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Fanning Island, Kiribati

February 28, 2014 – Friday – Tabuaeran, Fanning Island, Kiribati

Fanning Island Satellite map

Fanning Island Satellite map

We arrive at Fanning Island at 7:30AM. It is 26℃ (79℉), 84% humidity, and a Sea Depth of 2,460 metres just outside the entrance to the atoll. Obviously the ship won’t be anchoring; instead it holds position with engines running until we leave at 2PM. This illustrates just how steep the fall-off is from the shores of this island atoll. The tendering is slow, with a couple of hundred people waiting at any one time from the 8AM start. I wait until mid-morning and then go downstairs to get a tendering ticket. I’m in the tender and on my way within a half hour. It is a long 25-minute tender ride to the tendering dock.

The area around the dock is crowded with islanders hawking shell necklaces, singing kids wanting dollar bills to help buy school supplies, and islanders dressed in strange costumes of coconut husk armour (again wanting a dollar or two donation for a photo). There are also a few trucks with seats in the back that take passengers on a drive around the island for $10. The day is beautiful and sunny, but the seas are a bit choppy outside the lagoon. I’m glad I went ashore, even though I returned an hour later after a walk-around.

Living conditions are certainly third world. There is debris all over the island, since the islanders seem to have no plan to manage their garbage. They have no running water, collecting rainwater for drinking, dump their sewage in the lagoon, and have no electricity (other than what a few solar panels provide to individual families who can afford them). I don’t see any satellite dishes for TV reception, although there is a radio tower on the island, so I assume they can use radio to communicate with the outside world when needed.

The islanders seem happy, but this place appears to have little going for it. Holland America ships call a half dozen times a year, but otherwise there is no tourism. The islanders fish the lagoon to feed their families, and harvest seaweed for export. Cargo ships must call, since they have canned food, staples, and fuel to run a few trucks and motorcycles on the island.

Ship's position after leaving Fanning Island

Ship’s position after leaving Fanning Island indicating a 40 kt wind

The ship sails from Fanning Island a bit after 2PM, so it is more-or-less on time, although I don’t think it matters much since our next port-of-call is Bora Bora, where we have an overnight stay before moving on. It will take us two days to get there, and the captain says we have to average 18 knots. There is no bad weather forecast, so we should arrive on time. I have a shore excursion booked for Bora Bora – a Beach Break and Snorkel at a nearby motu, which should be fun.

For the first time on this cruise we have a strong wind to contend with. We are currently steering a SE course, and we have a 40-knot easterly wind buffeting the ship. I have to give up my star gazing from Deck 14 Sky Deck because I am being literally blown off my feet! Needless to say, holding binoculars still to observe with is virtually impossible, despite having a Plexiglas shield surrounding this deck forward.

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Kona & Place of Refuge

February 24, 2014 – Monday – Kailua-Kona, the Big Island of Hawaii

My excursion this morning leaves early. I have to be at the assembly point at 7:50AM, and when I show up five minutes early, my group has already left for the tender, so I quickly follow. Our bus is waiting for us on the pier, but we end up waiting for a few people who obviously showed up on time or a little late. This inexpensive tour ($40) is called Kona Highlights, which is really just a nice drive south of Kailua-Kona (and back). We stop to sample some coffee at the little town of Captain Cook, where I get to sample some Kona Peaberry coffee – very nice, but I’m not paying $50 for a bag of it!

Collection of photos taken in 2009 and 2014 along the Kona coast on the Big Island of Hawaii

We then proceed onward to my favourite place, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or Place of Refuge down on the shoreline. It is volcanic down here, as is most of the Big Island. I take a few photos and just relax under the shade of the palm trees and take in the sound of the ocean swells crashing against the black volcanic shoreline and surging into the bay. There are no turtles today in the Ali’i landing bay, but the place still feels wonderful – I can feel the good mana here, and I’m not one to normally believe in superstitions. We only have an hour here, but I enjoy it immensely. Next, we drive to the nearby Painted Church in the community of Captain Cook. This little Catholic Church is a popular stop for sightseers. I get to try out my new fisheye lens inside the church, taking a photo of the alter, the whole ceiling, and part of the walls.

