of an underwater alien ship?  No, it was just fish.  Loads and loads of them jumping and thrashing and doing what fish do.  Not a single airborne predator in sight; they missed a huge score.  Who knows what was going on below.  By the way, when this boiling fish soup occurs, the jumping is very chaotic.  Fish are landing in every imaginable orientation. I didn't expect to see fish land dorsal fins first, but that apparently happens. 

A new sound like that would be troubling at night.  Luckily, I haven't encountered anything so audibly dramatic at night. However, I have experienced the visually dramatic. The night sky, of course - the Milky Way, the constellations, the shooting stars, the intensity of the moon.  I'm talking more of a terrestrial visual anomaly.  Rowing at night can be tricky. The moon is the biggest help, it can light up the sky enough to see waves almost as clear as day. When the moon is gone, even the stars will suffice on a clear night.  When the clouds roll in and the moon is gone, things get weird. Or at least they have recently.  I've seen bioluminescence, but this is bioluminescence on steroids.  

Normally, when a wave breaks, the water churns white and within the churning is the activation of dozens of individual green lights.  Sometimes all you can see is a faint line of green showing the location of a breaking wave.  It's the same stuff that lights up around your foot as it presses into wet sand or lights into a swirling halo around your hand as you swim through the water.  They also swirl around my oars, and when waves decide to enter my personal space, I've identified little green lights inside my boat.  They are invisible to the naked eye unless illuminated.  It appears they illuminate when some threshold of agitation occurs, which is why this situation is unique.  It's an explosion of illumination in what otherwise appears to be relatively calm water.  

It starts as a ball, maybe 1 foot across, illuminating suddenly and brightly, like seeing lightening embedded within a cloud.  Except this is night-vision green and underwater, inches below the surface.  I can't imagine the number of tiny bioluminescent creatures required to create this ball formation, it must be thousands.  The ball flashes suddenly and rapidly, just like lightening.  Next, and somewhat simultaneously, the ball expands to a 4 foot diameter circle, the brightness diminishing as the circle grows.  Then it's gone, the whole episode lasting maybe a second.  The first was startling, then there was 2, then dozens of green lightening spheres surrounding the boat.  What is happening?! 

I don't know why that was happening, but I'm grateful I was able to see it.  It was all I could focus on.  It was intense, but only lasted a few minutes, then it was back to regular agitation-induced illumination.  What was it?  Signaling? Communication? Defense mechanism?  A message letting me know they are hungry and to give them food?  Probably not the last one.  I can tell you one thing, it's very unlikely you'd find me swimming in that lightening storm.  Not until I know what's happening.  Just like that tapping nozzle, I'd need some investigation for peace of mind.  Maybe one of you can provide some insight. 

Paddle On

Rain clouds rolling in as the sun sets

Rain clouds rolling in as the sun sets



Do you know what ancient memories feel like?  They are there, the same ones our ancestors felt.  Perhaps it's a matter of parsing out the ancient memories from newer, more relevant information.  You don't have to remember the ancient details, just the vague feelings that help you survive and flourish.  I didn't teach myself to stop, raise my heartbeat, dilate my pupils, and pump adrenaline through my body at the sight of 1 inch diameter wiggly things on the ground.  But it happens every time; it's an ancient memory at work.  I don't remember anything about why that memory is there, but I know what it feels like.  That must mean memories are not for remembering, which seems odd. 

The ultimate memory must be the recognition of consciousness.  That must've been terrifying.  We're still dealing with how that memory feels.  Can you imagine being the first creature to look down at your body and realize you're somehow occupying it?  And then to realize that other creatures that look like you die, which means that you must also die.  Then to become aware that you end life to survive.  Then to understand that different, scary creatures want to end your life to survive.  And they'll try, desperately and viciously.  You've seen it - now you know what it is, and it's everywhere.  It's the recognition of vulnerability, the recognition of some demarcation between your body and the thing witnessing it.  

Of course, we all still undergo the transformation from ignorance to becoming painfully aware of our vulnerabilities.  It's still scary.  We have stories that tell us it was scary for everyone before us, and we have stories on how best to handle such a peculiar arrangement.  They certainly aren't scientific stories, at least not yet.  Scientific stories have only been around for a few hundred years, our ancient memories have been around for much, much, longer.  Billions of years - according to science, here another quagmire emerges.  I'm baffled by how much people think they know, scientific or otherwise.  

