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Furthest south (day 30)

We changed our route a bit and decided to go further north and south and a bit less east to west. When we are done with our plastics survey we will have drawn a big W in the mid-Atlantic. At this point we have surveyed 15 out of 50 location where we will drag our Manta net throughout the big W. The first time we pulled the net a couple hundred miles from the Azores we got a net full of ocean jelly. There were some jelly fish but mostly it was like marmalade. There must have been something strange going on in that part of the ocean because we haven’t seen anything like that again, although we have collected a bunch of plastic and Styrofoam at every survey site. It’s really amazing how much small plastic junk is floating around in the ocean.

We’ve had a couple of scares in the last few days. The first one was when we got a bilge full of water in just a couple hours. I tasted the water to see if it was fresh or salt. If it was fresh that would mean that our fresh water tank had cracked or a hose slipped off, therefor losing all of our fresh water. It tasted salty. In some ways that can be worse. We ran around the boat for the next hour checking all the thru hulls and shafts hoping that we weren’t slowly sinking. To my great relief an hour and a half of searching and starring at every part of the boats hull I realized that the previous owner had run the shower pump to the kitchen sink. Since we were heeled over so far the sink was bubbling up with ocean water and siphoning down the hose for the shower pump into the bilge. I was able to easily plug the hose and was relieved that we didn’t have a hole in the boat. Speaking of holes in the boat that brings me to the second scare. I had this boat surveyed and ultra-sounded before I bought her. Because of a hurricane I wasn’t able to get to Florida the day it happened to watch it get done. I had to just trust the guy would do his job. Well, shortly after surveying my boat the poor guy killed himself. He didn’t do a good enough ultra sound and Nikki and I found a rusty spot on the hull the diameter of a dime that I could poke through with a butter knife. I called my friend Pat Teeling and he said it’s no big deal “if you get a hole just bang a wooden bung into it, it will weep a bit but that won’t sink you”. So I cleaned the rusty spot with rubbing alcohol and covered it with 5200. I have plenty of wooden bungs and a big hammer. I’ll just have to get the boat hulled out when I get back and wield some new steel over it.

Yesterday was Don Backes memorial service. It kills me to have missed it. Don Backe was the executive director and founder of CRAB. CRAB is the non-profit I was raising money for when I sailed around the Americas non-stop single handed. Don believed in me from the very beginning back when everyone either thought it was impossible or completely crazy. His faith in me never wavered even though I only had a 27 foot boat and very little money. His faith in me helped me remain strong when things were really difficult during that trip. When people believe in you and you believe in yourself you can do the most incredible things. I saved some good 16 year old scotch my friend Tom Harkin had given me to give Don a toast. Don must have been watching over because right before our little memorial at sea we caught a Mahi Mahi. So we had good scotch and great dinner to match. I think the most important thing I learned from Don Backe was to always remain optimistic. Even though Don was stuck in a wheelchair and ailing from disease and infections he was always optimistic. He had a big smile and no matter how much crap life threw at him he never let it get him down. To Don Backe, my friend.

North Atlantic Gyre (Day 21)