Collection of photos taken in 2009 and 2014 of Place of Refuge

After we return to Kailua-Kona, I find a little general store, where I buy some supplies before returning to the tender dock. As we approach the ship anchored in the bay, the tender has a terrible time trying to tie up, since there is quite a bit of wave action. Once the tender ties up, it beats against the gangway, wreaking the landing platform. Passengers are unloaded when there is a lull in the wave action, so the unloading process takes over 20 minutes. This isn’t the roughest tender landing I have experienced, but the tender was certainly bucking against the gangway landing in an energetic fashion.

As always, I’m glad to be back aboard ship and in my comfortable cabin. I toss my dirty clothes into the self-serve laundry, while I try to take advantage of the high speed Internet access I have with my cellphone connection to the Rogers/AT&T LTE. Since we are anchored offshore, I sit out on the Promenade Deck facing the shoreline to get a decent signal. This convenience will end once we sail away from the Big Island of Hawaii enroute to Fanning Island and French Polynesia. I will then be back to using the slow, unreliable, and expensive satellite connection aboard the ship.

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Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

February 22, 2014 – Saturday – Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

2014 Maui Photos Map

2014 Maui Photos Map

The ship anchors offshore from Lahaina, and tenders are used to transport passengers ashore. Early this morning, I see Humpback whales from the ship, and I manage to take some pretty decent photos of them “flipper flapping”, blowing and breaching.

I am on an excursion today – the West Maui Snorkel Cruise, which uses Trilogy Elua an excursion catamaran sailboat. As it turns out, the whale watching as we motor to our snorkel location is the highlight of the trip, since we see a mother, baby and escort Humpback whale perhaps 10 to 20 metres from the boat. The bonus is that I shoot video of this encounter! The crew deploy an underwater speaker so we can hear the whales communicating, which is very cool!

After returning to Lahaina, I give the tacky little town about 10 minutes of my time before returning to the comfort of the ship.

Elika Santos is a young Hawaiian male singer who gives a terrific performance in the Showroom At Sea this evening. He is trained in opera, so has a very powerful voice. He sings pop, opera and Hawaiian songs. I’m going to look him up when I get back home, so I can buy some of his music to listen to.

Elika Santos

Elika Santos

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Cruise: San Diego to Hawaii

Cruising from San Diego, California, USA to Hawaii aboard ms Statendam

February 15, 2014 – Saturday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 1

I wake up too early at 7AM and need my morning coffee, so I go to the Explorers Café for a cappuccino. After sitting in the leather recliner looking out at the calm Pacific Ocean from the quiet library, I am feeling much better, and then go for breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room, which opens at 8AM. I have a cup of tea and a frittata as I chat with my fellow passengers.

Since this is a day at sea, the entertainment staff have a full slate of activities scheduled. All is revealed in the daily newsletter published each morning. I’m big on enrichment talks, so I go to all of them:

11AM Showroom – Pacific People: How the Islanders Arrived – Charlie Urbanowicz explains how the original inhabitants of the islands crossed the Pacific Ocean and where they came from. I learn that human migrations used cloud tops over the island groups for navigation. I already knew they used wave patterns, the Sun and stars to navigate.

3PM Showroom – The Wildlife of Remote Pacific Islands – Hawaii and Tahiti – Clive Catchpole presents some of the fascinating and unusual creatures that inhabit these isolated islands. Clive points out that the Pacific Islands we will be visiting have very few endemic species. Most species were imported. He points out that the Humpback whale migration is in full swing right now, and we will likely see them in Maui. He also talks about the big seabirds, such as Albatross (offshore), Boobies, Gannets and Frigate birds found near shore.

Catch A Wave group

Catch A Wave group

After dinner, I enjoy a Benedictine liqueur while listening to Catch A Wave, a Beach Boys tribute band this evening in the Showroom. The tunes are very well done, with a near-perfect 5-part harmony, and they are dressed in the early striped shirts and white pants the Beach Boys originally performed in. However they just stand there – no movement or dancing around during their performance.

