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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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.