Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Growing Exponentially

Plastics floating on the ocean surface

Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters almost indefinitely, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world’s oceans. A scientific study has determined that the plastic patch between California and Hawaii is now three times the size of France and accumulating plastics at an astonishing rate. Researchers at The Ocean Cleanup, an NGO dedicated to cleaning up the earth’s seas, recently published (Nature, 22 Mar 2018) the results of a three-year study to determine the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). The results are alarming.

The largest accumulation zone of ocean garbage on the planet is much larger than anyone thought. It measures 1.6 million square kilometers (three times the size of France) and contains an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing an estimated 80,000 metric tons (the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets). Moreover, it is increasing exponentially and much faster than in surrounding waters.

The North Pacific Gyre showing the GPGP as the Eastern garbage patch

Mass concentration modeled using the study results
Annual global production of plastics has surpassed 320 million tonnes, with more produced in the last decade than ever before. Approximately 60% of the plastic produced is less dense than seawater and can float. When dumped into the ocean, surface currents and winds can transport the buoyant plastics, which are then recaptured by coastlines, degraded into smaller pieces (microplastics) by the action of sun, temperature fluctuations, waves and marine life, or lose buoyancy and sink. Some of these buoyant plastics, however, are transported away from shore and enter oceanic gyres. A major accumulation zone for buoyant plastic was identified in the eastern part of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre and has come to be known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Scientists from The Ocean Cleanup Foundation and six collaborating universities simultaneously drew sieve-like trawls hundreds of miles across the GPGP surface collecting 1.2 million plastic samples. Their paths were geo-referenced from the air. Of all samples collected, 99.9% were plastics. They found that 92% of the mass contained larger objects while microplastics made up only 8% of the mass but 94% of the pieces. They estimate that 52% of the GPGP plastic mass consisted of fishing gear (nets, ropes and lines) and that 86% of the 42k tonnes contribution of megaplastics was accounted for by fishing nets.

We as ocean sailors are perhaps more acutely aware of our daily overuse of plastic and man's propensity to dump trash in our oceans. This news can only remind us to redouble our efforts to recycle, reuse, and repurpose, and to avoid use of plastic whenever possible.

A ray of hope shone in another report that researchers have serendipitously discovered an enzyme that can break down plastics completely into their base components rendering them completely recyclable for the first time. It's not ready for broad scale applications yet, but there is now a sense of purpose to get this into large scale use quickly.

Monday, April 2, 2018

How many boats are out there at any given time?

It's a question we are asked often. How many boats are circumnavigating or sailing the oceans at any given time? It's not an easy one to answer, because some go for a year and do an Atlantic circuit, others continue around Cape Horn or through the Panama Canal. They pass through various ports and are counted multiple times, but no one that we are aware of provides a count at a given point in time like a census. As the seasons are different north and south, you'd have to count a date in the summer in the Northern hemisphere and another in the Southern hemisphere.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Reviving the Voyage for Madmen

Robin Knox-Johnston on his return to Falmouth in 1969 on board Suhaili
Last week, we saw The Mercy, a movie about Donald Crowhurst, the amateur sailor who lost his mind and his life in the first Golden Globe single-handed non-stop race around the world in 1968/69. The story of the nine men who took part was first told in an excellent book by Peter Nichols titled A Voyage for Madmen.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Arctic air, ice and temps: a sea change?

Ice receding in the Arctic regions

Yesterday I wrote about sea levels rising faster than predicted. Today, I'm going to summarize the latest in climate change anomalies. Scientists have recorded a warm air intrusion through the central Arctic this winter. In the area north of 80 degrees latitude, average temperatures were 36 degrees above normal. Whereas there were only four such intrusions between 1980 and 2010, there have been four occurrences in the past five years.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Sea level rise is accelerating

A new study by NASA's Sea Level Change team published February 12 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shown that sea levels are rising at accelerating rates rather than a steady increase as previously thought. That means that by 2100, the levels will be twice as high as previously predicted, causing serious problems for many coastal cities. If the rate of ice melt continues at this pace, sea levels will rise 26 inches (65 centimeters) by 2100. That's a lot more than shown in the graphic above.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Mercy of the Golden Globe Race

With the advent of the resurrection of the Golden Globe Race in 2018 comes the release of the movie called The Mercy, telling the extraordinary tale of Donald Crowhurst's bid for fame and fortune in the first Golden Globe single-handed non-stop, around-the-world race. Starring Colin Firth and Rachelle Weisz, it's a disturbing journey through the deteriorating state of mind of a man who set out to win everything and realizes he is about to lose everything instead.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Monday, February 19, 2018

Managing heavy weather at sea

Yesterday, we addressed a conference of about 100 cruisers at the Irish Sailing Cruising Conference. In 2008, on a crossing of the north Atlantic, we encountered six gales and managed to avoid one strong storm. What we learned then, we were here to share about our experience with storm management. The conference was summarized overall in Afloat magazine.

aleria message8

Following is an overview of our talk:

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Ocean Cruising Club Awards

As PR Officer, Web Editor and Rear Commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, I have the honour of being the one to announce the winners of the annual awards which recognize the extraordinary achievements of people cruising the world's oceans. I've been a member of the Awards Committee and co-Chair for several years so I know how arduous a task it can be to coordinate the awards decision-making process. We have members all over the world taking part, some submitting nominations others taking part in the selections of winners. In any case, it's an extraordinary thing to be part of as we journey into people's lives to see what they've done that merits the attention of the world, and to be blown away by the stories we uncover.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Buying a boat

Many of you are probably scouring the boat shows for that perfect next boat. Whether it's larger for the big adventure or smaller for the downsize, the decision to buy is never an easy one. Until, of course, you fall in love. Then all bets are off. Here's a decision tree that may make it easier. I came across it randomly on the internet and don't know who to credit. I hope it helps.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Diary of an Atlantic crossing

We are shortly giving a talk on heavy weather sailing at the ISA Cruising Conference. I recently came across my diary from our first Atlantic crossing in 2008. I was reminded that the markets collapsed while we were at sea. As all we had was an SSB radio, we didn't really know about anything happening in the world, so it didn't matter. We sailed north from New York to Canada and then set off for Westport, Ireland from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Herb Hilgenberg was our weather router and Matt aboard s/v Ault was the only other sailor in the northern North Atlantic. That it turned out to be Matt Rutherford is a whole other story.