After the show, I go to the office to check that they know about my departure from the ship in Hilo, and re-boarding in the following day in Kailua-Kona. The young woman tells me my plans are contrary to the US Merchant Marine Act (successor to the Jones Act), and I will be subject to a $300 charge by the US government for contravening this maritime law. She points out that the cruise line has no problem with me leaving and rejoining the ship on the Big Island of Hawaii, but the US government does.

This means I have to cancel my plans to see Mauna Kea at night, so I send an email to the Old Hawaiian B&B to cancel my night’s stay in Hilo. I will also have to contact Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, but I can wait until we arrive in Honolulu so I don’t have to pay the expensive per minute rates while aboard ship.

This is very disappointing, since I was looking forward to seeing the night sky from Mauna Kea. Perhaps I’ll drive up there during the day, since my rental car is a proper 4×4 Ford Explorer truck. I will have to decide very soon how best to use my day in Hilo, and the following day in Kona.

February 16, 2014 – Sunday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 2

I wake up at 8AM this morning, which is a bit late for me, so at least I’m starting to get into “holiday mode”. I go to the Rotterdam dining room for breakfast and have a cappuccino, and Eggs Royal (2 poached eggs on an English muffin with smoked salmon and some home fries), hold the Hollandaise sauce.

I am starting to know the layout of the ship. The Statendam is the oldest ship in this series, and it is showing its age a bit, however as with other Holland America ships, it is kept up-to-date and spotlessly clean, and has a rich-looking décor without being “over the top”. My cabin is mid-ships on Main Deck. Since my cabins on my two previous Holland America cruises were near the bow, I have to learn the most efficient way to get to the places I most want to go to: the Showroom At Sea, the Explorers Lounge, the Rotterdam dining room, the Lido buffet, and the Sea View pool.

It is formal wear tonight so I dress in my blue blazer jacket, dark grey dress pants and white shirt and tie. The Maître ‘d seats me at a large 8 seat oval table in the middle of the dining room. I order Rack of Lamb and have a glass of white wine…a very nice dinner indeed.

Bob Mackie costume

Bob Mackie costume

I go to the Showroom tonight to see Bob Mackie’s Broadway, which is a song and dance show well performed by the ship’s resident troupe of entertainers. The Bob Mackie costumes look great, and I always enjoy the singing and dancing of the resident entertainment troupe.

February 17, 2014 – Monday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 3

This is another day at sea, so I take in more enrichment speakers. Kainoa is a Hawaiian man aboard the ship as the Location Guide. Strictly speaking, he works for the Excursions Department, and his job is to sell passengers the ship’s excursions. Kainoa takes it up a notch, and gives very interesting talks on the ports, and is more like another enrichment speaker in my books.

Charles Darwin portrait

Charles Darwin

9AM Showroom – Location Guide Kainoa Present: Honolulu & Oahu – Kainoa recommends going to the Ala Moana Beach & Magic Island, which are between the cruise ship dock and Waikiki, about 2 miles from the cruise dock. This sounds like a good plan for me, since I’m going on a North Shore tour one day, but I have the second day we’re in port to myself. He also mentions the Foster Botanical Gardens. Apparently they are both 2 miles from cruise dock.

2PM Showroom – Amazing Voyage of Charles Darwin – Clive Catchpole – Darwin’s work as a naturalist aboard the Beagle was nothing short of amazing. Keep in mind; Darwin was trained in both theology (which he hated) and botany (which he loved). The ship discovered Beagle Passage, an easier alternative to going ‘around the Horn’ of South America. Darwin noticed that mockingbirds and finches differed from island to island in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin predicted the decline of the Aboriginals in Australia, and waited 20 years to publish his famous work On the Origin of Species in 1859. Clive is an outstanding speaker, with a dry sense of British humour.

3PM Showroom – Location Guide Kainoa Present: Kingdom to State – Kainoa describes how the US annexed Hawaii, over the objections of the Hawaiian monarchy. Business interests drove this annexation. Now there is a “Nation within a nation” – Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

I saw an old guy in the casino yesterday with a t-shirt slogan that simply said “I’ve been there…”. When Kainoa recently asked people in one of his talks who were first time cruisers, nobody raised their hands! That speaks volumes about the demographic on this cruise. Arman the Cruise Director mentioned in a previous session in the Showroom At Sea that one passenger has spent something like 10,000 days on board Holland America ships…more than 27 years, which exceeds Arman’s age!

