Wend magazine Editor-in-Chief and Surfrider Foundation Ambassador Stiv Wilson is on a sailboat with Dr. Marcus Eriksen of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation on an environmental research mission to explore plastic in the Sargasso Sea.
Here is his latest update, sent to Wend HQ via satellite:
After enduring a solid 36 hours of being hove to wait out a storm, the crew has come back to life. A low pressure system hit us early Sunday morning and the seas picked up quite a bit causing the boat to toss violently. Normally when faced with this situation you’d sail hard through it, getting away from the storm as soon as possible. But since our mission is to trawl for plastic every 100 miles to get a transect of our passage, we couldn’t run on full sail otherwise we would risk quickly eating up those 100 miles. Also, when the sea state is chaotic, the plastic debris stratifies deeper in the water column making the plastic trawls less to ineffective. Thus, we heaved to.
The 'heave to' is a technique sailors use to slow the boat down to near drift by backing the sails against each other and tying the wheel off, which makes the ship continually right itself back into the waves. Essentially, it’s like parking at sea as best as one can. Heaving to, though effective for waiting out storms, makes for an extremely difficult life aboard ship - especially in big seas. Thirty-six hours of rain, wind and tossing from rail to rail sometimes to 50° makes for bruises and sore muscles. This experience was quite a juxtaposition to the sail we had the second night when we were in T-shirts clipping along peacefully at 10 knots under a cloudless sky with a full moon.
Around noon local time (-4 GMT) Marjolijn yelled from above deck that dolphins had gained our bow, so the crew ran up to photograph them. But as they darted to and fro, we came across our second major windrow (an area that collects debris by ocean currents both organic and inorganic) on the trip and the first one on the leg from Bermuda to the Azores. We dropped sail and navigated by motor to large patches of Sargassum (a plant that grows on the surface of this area of the Atlantic known as the Sargasso Sea). At once, my seafaring romantic notions of dolphins being good omens were dashed by the insipid reminder of the human stain.
For nearly 45 minutes, the whole crew of the Sea Dragon documented and scooped up bucket lids, lighters, dental floss holders, toothbrushes, antifreeze jugs, mop squeegies, bottle caps, mouth guards (for boxing), Spanish nail polisher remover bottles, crates, and lots more. For the new crew members, including Maarten, the sculptor, this was a watershed moment. What was once a story heard on CNN and the BBC about the North Pacific became eyewitness reality in yet another ocean, 5,000 miles away.
Now, we’re steaming towards what we believe to be the epicenter of the gyre - still some 400 miles away.
Big thanks to Aquapac, Keen, Patagonia, Blue Turtle, EcoUsable, The Surfrider Foundation, Ron and Portia at Pangaea Explorations (owners of the Sea Dragon and directors of the Pan Explore Project) and the VERY AWESOME FOLKS at Clifbar who sent us a 35-pound care package of pure energy to Bermuda.