Home, Day 1
by Brad Evans
We set out from the vicinity of the Gardner Pinnacles around dinnertime last night. Scott and Noah told us it was time to get back to our staterooms to secure our equipment and belongings since out of the shallow water near the pinnacles, we would be back in the brunt of the wind and swell. By now most of my stuff had made its way to wherever it wanted to come to rest. Doesn't help that I'm messy to begin with, but throw in shaking back and forth and things tend to get ugly quick. I was in bed early for this trip, a little after midnight, all of the emails and photos sent.
'Aulani and I had a series of calls to make today to two TV morning shows, the public radio station, and Suzanne Bernstein's 4th grade class at Waianae Elementary School. It was our biggest lineup of calls in a single day over the whole expedition. 'Aulani got up early to make sure that the phone connection was going to work - can't be too sure. Sometimes our signal to the satellite drops or people on the other end of the line can't hear us. Since today we had a couple of hours of calls to make, she had the right idea.
She woke me up at 6:15 and told me that phone wasn't working. We'd had problems the day before and now it was happening again, and at an even worse time. We each called people back in Honolulu to test the phone but it seemed like nobody we tried was home. Or wanted to pick the phone up at a quarter after six. We quickly pulled out the manual for the phone and looked under "Troubleshooting". There was an entry for "When the phone is not functioning normally" - that fit the symptoms. The remedy from the manual should come as no surprise to anyone who has used a computer - "Turn off and restart". Worked like a charm. Aulani answered questions on a couple live TV broadcasts and then it was my turn.
I called Waianae Elementary around 10:00 AM and was I thrown some hard questions! Obviously Ms Bernstein and her class had been watching our progress on the trip and paying close attention. They asked me all about a number of the animals that we had seen on the trip, how it felt to be so near sharks, and some very good questions about the eroding sea wall that has been so hazardous to animals at Tern Island in the French Frigate Shoals. (Visit the Media Page of the website to read the news release on this story) Several of the students asked questions about whether the wall that holds the island together should be rebuilt at all.
I told them that when the wall that is rusting away today was built during World War II, people weren't as concerned with protecting wildlife. When the seawall around Tern Island is rebuilt, I assured them that the animals' welfare would be the most important part of the planning. The phone call ended soon after, but I wanted to make sure that what I said was right. Luckily, Dave Johnson, the manager of the wildlife refuge that makes up most of the NWHI is on board the ship with me.
When I asked Dave if I had got it right he said yes. The plans for the new seawall won't use materials like steel that will eventually rust and pose a threat. Instead the wall will be made mostly out of natural materials so that as the wall starts to break down years from now, all that will be left is rocks that can be gathered up to rebuild the wall again when needed. (To the students - Thanks for the great questions and your invitation. I'm looking forward to meeting you all when I get back to Honolulu.)
Just after I finished my phone call the boat came to a halt. Rex said "Sounds like we hit something". I didn't think it was possible - no land for a hundred miles in any direction, no other boats around - what could we have hit? Dave Gulko came into the room and told us that marine debris had gotten caught up in the ship's propeller. Sure enough, an hour later the Rapture's crew came out of the water from behind the boat with a heap of net. The cordage was thick as a pencil. Never ones to pass up a chance for specimens, Ralph and Duane picked over the net, removing snails, crabs, and other invertebrates that had hitched a ride on the discarded net.
The rest of the day passed without any more incidents. People playing cards; "Good Morning Vietnam" and "Raising Arizona" played on the TV; singing, playing guitars and accordian up on the sun deck; reading in staterooms. There's lots of ways to pass the time as we steam back to Honolulu. Of course Gordon was at his computer all day, inputting data and making sure that his database is in perfect shape. As for me, I was up on the sundeck with Erica and Daria learning old sea songs from Jim.
While we were up there a Brown Booby slowly cruised over our heads, giving us a looking over. Erica said that there was probably an island near. Soon off to starboard we saw Necker Island maybe 15 kilometers to the south. I had to shake my head and chuckle. When I flew up to Midway to join the expedition a week and a half ago, most of the islands along the way were blocked by clouds except Necker. I looked down on the rugged little island from 30,000 feet and two hours later we were on Midway. Now I was seeing the island again, but now by boat. It had taken nearly 10 days to cover the space that the plane did in only a few hours. It may have taken a lot longer, but the trip had shown me up close strange, beautiful, exotic and wonderful things. Things what we usually just pass over in our rush to get from A to B.