February 18, 2014 – Tuesday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 4

I go to the Rotterdam dining room for breakfast and have a Southwest Omelet and a cappuccino. One couple is from Connecticut and another couple is from Toronto, so they both have storm stories to tell – ice and hurricanes. The Toronto couple were aboard the Prinsindam when she sailed around South America and further south near Antarctica. Apparently the ship nearly capsized when it was hit with a double wave. According to them she was heeled over 60 degrees, they lost 80% of the crockery, and there were several injuries among crew and passengers. I may reconsider my plans to do that cruise!

As in past cruises, the older folks are about evenly split between reading paperbacks and using various brands of electronic readers. I’m using my iPad for occasions when I feel like reading. I have a 650 page book I’m working on, and I also loaded a couple of year’s worth of magazines on it, so I have lots of reading material. My music is on my iPhone, and my documents are on my MacBook Air, so I’m well equipped to entertain myself with my high-tech gear.

There is only one enrichment talk today:

10AM Showroom – The evolution of life on planet Earth – Clive Catchpole – Clive has turned out to be a real treasure on this cruise. He is witty, has a dry sense of English humour, and presents the most interesting lectures. I always take lots of notes at his presentations.

There are no presentations this afternoon that appeal to me, and I have nothing planned. Several passengers and Clive have mentioned there is a Lysan Albatross flying with the ship, so I grab my camera and circle the outside decks looking for this bird to no avail. As usual, I skip lunch in favor of having a cappuccino and a couple of cookies in the early afternoon around 2PM. I take my iPad and read my book for an hour while I have my coffee.

The ship has been lurching a bit in large 8’ swells, which are apparently coming from a couple of storms north of the Hawaiian Islands, where the captain tells us the swells are 20’. Weather reports are apparently good for when we arrive in Hawaii, but at the moment they have overcast skies and rain. We also have had overcast skies but no rain since we left sunny San Diego. The outside temperature is a mild 21°C during the day…not exactly time for swimming in the outside pool, but pleasant enough.

I go to dinner this evening at 6PM, my usual time. I am seated with two couples that are both from Burnaby, so our table isn’t just Canadian…it’s British Columbian! One couple booked the cruise three weeks before departure date, and paid half fare. Obviously they didn’t get their choice of cabins, but they were upgraded from an inside cabin to an outside cabin, so they did pretty well. His luggage was lost by Air Canada/United in Denver, so he only has one pair of pants to wear, and had to rent a tuxedo for formal night, as well as buy spare socks and underwear in the shop. Apparently United will be paying them $300 for the inconvenience, and will ship his bag to Honolulu.

February 19, 2014 – Wednesday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 5

I wake up at 6:30AM, which is too early, but setting the clocks back an hour last night has screwed me up. I head up to the Explorations Café for a cappuccino at 7AM. Yesterday the captain reported we were moving clear of the big swells and would experience confused seas, and that’s exactly what I see out the windows this morning. We still have overcast skies, and the sea is grey just like at home during the winter months. The ship is making 17.7 knots this morning, and we are within a day’s sail of Hawaii, so I’m sure the captain is pleased to be on schedule (as am I).

I’m looking forward to the end of these days at sea. At day 5, I’m finding it a bit tedious, although I am certainly catching up on my rest! Breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room this morning was very pleasant. I was seated at a table for six: 2 Brits (SE England), 2 Americans (S central WA), and a Canadian woman (Calgary). We discuss the XL oil pipeline proposal. Of course the Americans are all in favour of the pipeline, and hate Obama. The English complain about the long tags on their clothing and other goods, which now have to accommodate all the languages in the EU.

I decide it is time to do laundry this morning since I’m not interested in any of the morning presentations, and we are experiencing a tropical downpour outside. It costs $2 to wash (including detergent), and $1 for the dryer. I buy a roll of quarters from the front desk, so I’m set for the trip. While I wait for my laundry, there is a balloon toss game being played in the Atrium. It’s called “keep the guests busy” on their fifth day at sea!

