Plastic Pollution

Transatlantic: United States to The Azores

When we left Baltimore in the Summer of 2017, we thought we would be in the Azores by Chrismas 2017. Well, we made it, but with a lot more time and distance in getting there!

We honestly were not ready yet to cross an ocean when we first set sail. Looking at this map, you can see that when we decided to head to the Bahamas to ride out the winter and made our way south, we clung to the coastline!

We were planning to cross an ocean and at many points felt like we were far from land, but the truth is, we were smack up against the coast the whole time.

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By the time we made it to the Bahamas, we had gotten the experience we needed to feel confident and comfortable with heading out to sea to actually cross an ocean. No longer did we watch shore disappear behind our stern, no longer did we worry about getting far from land.

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When we left Florida for the Azores, we were ready. Nothing had physically changed with us, but a mental transformation had taken place. We still had the same gear and the same thought processes about when to use certain sails, but our attitude about everything had changed drastically. Now, we were heading out to sea and the thought of land sickened us. We wanted to head straight away from land out into the blue horizon where we would point directly towards our next destination.

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The trip began at the wrong time, for the wrong reason, and in the wrong direction.

We left Florida when the weather was not right to cross the ocean because the summer weather patterns that grant you safe passage had not occurred yet. We should have waited another two weeks for the weather to be correct.

We left to appease our angry crew member because we were worried that he would abandon us and we thought that we really needed a crew member to cross an ocean, so we left port to appease him and shanghai him (there are no airports out in the middle of the ocean) so he couldn’t abandon us.

To try and make our way from land, but avoid the nasty storms up north, we traveled way to far east. This placed us into the doldrums with no Gulf Stream to help carry us through the windless region.

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We learned some very valuable lessons on this passage.

First: Don’t have crew.
Second: If you have crew, you don’t have to please them, they have to please you.
Third: You call the shots, not the other way around.

We stopped in Bermuda to drop off our angry crew member because we realized that we didn’t need crew (or his giant ego and bad attitude) to make the crossing.

This passage was insanely slow and was full of mistakes that we learned from and would not repeat!

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Maddie and I waited in Bermuda, in St. George’s Harbor, for the winds to be perfect for us to leave. While we waited, we had a grand time exploring Bermuda and getting to know the locals. Once the winds were correct, we left and had a wonderful and fast passage to the Azores.

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We stopped listening to the weather forecasts on the way to Bermuda because they were always wrong. We instead looked at the clouds to read what is really going on up in the sky. Using this method, we were able to sail on the rhumb line straight to the Azores, until we got caught in a high pressure system for a few days and were totally becalmed.

Being becalmed for a few days was the worst weather we had. While crossing, we had gales to the North, Hurricane Chris to the West, and trade winds all around us, but by looking at the sky, we were able to keep ourselves safe from powerful winds and simply relax in light winds.

The crossing was very surreal, we saw things that could never be imagined, like one night where photosensitive bio-luminescent creatures illuminated the ocean with as many lights as the stars above in the sky. On another occasion when the ocean calmed down completely, the entire surface was covered in a snow of micro plastics.

Now that we have made our first ocean crossing, we feel very confident that we can do it over and over again as we voyage the world and visit ports all around the Atlantic Ocean.

Transatlantic: Day 14 [Day 35]

July 21, 2018, the winds vanished. The approaching high pressure system has come over us and we were not able to escape its path. We have no wind and no motion. Our speed through the water is generated by the current of the water we are in, and not by the winds.

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Since the winds disappeared, the sea calmed until it looked like glass! On the surface of the ocean is what appears to be a white snowy substance. It was uniformly covering the entire surface, from the boat all the way to the visible horizon. Maddie got a beautiful picture of this Portuguese Man-O-War and you can see the powder that it shares the surface of the water with.

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I took up a sample of the water with a mason jar, and the top inch is filled with microplastics. They cover the entire surface of the Atlantic Ocean, as far as we can see, and penetrate down about an inch. It was really heartbreaking to see how much plastic is floating out in the ocean. Out in the middle of the ocean, where you would think humanity hasn’t been able to influence yet; but the reaches of humanity are far and apparently have enveloped the top inch of the worlds surface with plastics.

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The day passes on and the Man-O-War are the only reminder that we are not in another world. These creatures, which belong to the Siphonophores family, litter the surface of the ocean with their death traps set. They stretch their tendrils out almost 100 feet from the float, into an almost invisible thread of pain and torment. When something brushes up against it, the surface of the tendril explodes with hundreds of harpoons that deliver a painful toxin to its prey.

Why didn’t we go swimming when the ocean turned into a magical ethereal plain? Because we didn’t want to die a horribly painful death right next to the safety of our boat.

Floating Plastic Debris

I always say "The tides are constant, but what they bring never is." Sadly, the tides tend to bring a variety of garbage into the harbor. Usually it consists of plastic bottles and Styrofoam cups; we even had an entire tire and rim wash in once.

These lightweight pieces of plastic originate as litter that had been discarded in an inappropriate way, either being tossed on the side of a road, or into an overflowing trash receptacle. These debris end up being washed away with the next rainfall. To a land based observer, it may appear that the rain has washed the street clear of debris. All the trash is gone!

Trash never goes away, it simply gets relocated. The rain runoff tends to carry lightweight plastic debris off to the storm drainage system. In Baltimore, these consist of grates placed over large holes that pipe the runoff directly into the harbor. All of these pieces of plastic then float along the surface until they are washed up on the shoreline or swept out to sea to contribute to the immense trash gyres of the oceans. After a rain, the waters surface is peppered with small floating pieces of trash, slowly being carried away by the wind and current. 

After the storms pass, the water seems to clear up! All the trash has been whisked away from our immediate area and from our minds as well. The water seems cleaner and the birds more vibrant as they fly around and swim in the harbor water around the boats. Then the tide begins to come back in.

The incoming tide is not signaled by strong currents or rushing water, but rather a sea of trash approaching! As the tide returns, it also returns the trash that had been swept away hours earlier.

The ducks begin to swim more cautiously as they move between the floating waste and the seagulls take to the skies.

At high tide, we float in a sea of debris.