S.V. Blue Moon recently partnered, through the University of Hawaii, with the University of Washington and NASA, to assist in deploying a FloatECO Lagrangian Float into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Having an interesting-looking robot on the deck with a NASA sticker on it has generated more than a few questions. We’ve nicknamed him “Sam.” Here’s a few details about what Sam is, what his purpose is, and how we’ll be deploying him in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The purpose of the FloatECO Lagrangian Float is to “create a platform for biophysical monitoring of floating ecosystems that is flexible, interactive, and near real-time.” [Dr. Andrey Shcherbina, Principal Oceanographer, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington.]
Sam has 3-6 months of battery life, with antennas on top that communicate to the research team via satellite when he is surfaced. Attached to his side are drogues with sample panels to collect biological specimens. There is a 3MP camera and light cables, enabling Sam to capture real time images underwater, including microplastics, debris, and currents, that are relayed when Sam surfaces. Beneath that there is a temperature and salinity sensor. Sam has ballast pistons coming out of the bottom that enable him to stay neutrally buoyant and maintain or alter his position in different currents.
When S.V. Blue Moon and crew are underway, we will be targeting a specific area as designated by our research partners, based on the currents and the movement of the gyre during that time frame. Once at our designated GPS location, we will hoist Sam up off the deck using the spinnaker halyard to slowly lift him up and over the side of the boat into the water. Once he’s released from the halyard, Sam will sink below the surface within a minute, reemerging about an hour after for an initial check-in. After that, Sam will surface once a day to check-in via satellite with our research partners.
We’re very excited to be a part of this research and hope that it contributes to our ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
S.V. Blue Moon
S.V. Blue Moon and crew are excited to be collaborating with Dr. Rebecca Helm, from the University of North Carolina, on our research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this year. Dr. Helm has asked us to assist in her research of neustons. Neustons are marine life that float on the surface of the water. There is strikingly little research on these incredible species. Some types, like “By-the-wind-sailors” are relatives of jellyfish and have a specialized sail to move through the water, with large groups forming together to make expansive flotillas on the surface. Other types, like the Blue sea dragon, have ONLY been seen in the North Pacific Subtropical gyre. Neustonic ecosystems are dense and richly habited, similar to a rainforest.
There is currently no way to predict when and where these species will be found, though research indicates that large populations exist within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch gyre. There is also very little information about the impact of plastics to these species, including the cleanup of plastics and its impacts to the greater oceanic ecosystem. Dr. Helm wrote an article about this issues, published by The Atlantic, and viewable by this link: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/ocean-cleanup-project-could-destroy-neuston/580693/
Stay tuned to our blog for updates on the neustons and our ongoing research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch!
We are departing today to sail to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and then on to San Francisco. The conditions look fair but can change quickly this time of year, so we'll be keeping a close eye on the weather. We experienced significant delays in Hawaii. The minor repairs took over three weeks to complete due to parts and professional resources availability. We were delayed by 4 hurricanes, and several crew scheduling conflicts and cancelations. We now have the boat fully ready, prepped and provisioned for this ocean crossing and visit to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the Great Pacific Gyre, a large whirlpool like current structure covering thousands of miles. Debris, or trash, collects there and is easiest to see in calm weather as high winds and seas disperse the debris and make it difficult to see. We will find what we can and post it here, on our Facebook Page, Twitter, and Instagram.
We are carrying sample kits and research equipment for University of Hawaii, NOAA, NASA, Smithsonian, and other research institutions. The equipment includes satellite trackers that we will attach to larger debris so the debris, can be tracked and studied, biological sample kits to collect fresh water and coastal organisms that have adapted to living on plastic in the middle of the ocean, water sample bottles to collect sea water at different depths to study the micro-plastics, and data input to test statistical modeling of the larger debris locations within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
We will be posting as much photo and video as we can via our low bandwidths satellite connection.
The last days of the Pacific Cup race were quite busy. Since the spinnaker halyard broke we couldn't sail directly down wind so we had to sail at steeper angles off the wind, Gybing back and forth across the rhumb line instead of directly toward the finish line. I'm very late in posting this blog entry, but we are all safe and finished the race on July 23rd.
The last few days of the race were full of making water, managing electricity consumption and allowing the solar panels to charge the batteries as much as possible during the day so we could sail through each night. Since our alternator failed several days earlier the solar panels have provided all of our needed electricity. It's important to note the we turned on the engine, for battery charging only - not propulsion - for a total of 6 hrs during the race. During those 6 hrs we realized that they alternator had failed and much of the 6 hours was spend trouble shooting the problem. Since we couldn't correct the problem at sea we never did turn the engine on again until about a mile past the finish line. I'll detail more about the needed repairs in a later post. the solar panels generated enough electricity to run the water maker 6-10 hours each day, the fridge and freezer several hours each day, the navigation and communication equipment, and necessary lighting. The solar panels did this while charging our 1000 Ah house batteries so we would have energy during the night. We turned most all of our navigation equipment except for the low power LCD screens that display our instruments, wind speed and direction, boat speed, depth, heading, and auto helm on occasion.