By Noon the Sun is out and the clouds are mostly cleared in favour of blue sky. People are out on deck sunning themselves almost immediately! I decide to have some lunch in the Lido and eat out on the Lido pool deck where the HAL-cat band is playing. Now this is the typical cruise ship experience…all I need is a beer! It’s formal night tonight, so perhaps I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner.

1PM Showroom – The social life of animals – Clive Catchpole – Clive talks about Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, who defends Darwin’s views about individual selection theories, but proposes that Evolution is all about genes being passed on, and believes that genes are immortal, unlike human bodies, Dawkins Book: The Selfish Gene 1978. This was another first-rate talk by Clive! He won’t be back until we leave Hawaii.

Sea View pool and blue skies, lots of sunbathers

Sea View pool and blue skies, lots of sunbathers

I was going to listen to Kainoa’s talk on the History of the Hula after Clive’s presentation, but decide to skip it in favour of going for a swim in the Sea View Pool. The water is cool, but it is great to swim a bit – a refreshing break from all my inactivity so far on the cruise.

I dress for dinner and am seated with the couple from Atlanta, and the couple from Burnaby I previously met, and one other woman. After dinner, I go to the Showroom to see a magician and comedian act, but he is less than entertaining, so I leave mid-way through the performance.

Since it is clear outside, I go up to Deck 14, the Sky Deck to measure the sky darkness with my Sky Quality Meter and to observe the stars. The lights are on up there, but I get an exceedingly dark reading. I also see the Orion (the Warrior) constellation on his side and Cygnus (the Swan) constellation, which is also flying on her side.

Tomorrow morning we land in Honolulu, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. I think it’s safe to say everyone aboard is looking forward to it. I know I am!

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Flight: Victoria to San Diego & departure

Victoria to San Diego flights, and departure from San Diego aboard ms Statendam

February 14, 2014 – Friday – Victoria, BC, Canada to San Diego, CA, USA

It is a stressful day flying from Victoria to San Diego. First of all, my alarm awakes me at 3AM, and I am out the door and in a taxi to the airport. After check-in at the United counter at Victoria Airport, I pass through security and then have time for a cappuccino from the new Spinnakers on the fly in the holding lounge at the gates while I wait for my flight to leave at 6:30AM. After we board, the aircraft sits on the apron for about 15 minutes, but the pilot finally announces we are ready for departure. Apparently the delay was caused from San Francisco, where there was some doubt we would get a slot for landing due to fog. The weather cleared enough for landings in San Francisco, so we take off from Victoria. The first hurdle is cleared, and I’m on my way! This flight is very odd: there are no children or babies aboard, and everyone is very quiet…a bonus for me since is so early, and I’m not a morning person.

The flight down is very scenic once the Sun rises. We fly inland from Victoria to San Francisco. It certainly is very foggy in San Francisco as we approach, however there are clear patches and the pilots bring the aircraft down perfectly and everyone leaves the aircraft quickly. I’m thankful for this, because I’m still nervous about all I have to endure before boarding my next flight to San Diego. As soon as I leave the gate, I can see the airport is being renovated…never a good sign for someone not familiar with a large airport.

Before I can claim my bag, I have to clear US immigration. Two large aircraft from China have just arrived at the same time as our little aircraft. For some inexplicable reason, we have to go through security again before we can get to US immigration. There is a woman in uniform at the crossroads of a major intersection inside the airport that insists on directing all of us to the busiest security checkpoint with hundreds of those Chinese passengers waiting in line. As I reluctantly follow her bad advise, I stop to ask a man with a badge if this is the best way to get to my gate. He immediately says “no”, and thank goodness he volunteers to lead me and some of the other passengers from the Victoria flight in the opposite direction to another, less busy security checkpoint. He also points out that some of our tickets are marked “TSA PRE”, which means we are pre-cleared and entitled to use a priority line. Although we still have to go through the security checkpoint, he probably saves us a half hour of waiting!