I'm back with another entry. They've been a little gappy lately because we've been transiting and the media team's been busy and blah, blah, blah. At any rate, we are, at this very moment, due north of Necker Island. We departed Gardner Pinnacles last night at 9:00 p.m. to make the 50+ hour run to Honolulu. The seas have not been too terribly bad but we did lose some time this morning when the prop got caught in a drift net and we had to stop for a couple of hours to untangle it. Everyone's settled into his or her favorite mode to pass the time. Surprise, surprise, there's a group in the corner playing hearts. Man, they don't stop. They play it every available minute for hours on end. I just don't get it. We've watched a few videos, everybody's read, some are napping, the rest sit and think. We're due into Honolulu late Wednesday night so we'll have to stay on the boat until Thursday morning when Immigration can check us out. Even though we never left the United States there's some technicality that requires our having our passports and undergoing an inspection.
Gardner Pinnacles were kinda cool. They were pretty much just a clump of steep jagged rocks covered in birds and their accompanying by-products. When we arrived yesterday morning it was really rough and we weren't sure if we were going to be able to get in the launches. The seas settled down just enough to make it possible for the dive teams to get in. When the last launch returned from the final dive at Gardner the ship erupted in cheers.
Everything went as well as it could and now we're rocketing (at 12 knots) towards Honolulu. I think everybody's looking forward to making a few phone calls and standing on solid ground. The crew on the Rapture have been great and there's a real chummy atmosphere on the boat. The only regret that I might possibly have is not being able to share these unique places and things with my family and friends. Since so much of this is a sanctuary there's virtually no way of getting out here unless it's official business. At least I've got my video camera.
I keep forgetting that it's now autumn back in Maryland. We've lived so much like islanders for the past three weeks that it's hard to believe it's not the middle of summer all over the world. I wonder how the rockfish are biting back home? I guess the crabs are falling off. And the geese, I guess they must be barrelin' back into town by the boatload.
Hmmmmm, what to have for dinner Thursday night, pizza? No, sushi.
Many of us were excited over breakfast this morning at the thought of arriving in Honolulu in less than 48 hours. But that mood was tempered somewhat when the ship's engines suddenly went quiet and Captain Scott McClung called First Mate Noah Bailey to the bridge right away. We had run over a big pile of cargo or fishing net and it had tied up one prop or engine stopping us from moving. While the confident and capable crew jumped into action to untangle the engine clog, I jumped for my camera gear, excited at the chance to work, to get into the middle of things.
I was looking for a visual sequence to tell the story, or, perhaps a little drama reflected on the faces of Scott as he wrestled with his scuba equipment or Noah over the radio communicating with his divers below. Maybe slowing down the shutter speed, adding some blur or motion to the images, would more easily convey the urgency and sense of immediacy of the situation I thought. But most of all I was hoping to find shots that might reveal the character of this crew - professional, level-headed, focused - which has kept us safe throughout our adventure, with whom we've trusted with our lives. These kinds of pictures are difficult to find even under the best of circumstances. Shooting photo-journalistically, it usually requires spending lots of time with your subject. But I was hopeful.
After a short time the Rapture team dislodged the netting successfully and we were on our way home again. According to Noah, this is a regular occurrence - particularly on trips outside the main Hawaiian Islands and in the zone between 30 degrees latitude and the equator where there is a convergence of currents that encourages coagulation of the stuff. The marine debris story is significant and I thought this incident might serve as illustration.
As our trip comes to a close, I think of moments had that will remain with me for a long time: snorkeling in shallow water of Kure with hundreds of aholehole surrounding and encircling me so tightly I could have felt trapped; investigating a gang of young red-footed boobies in a beach heliotrope tree that were so unafraid of my presence that a few hovered overhead close enough to touch and, in fact, landed on my head occasionally; and feeling intrigued, and at the same moment, afraid of a very assertive, 120-pound, black ulua in the deepish-water pass of Pearl & Hermes Reef.
My background in photography has made it possible for me to be a part of this expedition, an opportunity for which I am grateful. It's the subject matter that interests me most. I'm easily excited by anything having to do with the ocean and this project has afforded me experiences that solidify that connection.