We sailed toward the finish line gybing along the to eventually cross the finish line @ 1724 on July 23rd for a transit time of 14 days. We had a great time, worked hard, and sailed from San Francisco to Hawaii to achieve out common goals.
Congratulations to my crew for a job well done, and thank you all who helped make this possible.
Now, on to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch!
We rig the lines we need while under way at sea much of the time. Splicing, putting eyes in lines, adding shackles, routing lines. We only have lines on a boat, no ropes. The difference between a rope and a line is that a line has a specific job, like a sheet. A sheet is a line that controls a sail. The jib sheets are lines that pull the clew, or aft end of the jib, back and in or can be let out to create more of a curve in the sail. A halyard is a line that pulls a sail up on the mast. The main halyard pulls up on and holds the mainsail up. Seb has been doing a lot of rigging while underway to accommodate changing conditions or setting up new or maintaining existing systems.
Rigging at Sea - Seb
Part of the Pacific Cup race to Hawaii is a downwind race. For downwind sailing, many boats will make use of a spinnaker sail and these sails are not attached to the forestay of the boat. They are rather attached at the top of the mast with a spinnaker halyard, at the tack of the sail with a tack line and have spinnaker sheets at the clew of the sail to control the angle of the spinnaker. Otherwise it is free to fly. To further help control its shape, we can use a spinnaker pole which is deployed on the opposite side of the spinnaker sail. This pole has its own set of lines to control its height and angle. On Blue Moon, our spinnaker pole was delivered a few days before the Pacific Cup race and so most of the rigging of the pole had to be done underway. So we bought enough lines and shackles and blocks before we left and I have been setting these up as we converge on a workable rigging plan. To connect these lines to the pole I used trigger snap shackles so if there is a problem we can release the lines from the pole quickly. I’ve been eye splicing the lines to those shackles today and yesterday and whipping the lines to prevent fraying. I also made a peeling strop which is a line to help secure the tack of the spinnaker while we jibe. As we journey to Hawaii, we can make different types of lines to solve issues that come up (like a line breaking or re-routing certain lines using various blocks if we need to).
Navigation is the critical element of sailing. Without navigation sailors would be hitting rocks, other vessels being caught in winds too strong, or being swept away in the wrong direction in a strong current. Its critical that a good and capable navigator is onboard. The main tools of the navigator are the maritime charts, and the weather forecasts. Here is a link to one of the weather forecast pages we use: http://googleweblight.com/?lite_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nws.noaa.gov%2Fos%2Fmarine%2Fradiofax.htm&btnGo=Go
The carts we are using are on the bottom of the Voyage page at www.svbluemoon.com the charts can be clicked on the get and expanded view. A good description if the difference between a chart and a map is that a map tells you where to go, a chart tells where not to go.
Marye Ellen has a bit more information on navigation here:
This Pac Cup has been a challenge from the navigation perspective. We left San Francisco in heavy winds and swell to be greeted on Day 4 with a very fast and comfortable beam/broad reach. On Day 6 we encountered unexpected light conditions. I have been analyzing the Ocean Prediction Center briefings twice daily to figure out the best route to keep us out of the light wind areas. The high pressure ridge on the Pacific has been moving around, so finding the resulting winds is like catching a moving target (kind of like Harry Potter chasing the golden snitch). If you are wondering why our track has so many squiggles, it's because we have been making many course adjustments to chase the wind. Today is Day 9 and we are sailing well in winds about 12-15 kts on a broad reach with about 800 nm to the finish. When we cross longitude 150W, I will be navigating on Chart 19007 (Hawaii to French Frigate Shoals).
It's beautiful out here! We have been treated to spectacular sunsets and sunrises, full arc rainbows around the squalls, and crystal clear starry skies with shooting stars. Seb caught a bluefin tuna that made a delicious dinner. I have been playing with the sextant doing celestial navigation LOPs on the sun and planets. So much fun!!