It ends up taking me about 10 minutes to clear security. At that point, I can go through US immigration, but wait…there are those hundreds of Chinese passengers ahead of us again! After about 20 minutes of waiting, they open up additional immigration agents, so I finally get processed for entry to the USA. Now I go to the baggage carousels and find my bag, and proceed through yet another US inspection. I re-check my bag for the next flight, and I’m off to find the boarding gate.

As it turns out, the gate for my San Diego flight is only the third gate past the baggage checkpoint I’m already at, so I arrive 45 minutes early! This flight only has a few empty seats, and we are back to the typical flying bus scenario: crying babies, sneezing and coughing kids, old folks who struggle down the isle to their seats, and the rest of us, who just want the flight to end.

We take off northward from San Francisco, and then circle around and fly down the coast to San Diego. The urban development between San Francisco and San Diego is impressive. This is a very crowded patch of the USA. We touchdown in San Diego at 12:25PM, arriving on time! Thankfully, the cruise terminal is a short taxi ride from the airport, so after I deal with the surely Russian cabbie, I present myself at the check-in for the ship. It is fairly well organized, but with over a thousand passengers checking in, it takes a bit under an hour to wind my way through the various lineups before I am issued my Holland America ID card and walk on board the Statendam.

I knew ahead of time that this day would be stressful, and it was, but ultimately everything worked out fine. I’m safely aboard the ship, and I still have time for a late lunch in the Lido buffet before I unpack my bags. I have a quick look around the ship’s outer decks, then go back to my cabin for a well-earned shower and nap. By this time, it is nearing departure time, but as per Holland America’s policy, there is a mandatory lifeboat drill before we leave.

San Diego photos map

San Diego photos map

Once that is over, the ship slips away from the dock, turns around in the harbour and heads out past the city as the sun sets off our bow. San Diego has a beautiful harbour, and the setting Sun gives the place a wonderful glow, so we have great views of the marinas, city centre, airport, and naval base as we sail away. A lovely Moon rises from the California hills behind the city as the pilot leaves our ship. There is a dense fog bank waiting for us as we clear the entrance to the harbour and head off across the Pacific Ocean, bound for Hawaii.

After spending an interesting hour on deck during our departure, I drop off my camera gear in the cabin and get dressed for dinner. The Rotterdam Dining Room offers classic table service with a 4-course menu, which I always look forward to. Since I am traveling solo, I always make a point of asking to join a large table, where there are many people to meet and talk with. It is so interesting to hear their stories and tell them mine as we work our way through our fine meals.

I have five days at sea to look forward to before we arrive in Hawaii.

Port Vila, Vanuatu

November 18, 2012 – Sunday – Port Vila, Vanuatu

I sleep in until a bit after 8AM this morning…a first on this trip, where I have been waking anywhere from 5-6AM most mornings. After my usual breakfast of cappuccino, yogurt, and French pastry at La Palette, I go out on deck to call home to check in since there is a good cellular signal here in Port Vila’s harbour. I then go back to my cabin to prepare for my last shore excursion for this cruise “Semi-submersible and snorkel”, a short 1.5 hours long starting mid-morning. I’m expecting it to be similar to the excursion I took from Port Vila two years ago while aboard the Volendam, where we motored out to the far side of Iririki Island, which is in the middle of Port Vila’s rather large harbour. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happens. We walk from the tender dock up the street a short way, and even leave from the same dock as before. The same larger sailboat used for my previous excursion is tied up when we returned to the dock.

The “semi-submersible” we are on is basically a small boat with an underwater observation chamber welded to the bottom equipped with windows and seats. Everyone crowds down there for the first part of the excursion, while the crew show us coral formations, fish, and other underwater life. This is ideal for taking underwater photos if you want to remain dry. The second part of the excursion is what I came for: snorkelling. I am one of the first to jump off the boat and swim around observing the fish and taking photos of all the underwater life. As with my excursion two years ago, the crew feed the fish bread, so they are tame, swarming around the food morsels. This gives everyone a great show of fish close up.