It’s pretty funny to think we had to sail 2,200 miles just to get to the place where we can start doing or primary research. Talk about a long commute to work! Then again the eastern side of the North Atlantic Gyre is nowhere near the Chesapeake Bay. At this point we are only two days sail from the Azores. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t tempted to stop. Two days hiking around a beautiful island in the Azores, fresh bread and cheese, cold beer and wine. It would take two days to get there and two days to get back so if we spent two days in the Azores we would lose six days of research. This expedition has nothing to do with cheese, wine or land so we will stay out to sea and collect the data we came here for. The Azores aren’t going anywhere, we’ll see some other time.
Things have been caring on as well as one can hope. Tropical storm Andrea was far enough to the north so we only got 25-30 knot winds. We left the Chesapeake bay with 160 gallons of diesel and have only used 20 gallons the first 2,200 miles. We did have a problem with our fuel bladder springing a leak. We didn’t lose any fuel but transferring it was a fiasco. The pump I had for the fuel bladder broke. I tried to syphon the fuel out of the bladder into the main tank but all I did was get a mouth full of diesel. Eventually I managed to transfer the fuel but not without getting covered in diesel. That said, last time that happened to me I was alone, in the fog, in a gale, surrounded by icebergs. At least this time I had a leaky fuel bladder when it was warm, calm, and I had help.
A Gyre is an area of circulating currents, there are 5 gyres in our earth’s oceans. The Gyre in the North Atlantic is about half the size of the continental United States. Now that we are at the North Eastern edge of the North Atlantic Gyre we can start pulling our Manta Net. A Manta Net is a specially designed net that can determine the amount of micro plastics in the water. Over the years a huge amount of plastic has made its way (due to poor management) into our earth’s oceans. It’s very hard to determine how much of this plastic has drifted with the currents to the open ocean because the open ocean is far from land and a hard place to hang out and due research. This type of research has been done along the more conventional ocean routes and near coastal areas but it has never been done in the epicenter the Gyre itself. We will be doing our research over the next 2,500 miles. We will be covering an area which is same size as Washington DC to Kansas (east to west) and Detroit to Jacksonville (north to south). So we are doing a plastics survey over a huge section of the mid Atlantic.
Ocean Research Project is an official 501 (c) 3 non-profit. I designed the non-profit with the idea of keeping overhead to a minimum so the maximum amount of donated money goes to the mission. Your donations will not be paying for an office space, electric bill or a secretary as none of that is necessary for Ocean Research Project. Since we own our sailing research vessel and maintain it our self our daily running costs are less than 10% of the typical running costs for this type of research. Although we keep costs down and overhead to a minimum we still struggle and are in need of donations so we can continue to collect scientific data that will help the scientific community better understand the problems facing out oceans. Thanks for following our first expedition!

Tropical Storm Andrea (Day 14)

The hurricane season has officially started with tropical storm Andrea. We’ll be feeling her effects on the 11th. Looking at the tracking device on the web site you can see the moment I found out about Andrea as I turned south to get some separation from the eye of the storm. Back in July of 2008 while I was on my first singlehanded transatlantic I got run down by tropical storm Cristobel a couple hundred miles north my current position. It was my first big storm and it beat the crap out me. I wish that storm was named Charlie or Chuck, but instead I got beat up by Cristobel? Come on, what kind of name is that? I don’t think Andrea will be too bad but it is a reminder that the big storms are coming and I need to be very careful.
The weather so far has been fairly normal. A front will pass by and it will blow 22-28 knots with the winds lasting a few days, then light winds for a few days, then the process repeats itself. Traditionally, I read during the windier days and do general maintenance and cleaning on the light days. I’ve already read 3 books and have done a wide variety of chores and maintenance. If you plan on being at sea for a prolonged period of time you have to be willing and able to work on your boat underway and you have to make do with what you got. You should also bring as many books as humanly possible. We are pretty well stocked on this expedition.
We had some good rain yesterday, typically rain is a nuisance in the ocean but it?s a blessing on this expedition. I couldn?t raise enough money to buy an electric water maker (desalinator) as they cost between $5,000-$7000. I brought my old manual water maker that I used on my trip around the Americas along with two new membranes but pumping that thing is a huge pain in the butt. On my circumnavigation of the Americas I had to pump it over 450,000 times in order to get enough water to survive 309 days at sea. This time I had Bacons in Annapolis make two super deluxe water gutters that can be fixed to the bottom of the booms when it rains. Yesterday in mild to moderate rain I was able to collect 30 gallons in 3 hours. It would have taken 40 hours of non-stop pumping to get that much fresh water from my manual water maker.
During this phase of the expedition things are easy. Well as easy as things can be considering we are more or less sailing to the Azores without stopping at the Azores. We regularly send our weather observations to NOAA and we have deployed five of our special drifting sensors in the locations that NOAA had predetermined. During the day Nicole and I read and write. At night I cook us a meal and listen to Nicole play the piano. That?s right, we brought a full length electric keyboard along. It takes up an entire berth but takes very little power and listening to Nikki play it is soothing. In a week or so we will arrive at the eastern edge of the North Atlantic Gyre. Then its work, work, work. I’m enjoying the down time while I still have it.