I can't think of anything I know with certainty.  Not even 1+1=2 works anymore, since apparently on the quantum scale 1+1 doesn't just mean 2.  Any scientific fact is only a fact for a specific sample size, at a specific time, under specific circumstances, with the constraint of certain variables, and with a level of certainty less than 100%.  So I can't say I know any science - I know we got close to certain using statistics.  And that's highly useful, but irrelevant on the grand scale of declaring absolute certainty of anything.  It's seems we don't need absolute certainty to survive, since we are all here.  The stories of our ancestors say we don't need certainty, we need something called faith.  Faith isn't knowing either, it's something else.  As far as I can tell, nobody truly knows anything.  

It's obviously terribly unproductive to just declare nobody knows anything.  I know there are some things in life that improve my situation, and others that are detrimental, and sometimes I get it wrong.  I know feelings influence my decisions in some manner even if I don't understand how or why.  I know there are certain ways to act that are acceptable, and I know I've gotten that wrong too.  It's like a self-correcting sine wave, overshooting certainty, oscillating closer and closer to some semblance of knowledge, but never truly arriving.  Maybe somewhere in that narrowing oscillation lies wisdom.  

If memories are not for remembering, then there must be some other function.  It turns out the best treatment (thus far) for dealing with a traumatic experience is remembering it, understanding it, feeling it, over and over until the remembering isn't painful.  We remember until it's no longer a salient emotional past detail, but a fully integrated part of us.  We become more resilient, better prepared humans, capable of surviving a wider range of experiences.  But experience tells us there are some things we never forget.  Maybe these things we never forget eventually turn into a vague feeling for those following in our footsteps, a nudge to pay close attention - that wiggly thing might kill you.  

Row On

Day 233

Shortly after crossing the equator I found myself in the middle of a wildlife extravaganza. First I saw 1 dolphin, then 2, then maybe 10, all swimming to my right, the closest 20 yards away.  The first one is always startling - a giant, dark grey creature partially emerging from the depths.  Then it's terribly exciting, look at them all!  Swimming right here!  In the midst of half a dozen rolling backs I see 2 or 3 flying fish burst out of the water, pointing in the opposite direction.  By the way, flying fish can both steer while airborne, and skip off the water, just like a flat stone on a lake.  It's really weird looking.  The skip is almost a re-launch to the awkward gliding.  Thinking about it, the steering might just be balancing to level, I've been unable to interview the fish thus far, but it looks like steering. 

Less than a second after the flying fish emerge, so does a very determined 4 foot long predator.  The pursuing fish was silver with a blue dorsal area, and what appeared to be a giant head.  That thing was keeping an eye on the flying fish both above and below the water, jumping 2 or 3 feet above the surface.  The time between consecutive jumps was almost immediate, a turnaround almost too quick to believe.  The dolphins seemed unperturbed by the proceedings at hand.  However, an airborne predator was on the scene almost immediately.  I didn't even know they were nearby, but maybe 5 seconds after the first flying fish appeared, there were two Frigates overhead. 

These birds are incredibly agile.  They appear to have 5 or 6 foot wing spans; it's difficult to tell since I normally see them at greater distances.  Despite their size, they can somehow reside inches above the water, plucking fish from the air, or from just below the surface, regardless of the sea state.  The determined swimming predator stopped pursuing in light of the new players involved.  Or at least stopped jumping.  The first swoops down were a miss, the Frigates then executed aggressive safe escape maneuvers, almost a vertical climb away from the sea, safely clear of the next wave.  It's incredibly impressive watching the maneuvers.  I find myself wondering what kind of G-Forces are at play, especially with hollow bones in the mix.  I don't think they won this round; I didn't see any bird gulping this time. 

Meanwhile, there is a Storm Petrel ignoring the dolphins, the fish, and the other birds.  Instead, its tiny black eyes are spotting prey I can't even see, things like plankton. This guy is the true maneuverability king.  It's just as maneuverable as a humming bird it seems, yet uses regular bird flapping techniques (as far as I can tell, what do I know).  It's baffling watching this tiny 6 inch bird hover over the face of a wave, pluck something out of the water, then execute a crazy backflip maneuver to keep from getting run down by the wave itself.  It also glides gracefully and quickly, it can do anything it seems - except fly backwards, maybe.  This entire explosion of activity happened within 120 seconds, then it was back to silence.  