After a half hour or so I’m tiring, so I climb back aboard the boat and start to dry off. One of the crew asks me to give him my camera, so he can dive down a bit deeper to “get some good pictures for your kids”. After returning to the ship and viewing the photos, he indeed did get some good shots of sea cucumbers, giant clams, and a yellow-black-white striped coral reef fish. It was a good tour for me, since it wasn’t too long, and I went snorkelling. My needs are simple. After returning to the ship and having a late lunch at Le Veranda, I have an afternoon nap in my cabin.

Later this afternoon just before we sail away, I measure the following weather conditions from the top decks of the ship: 27ºC temperature, 20kmh wind speed, 75% humidity, and 30ºC Heat Index. This is the first day on our cruise where my fellow passengers are complaining about the “hot” weather, although I would hardly call this hot personally. All our previous days aboard ship have seen mild temperatures (low 20ºC temperatures), and light breezes. There are a few light rain showers today, but it is also hot and humid, as the numbers attest.

There is a huge four-masted sailboat named Phocea anchored in the harbour. I heard a story earlier today that the owner of the boat was arrested and thrown in jail in Vanuatu for attempting to smuggle drugs and arms into the country. I wonder if the story is true? Here is a good background story to read.

Dinner in L’Etoile this evening is most enjoyable. I talk with an older couple from San Francisco are well traveled, so this is always interesting to me, and she has a sharp sense of humour. A younger couple from Atlanta are both very friendly. He is a software developer, so we have IT-related stuff we talk about. A man from Ohio joins us for dinner, and always had something to contribute to the conversation, since he is a fellow amateur astronomer I know from a few years back when we both attended one of TraveQuest’s Costa Rican Southern Sky Fiesta tours. An older woman from San Francisco who I met before is also interesting, but because she is across the table, it is hard to converse with her. She and I share the fact we both love terriers, and she tells me she once raised 26 terriers at the same time! I share that we have two one-year-old Jack Russell Terriers.

When I return to my stateroom, I organise everything I need for packing tomorrow night. The daily newsletters which I have accumulated during the cruise make a good record of the activities aboard ship and the ports of call, but weigh too much to lug home, so I photograph each page and then throw them in the recycle bin. I even recycle the nice Solar Eclipse booklet TravelQuest gave everyone when they boarded ship, since I have a pdf version of the booklet.

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Ile de Mare, New Caledonia

November 16, 2012 – Friday – Ile de Mare, New Caledonia

Children dressed for welcome ceremony at Wabao village, Ile de Mare, New Caledonia

Children dressed for welcome ceremony at Wabao village, Ile de Mare, New Caledonia

I don’t have anything planned for today’s port of call, however the daily program says there is a free activity where everyone will be driven by bus to Wabao village. The Captain of the Paul Gauguin and the village chief will exchange gifts at a welcome ceremony. So a hundred or so of my fellow passengers (and me) pile into buses and make the 20-minute journey down the road, where we encounter cute children dressed for the occasion, and who sing us a few songs. The captain and the chief make brief speeches, and then there is some food for those who decide to stay. The rest of us return to the ship, or are dropped off at a snorkel area called Yenjele Beach. The beach looked divine, but I stayed on the bus and returned to the ship for lunch, and a snooze in a sofa in a shady spot on the pool deck.

I meet some interesting people at dinner in L’Etoile this evening. Two couples are dedicated eclipse chasers, and are from the same university town in New Hampshire. One couple are SCUBA divers, with the wife having done over 1,000 dives, and the husband having done over 1,500 dives! She no longer dives, but her husband continues. The husband of the other couple was an engineer with AT&T before it was broken up, after which he retired and went into the telephone standards industry. I also meet a Brit living on the Isle of Man who arrives at the table a bit late. He is a live wire, and apparently spends his retirement kite surfing at various locales around the world. He really likes going to South America, where he asserts the best kite surfing in the world can be found.

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2012 Total Solar Eclipse

November 14, 2012 – Wednesday – Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun – observed from aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship sailing about 200km south of New Caledonia in the Coral Sea

Map of 2012 Solar Eclipse track in the South Pacific

Map of 2012 Solar Eclipse track in the South Pacific

I am up at 5:30AM, beating my alarm by a few minutes. Skipping breakfast, I gather my eclipse gear and setup on the Pool Deck. I mount my Kestrel 4500 portable weather station on a nearby towel deposit box, and also mount my little Fuji point-and-shoot camera on the same box to take some HD video during Totality (and a minute before and after).