Cheers for now,
The day starter for me at 0345, I’m scheduled for the 0400 watch and helm shift. The night was incredibly beautiful with a crystal clear sky, the ocean and waves rhythmically slicing past, and light warm winds. The spinnaker was up and the main was out and on a small preventer. I like to sail headsail only when the conditions are right. They were this night. We centered the main and put her away. Without the effect of the mainsail on the wind coming off the spinnaker, the spinnaker was free fill with wind, settle in and pull us along. I tightened the after guy, loosened the sheet and eased the tack line pulling the spinnaker pole to windward on our starboard side. The spinnaker gently followed by coming around a bit and squared perfectly in front of Blue Moon’s bow to drive us deep down wind. An asymmetrical spinnaker on a spinnaker pole to the tack and poled out to windward to get a deep downwind angle is a fairly new approach and it was working perfectly. We had the mast light on to softly light up the spinnaker which not only gave us the ability to see and manage the spinnaker but also presented this beautiful giant canvas in front of us. We could see every star, every constellation, the arms of the milky way, it was incredible. Nathan suggested we turn off the mast light to see more stars and to see if we could sail the spinnaker by the bright moon and star light alone. I enjoy the idea of two people looking up at the moon or a selected star from different places at they same time as a way of seeing it together. Seeing more stars and flying the spinnaker by starlight and the moonlight sounded like a great idea so I we turned off the mast light. The spinnaker was easy to see against the star lit sky. The edges clear and the tack and sheet easy to manage as she was set up very balanced with Blue Moon comfortably in her sweet spot dancing in the swells and loving the wind. She was all on her own, so balanced we didn’t need to touch anything.
There was a sudden pop and a bang and the spinnaker was gone. Just like that. The halyard had broken and the spinnaker fell onto the sea. Nathan and I jumped to grab the spinnaker and Marye Ellen went the wake up more crew to help. Nathan was grabbing and untangling the 5 lines that keep the spinnaker flying. They needed to be released so we could gain control and bring the spinnaker back onboard. I was laying on the deck reaching over the port side pulling as much of the spinnaker out of the water as I could. We got her back onboard and safe after about an hour of untangling and repacking. She appeared undamaged but soaking wet. The spinnaker halyard had come apart at the spliced eye, and they halyard had fallen through the center of the mast. The halyard would need to be repaired and run up the mast again as soon as the conditions allow for someone to climb to the top of the mast and re-run the halyard. We’ll do this at sea in the next couple of days and get the spinnaker up again.
The night before, we were running the engine so its alternator would charge the batteries as we made water through the night to recover from our fresh water loss. The batteries started reporting a drop in voltage meaning that somehow the alternator was depleting the batteries instead of replenishing them. We are still working through this electrical issue. Have plenty of water now and are making water every day in excess of our consumption thanks to the solar panels. The solar panels have been providing enough energy to run all the boat systems and make water, with enough energy to keep the battery bank to a good charge level.
The wind is still low, but it has improved to where we can make better progress toward Hawaii.
When sailing across an ocean, one looks for certain qualities in the vessel they choose for the journey. She should be structurally sound, be of a shape and design that will not easily capsize, offer adequate space for the occupants and their provisions, and keep water on the outside.
Many sailboats meet these criteria and Blue Moon is no exception, so when you are 1,000 nautical miles from the nearest piece of dry land and you hear the automatic bulge pump kicking on every half an hour to drain water from the bottom of the inside of the boat, you take notice.
Another oddity was the high rate at which we were using our fresh water stores. Initially, it seemed like we were simply not being careful enough with our consumption, but once we took note of the regularly-cycling water pressure pump and bilge pump, it was time to do some detective work.
Finding a leak on a boat can be surprisingly challenging and often involves a process of elimination. To begin with, we open up the floor panels in the main salon to expose the lowest part of the bilge where any water that enters the boat eventually accumulates. Then we taste the water in the bilge; not a pleasant task, but it helps determine whether the leak is fresh water, salt water, or something else. Our fearless captain Salty Russ took a draft of the swill (I swear he seems to enjoy it) and deemed it to be fresh water. A-ha! Mostly likely this is where our excess fresh water consumption is ending up. But from where is it leaking?
At this point, one can picture an hours-long montage of images of the crew pulling up floor panels, removing wall panels, piling bed cushions up in the main cabin, and sticking their heads, hands, and a fancy little endoscope in every corner. A desire for a dry boat and adequate drinking water can be very motivating. Marye Ellen commented that the chaos looked much like it did many times while we were at the dock preparing for the race. She was right!
Eventually, we did discover the source of the problem. The water heater expansion release valve was leaking about a cup of water per minute! The fix was a bit of ingenuity by Tim. He scavenged a one way check valve from another part of the heater to isolate the heater from the main fresh water system. Brilliant!
About an hour later, most of the boat was back in tidy order, tools were put away, wet areas were cleaned up and our water woes were behind us. hopefully for good!