Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 92 - From Pollywog to Shellback

If I was underwhelmed by crossing the International Date Line, today I
have been overwhelmed by crossing the Equator. It has been quite an
emotional experience - and that's not just the bubbly talking - and I'm
trying to figure out why this might be.

It could be because crossing the Equator had assumed such massive
significance in my mind as a Very Difficult Thing. I had maybe allowed
myself to get just a bit freaked out by the difficulties encountered by
my predecessors in human-powered vessels. And sure, I've had my fair
share of battles with the elements in trying to get through the lower
latitudes, as the winds and currents thwarted my attempts to get south.
But, as with so many things in life, the reality was not as bad as the

Or it might be because the Equator, unlike the IDL, is actually a
geographically significant line. The IDL is a man-made line, allowing us
to segment our world into convenient time zones. It could have been
located anywhere, and is just where it is because it lies opposite the
equally random line of the Prime Meridian at Greenwich – set by British
geographers in the days when Britannia ruled the waves. The Equator, on
the other hand, is a natural line marking the mid-point between the
Poles. It is the line where the Earth is nearest the sun. It is where
the Earth is spinning the fastest on its axis. It has a greater sense of
significance and reality than the IDL.

Anyway, for whatever reason, today felt very special. I am now a Trusty
Shellback, a Pollywog no more. And now I am in the Southern Hemisphere
the water will be going down the plughole the opposite way - or would be
if I had any plugholes on board.

Crossing the Equator was actually quite a busy and time-consuming thing
to do. I had to pay homage to Neptune and his cohorts (Squishie the
Dolphin, with his courtiers Quackers the Duck, the Robin, and the Other
Duck). I had to offer gifts – a Larabar (Ginger Snap flavor), and a
dollop of California sunshine (a spoonful of Lemon Ladies marmalade). I
had to make a sacrifice (I wasn't prepared to offer a chunk of hair, for
fear of spoiling my elegant coiffeur (???!!) so Neptune had to make do
with the leavings pulled out of my hairbrush). And I had to deploy the
"coconut" for Project Niu – and then jump in after it to photograph it
in the water.

The coconut is actually a high-tech data-gathering device created by the
team at Archinoetics, one of several devices that have been let loose in
the Pacific to send back information and photographs. The one I deployed
today is called something in Hawaiian (Evan, help me out here) which
translates as "Pink Savage". It felt strange to deliberately deposit a
large and non-bio-degradable object into the ocean, but as an
educational device the end justifies the means, so I am sure Squishie,
sorry, I mean Neptune, will understand. I just hope the Niu doesn't
travel faster than I do. That would be embarrassing.

Then, duties done, it was time for my treats. With a sense of eager
anticipation I opened up the yellow drybag that Liz and Nicole had given
me before I left Hawaii. The girls had done me proud. There was the
"bling" – a many-stranded necklace of plastic beads, and some pink face
paint, both of which I promptly put on. There was the jokey gift – a
cooking spatula with a wooden handle. There was the declaration
admitting me to the ocean domain as a Trusty Shellback, a Pollywog no
more. There were the edible treats – a snack bar and some Sharkies. And,
oh bliss, there was the miniature bottle of bubbly. Thank you girls!

I must be the world's cheapest date at the moment (had there been
anybody about to take advantage – which there wasn't). After 3
booze-free months, the 2 glassfuls of bubbly went straight to my head in
the nicest possible way. As the sun set I was sitting on deck feeling
happily woozy, admiring the pink and grey clouds, full of oceanic
bonhomie and thinking there was really nowhere else on earth I would
rather be than at the Equator on such a beautiful day.

[photo: Pulling the bubbly back on board after a brief chilling in the
ocean (in the net bag that usually contains my beansprouter) – while
Neptune/Squishy the Dolphin looks on]

Other Stuff:

After not seeing another vessel for 3 months, today, on MY Equator,
there were intruders. A container ship was just sitting there, doing
nothing much. I think I could hear a faint sound of a bell ringing
repeatedly, so presumably they were having their own Equatorial
celebration. I tried hailing them on the VHF radio, in hopes that they
might cruise on over and bring me some additional water supplies – or
even some more bubbly – but there was no reply. Guess they were too busy

Although I've taken the evening off – largely due to the after-effects
of the bubbles – tomorrow it will be back to the oars with a vengeance.
I've still got 500 miles to go, and I need to make some East if I'm
going to have any chance of hitting Tuvalu. Ricardo tells me conditions
are going to be calm, so it's a prime opportunity to head back towards
the IDL and set myself up for the final push for home.

For the record, I crossed the Equator at 18:42:02 Hawaii Time, at
longitude 179 12.359E.

Weather report:

Position at 2210 HST: 00 00.860S (yayyyyy!), 179 09.371E
Wind: variable but light throughout the day. Generally 0-10kts, S-E.
Seas: swell of about 4ft, SE
Weather: sunny and fine, scattered cumulus cloud. Very hot.