My observing log entry for the eclipse:

Date/Time – local ship’s time
Start: Nov 14, 2012 6:49AM
Finish: Nov 14, 2012 8:12AM

Location: On the totality track 200km south of New Caledonia in the Coral sea, South Pacific
Position: 26° 40′ 0″ S 166° 46′ 54″ E

Observers: 320 passengers (and some crew) on board the Paul Gauguin cruise ship

I observe a total solar eclipse from the pool deck of the cruise ship Paul Gauguin, as part of a TravelQuest tour group. Rick Fienberg and Bill Kramer, in cooperation with Captain Ante-Toni Mirkovic decide to turn the ship 180° just before 1st Contact in order to avoid a large cloud which is starting to obscure the view of the Sun. This proves to be a good move, since we are now slowly sailing away from the clouds in the area, and yet continue to stay within the maximum totality centreline track.

  • 1st Contact 6:57:20AM Alt=26º
  • 2nd Contact 8:01:20AM Alt=40º
  • Totality lasts 3 minutes, 1 second
  • 3rd Contact 8:04:21AM Alt=40º
  • 4th Contact 9:16:47AM Alt=57º
The Sun in eclipse totality - 3rd contact & diamond ring

The Sun in eclipse totality – 3rd contact & diamond ring

A few minutes before 2nd Contact, my portable weather station records the expected sharp drop in temperature, and the light levels are greatly reduced. About 10 minutes before 2nd Contact, Venus is visible to the left of the Sun, and then as darkening continues, Saturn also appears equidistant between Venus and the Sun.

A dramatic darkening occurs during totality (2nd Contact to 3rd Contact). During totality, I visually observe spectacular coronal streamers. Although I do not find that Bailey’s Beads are easily observed during this eclipse, I observe a red glow around parts of the perimeter of the Sun and some solar prominences are visible.

There is lots of hooting and hollering as the (second) spectacular diamond ring appears at 3rd Contact. I capture these human reactions to experiencing a total solar eclipse using my little Fuji XP point-and-shoot camera using its HD video mode.

I stop observing and photographing the eclipse shortly after 3rd Contact, although I continue to take temperature readings.

Everyone has a smile on his or her face after the event is over, and there are lots of stories told afterward at lunch and dinner. Despite it only being 9:30 in the morning, Corona beer and cocktails are served to celebrate our success. I have a celebratory cappuccino, and finally have my breakfast mid-morning at La Palette.

2012 Total Solar Eclipse – Bill Kramer’s Eclipse Chasers website, including his personal report and links to other reports


Air temperature during the 2012 Total Solar Eclipse while aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea

Air temperature during the 2012 Total Solar Eclipse while aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea

I take temperature measurements from my position on the Pool Deck before, during and after totality. My readings are measured with a Kestrel 4500 personal weather station, which is mounted about one metre above the ship’s deck.

6:57AM 23.2ºC – 1st Contact
7:20AM 22.0ºC
7:39AM 20.9ºC
7:55AM 20.5ºC
8:01AM 20.2ºC – 2nd Contact
8:04AM 19.8ºC – 3rd Contact
8:12AM 20.3ºC
8:25AM 21.3ºC
9:00AM 24.2ºC
9:16AM 24.0ºC – 4th Contact
12:20PM 20.4ºC

The temperature drop is 3.5ºC, which is much lower than expected. Obviously the mild climate near the ocean’s surface results in less daytime heating, and therefore less temperature range is covered for this eclipse at this location.

I dedicate the temperature measurements I took during this eclipse to the memory of Jim Low, a long time member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre. If Jim had survived, I’m sure he would have traveled with his fellow Toronto Centre members to Australia, and would have recorded the temperature drop, as he did when I traveled with this group to observe the Total Solar Eclipse (my first) from the Libyan Sahara Desert in 2006.