By the way, during a squall yesterday, I was taking a shower courtesy of Mother Nature.  It's surreal showering in that manner; just the sheer amount of water pouring down is impressive.  The waves look different - more clearly defined as the striations of capillary waves disappear.  The visibility dropped down to less than a mile, the water droplets increased in size, and the wind began churning, transforming droplets into stinging projectiles.  I stayed until the stinging became more unpleasant than the cool shower was pleasant.  Meanwhile, I looked up and right and there was a lone Frigate taking the punishment, just like me.  Except he didn't have the refuge of a cabin once things got dicey.  

In other news, I've begun collaboration with Crossfit Bolt in Texas on a rowing challenge.  It's a 100 day challenge, me trying to make the finish line, and them trying to beat me using rowing machines.  The 100th day will be on May 30th 2019.  So there is the preliminary target date for reaching the end zone.  It's preliminary, and likely nowhere near when I'll make landfall somewhere, but it's a date nonetheless.  Don't buy plane tickets based on this estimate, just know it's there.  Matt McCraney is the owner of Crossfit Bolt, is an AF Academy graduate, and played football.  If you're in the Dallas area, check his place out, the is link on my homepage. 

Game On

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Pictured above: Tamana, an island of Kiribati. It's the most SW island of the country, I believe. I've been going through Kiribati for over a month now.  So finally, goodbye Kiribati!  I hope to visit in the future.  

Arts and Crafts

It appears I've crossed the equatorial counter-current without too much trouble.  It was the last major current running against my desired route of travel, so I'm grateful I made it through relatively unscathed.  The next major benchmarks are reaching the equator and the international date line.  I don't anticipate any issues reaching these milestones.  Once established in the southern hemisphere, there will be challenges dealing with low pressure systems running directly across my route of travel.  I'll also have to reverse my thinking; weather patterns run opposite of the northern hemisphere. 

Due to the predominance of land mass residing in the northern hemisphere, the convergence of hemispheric weather systems resides north of the equator, where I'm currently located.  The region is known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) or the doldrums.  According to my pilot charts, this region is characterized by hot and sultry weather conditions.  I'm not 100% on the definition of sultry, but it sounds way more fun than what I'm currently experiencing.  The heat has its challenges, especially in regard to sleep. An advantage of growing my hair and beard out - it holds fresh water that keeps me cool a while longer than without.

The sun is on a northbound trajectory once again, the cycle beginning anew following the annual rendezvous with the Tropic of Capricorn.  On March 20th, the sun will reside directly over the equator, presumably creating conditions worse than I'm currently experiencing within the ITCZ.  Right now, late January, the sun is still 17 degrees south of the equator.  I think that means it's still not so bad out, even right near the equator. I'll probably cross paths with the sun somewhere in the first 5 degrees of the southern hemisphere.  I'm curious to find out if the location of the sun or my location near the equator will have a greater affect on heat.  

I've determined I'm unable to visualize how the earth is oriented within our galaxy using casual observation.  I keep looking at the band of Milky Way rotating above our heads, then imagine that we are also in that Milky Way, then imagine the earth spinning and orbiting within some arm of the Milky Way, but unsure where I am relative to the band of stars above.  Up, down, north, south, all that gets confused in my head, mainly because I'm not sure if there's a North for the Galaxy?  Is the location of where we think the Big Bang took place, the cosmic North?  How have I not figured this out before?  

Speaking of all the forces allowing me to gently row across a 16,000 foot deep swimming pool while violently spinning through a cosmic void, you now have the option to isolate some of the forces on a digital globe called Google Earth.  David Burch at The Starpath School of Navigation in Seattle created a file for use within the application.  The file displays my location pulled from the map on my website, but cleaned up and averaged.  It also allows for the selection of a number of overlays.  You'll be able to select and display currents, winds, wave height and direction, sea surface temperature, amongst other variables.  I wish I could use it out here, but I'll have to wait until I reach shore.  

David Burch has reached wizard level when it comes to maritime knowledge.  He's literally written the book on most things maritime related.  I took two courses through his school, one on weather and one on navigation. I suspect the Google Earth file he put together is pretty legit.  Here's what you'll need for this digital arts and crafts project:  

1.  Google Earth on your computer or compatible device.

2.  This blog:

3.  This file:

4.  This instructional video:

5.  A good attitude, probably.  

Let me know how it goes!  I'm 6 minutes away from having a 12 hour day followed by a 12 hour night.  The gap is narrowing.  Another thing I'm not sure about - is it possible to have a greater than 12 hour day on the equator?  Visualizing shadows from a gigantic sun on a tiny ball creates similar brain problems to orientation within the galaxy and infinity.  Maybe you can figure it out with this Google Earth project.

