by Brad Evans
First of all, I'm not superstitious. But after a long day of beating into the wind and motoring through what look to my landlubber's eyes as 10 foot sees, I am not feeling like a very lucky man. We began our day today at the southern anchorage at Pearl and Hermes, near Southeast Island. As soon as breakfast was put away, Scott, the captain, asked everyone to make sure that all of their equipment and belongings were secured and ready for the transit to Laysan. The said that the conditions were going to be "snotty". I don't know much marine slang but from the context, you could tell that the trip was going to be bumpy and long.
The anchorage at Pearl and Hermes was actually within a few miles of the sites of the shipwrecks that gave the atoll its unique sounding name. During the night of April 22, 1822, two British whaling ship (named the Pearl and Hermes, of course) ran aground nearly simultaneously. The crew of the two ships took the provisions off of the ships and began to dismantle the Pearl and the Hermes to build the Deliverance which they intended to sail back to Honolulu. Most of the crew was rescued by a passing ship just as the Deliverance was ready to sail. Twelve members of the combined crews elected to sail the Deliverance and returned to Honolulu safely.
We had been in the vicinity of Southeast Island since Sunday. On Monday we had dropped off a few people who had done a little housekeeping on the island - cleaning and repainting the island's NO TRESSPASSING sign. We pulled out of our anchorage without having a chance to investigate the effect of a latest wreck at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. At dinner last night, Jim Maragos was philosophical. "We'll just do it next year. No way I want anybody hurt when we can always come back," he said. The same winds and swell that prevented the dives yesterday made today's trip a stomach churning 500 miles.
Our stop at Laysan is scheduled to be brief but busy. We are dropping off two US Fish and Wildlife Biologists, Chris and Eric, who are relieving the current crew who have been camping on the island since July. Chris and Eric, who met just more than a week ago, will be on the island for the next six months. They will monitor all aspects of the island's ecology - the spread on weeds, the successes of the upcoming Laysan Albatross mating and nesting, and the ecology of the hypersaline lake that supports the vast numbers of flies that are the main food of the Laysan Duck. Chris describes their work of habitat restoration as "really just glorified weeding" but it is clear that both he and Eric have the same heartfelt interest in wildlife and easy going personalities that will mesh well during a fifty week stay on a 900 acre island that has less than half a dozen trees.
The Media / Education team hopes to go ashore tomorrow to film the changeout at the camp and the natural features that make Laysan so interesting, but the same marginal conditions that are making me nauseous right now, might make our access to Laysan too dangerous. In any case, our sealed buckets of equipment and new clothes are ready to come out of storage. These new clothes and gear help to prevent the spread of weeds that get stuck in shoes, socks, pants, or anything else you wear when you on hike. Dave Johnson, the Refuge Manager for the Northwest Hawaiian Islands says that back in Honolulu people are surprised by the strictness of the rules. Then he asks them to take off their shoes and watch as he picks through the soles and the laces, finding seed after seed that have hitched a ride.
When we visited Southeast Island at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, I got a vivid example of some of the evolutionary tricks that plants had come up with to disperse their seeds. Our team walked around the island for a few hours in our brand new, freshly frozen clothes and gear. Within a few minutes of getting on land, I felt a poke through my slipper. I looked at the bottom for the sticker that had jabbed me and saw that I had a number of suspects - the whole sole of my slipper was jammed with thorny seeds. When I got back to the Rapture, I got into the scientific theme of the trip and decided to count all of the seeds that I had collected with my feet. After a hundred I got tired of it and just threw the slippers in the trash - I wouldn't be able to use them again on this trip anyway. Plus they still had a bunch of spines that had broken off of the seeds that would undoubtedly poke through sometime.
The transit between Pearl and Hermes Atoll and Laysan Island is about 500 miles, and should take around 24 hours. Most of the researchers have spent the day in their cabins, only emerging to grab a quick meal. Some troopers like Gordon Nishida and Lisa Wedding kept working all day long as if we were on solid land. For most of the rest of us, we tried to just not move much, take motion sickness pills, sleep through - basically just try to deal. Well, we have been at this for fifteen hours and only have nine more to go. Hope that I can update you tomorrow with pictures from Laysan.