Paddle On
Row On
Just Keep On!

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Day 189

It's 10 minutes before sunset. I stop rowing and temporarily stow the oars.  This has always been my favorite time of day.  It's a nice reminder, a brief shift in perspective as the sun recedes below the horizon.  I watch as the final rays stretch their reach, illuminating until stopped by the barriers of physics itself.  The clouds tell the story, faithfully illuminated from above into whites and grays.  Until now.  The low angle rays begin illuminating high altitude clouds from below, descending to the underbelly of lower clouds as the earth rotates away. The whites and grays transform into pastels beyond imagination.  The distant far west clouds are something else now.  They are bands of pure radiant gold. 

Yet here I am, thinking about it. And watching. Today I'm lucky enough to have company for the celestial light show.  It's another Booby!  He's circling. I raise the hardtop and secure it open with the makeshift doorstop for better viewing.  Then I open the hatch directly above the center footwell and use the lip of the opening as a seat. This is a comfortable resting position, mainly because my hands are now the 4th and 5th points of contact if needed.  Nice and stable. 

The Booby is interested in Emerson.  Between passes low in the troughs, he hesitates directly above the boat, eyes darting left and right. The tail feathers spread, the wings broaden, giving the Booby an extra few seconds of reconnaissance before slipping back into a trough.  This is a splendid compliment to the sun show in progress.  On the next pass, the Booby commits - it's time for a landing.  Emerson is 28 feet long, with plenty of flat surfaces.  This Booby instead decides to land on the thin edge of the raised hardtop, about 3 feet from my face. He ignores me entirely. 

This Booby is of the Blue-Footed variety. The beak also contains a peculiar blue hue. Say that one 10 times fast - peculiar blue hue, peculiar blue hue.  Impossible.  I should delete that.  Regardless, this guy isn't looking for a final rest, he's still young and strong.  It's just a short stop for a bit of grooming.  Balancing on that edge would be a nightmare, well - I guess for a human. The door itself moves maybe 1 inch, abruptly.  It's also attached to a boat that is rocking back and forth 20-25 degrees at the moment. Yet this is where grooming must take place.  His webbed feet awkwardly wrap around the thin edge of the hardtop, the balancing act taking considerable effort.  His wings are outstretched in anticipation of falling more so than stable and ready to groom.  It's no matter, grooming must go on. 

I watch this bird with amazement and some level of envy.  This is by far the worst place to groom aboard Emerson.  The Booby is wings in, head turned, and beak nibbling maybe 20% of the time.  I would've aborted this endeavor after 60 seconds with the definition of insanity repeating in my head.  Not this guy.  Without fail, 80% balancing followed by 20% grooming.  No frustration, no particular concern, no identifying new grooming locations.  This is it.  It's a bird at a place trying to do a thing, that's it.  It's so beautifully simple. 

Yet here we are, together.  At the moment, we have nearly identical life objectives.  Eat, rest, groom when required, and keep moving.  We are the same, except the obvious - the awareness.  And so it comes back, the pastels faded, the gold worn dull.  But for a moment, however brief, I was less in my head and more out there with the Boobies. In that place, it doesn't matter that Mr. Blue Foot selected an outrageous thin perch, nor does it matter that I made the outrageous choice of trying to row an ocean.  We're just here.  Let's get after it, even if the world is against us 80% of the time. 

Paddle On

P.S. I'm aware I'm not technically paddling. Be more like Mr. Blue Foot - who cares.

P.P.S. I was unable to coordinate the delivery of equipment as I passed Hawaii. Unfortunately, there will be no documentary. 

P.P.P.S. The Garmin map will no longer be updating. I lost the device after the final charging cable caught fire. Well, it was more of a red, smoldering, smoking, rubber dripping situation. Everything is under control, just no more text messages. 

P.P.P.P.S.  David Birch at the Starpath School of Navigation in Seattle is putting together a really cool Google Earth application for everyone to use. You'll be able to see real-time updates and select overlays that interest you. More to follow. 

P.P.P.P.P.S.  How many P's is too many?  Make it stop!  Mr. Blue Foot wasn't ignoring me.  When I reached out towards him, there were loud noises and aggressive beak movements.  We're cool now.