Day 9

Our first few days at sea went by with an easy 10-15 knots on the quarter.  On the forth day the wind died and at around midnight I turned on a deck light and went outside the pilot house to adjust a lifeline. The wind had decreased to such an extent that we were only moving at 1.5 knots which would normally bother me but it was so peaceful outside I didn’t care that we were hardly moving.  As I was working on the life lines I saw a rope in the water, then another. It wasn’t long before I noticed that what I was seeing wasn’t rope but golf ball sized jelly fish that ban together in rope-like sections.  I’ve never seen these before and was wondering if they come up from the deep at night.  I was enjoying watching these rope-like jellyfish pass by when I heard a noise more chipmunk then bird. This is a sound I have heard before. There is a small type of bird that lives from roughly 100 to 400 miles off shore. I’ve mostly seen them between 37 north and the latitude of Nova Scotia.  What’s different about these birds is in the day time they are always alone and near the surface of the water.  At night they meet up in the hundreds and fly circles around anything floating in the water.  My boat became there hang out spot for the night.  This has happened to me several times in the past but what was different this time is my very bright deck light and head lamp seemed to attract them then like moths to a light.  First they started hitting my sail and plopping down all over my deck.  I was walking around picking the birds up and throwing them back in the air when they started bouncing off of me.  For a moment I felt like I was in the old Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds.  One bird hit me right in the face.  After that I quickly turned my head lamp and deck light off and things went back to normal.

The wind picked up to 25 to 30 knots for the next two days which was a good test for this boat. On one hand we sailed 316 miles in 48 hours, on the other hand the masts creaked and groaned in the most nerve shattering manner. This is the first boat I’ve ever sailed that has unstayed masts. Watching my masts bend in the wind and hearing them complain about it is hard to get used to. I’ve always kept the attitude that either my mast will hold or it will fall. I’ll reef when I need to reef and I’m not going worry much about it. That philosophy was certainly put to the test the last few days. All in all Ault sails faster and is more comfortable than I thought she would be. I’m interested to see how she will perform in heavy weather, time will tell.

The last 36 hours has been screwy to say the least. I’m guessing we sailed right into a strong eddy. My compasses were telling me I was going in one direction and my GPS was saying something completely different. Sometimes the current was in my favor but mostly it wasn’t. We must have sailed out of it in the middle of the night because the GPS and compass are friends again.

We have 1,200 miles to go before we reach the eastern extreme of the North Atlantic Gyre where we will start pulling Manta Nets which can determine the amount of plastic in the ocean. In the meantime we are working with NOAA as a mobile observation station. (Which is more work than it sounds) and deploying sensors called drifters. NOAA gave us $30,000 worth of these special drifters to deploy. After 9 days at sea Nikki is still doing great and has found her rhythm. As I sit here writing this she is elbow deep in rusty dirt cleaning the bilge. She is also taking apart the bilge pump and float switch, completely cleaning all parts and pieces and putting it all back together again. I never as asked her to clean the bilge she does stuff like that on her own. Talk about good crew!

Finally out to sea!

In the world of sailing they say the hardest part of winning a race is getting to the starting line.  This is certainly no race but man it was hard to get off the dock and out to sea.  Nikki and I sailed down the Chesapeake Bay and dropped anchor in a creek near the mouth of the bay.  We were only supposed to be there for one day but we ended up sitting there for 5 days waiting for our sails to arrive. When they finally did arrive they had no slides, no webbing and no rings at the reef points.  We spent sixteen hours sitting on a dock on a rainy blustery day hand sewing the sails, finally finishing them at 2am. During one passing rain shower a micro burst hit with such force that one of my newly modified wind generators sheared off five of its six blades.  I have some back up blades and I’ll fix the broken wind generator next time I’m becalmed – but at the time while I was soaking wet and hand sewing sails I couldn’t help to think ‘what a way to start an expedition’.  When we finally left the Chesapeake Bay and entered the Atlantic Ocean it was like 1,000 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. After months of hard work and preparation, the journey has begun! The plan is fairly simple – Nikki and I will sail as if we are heading to the Azores and around 100 miles before we would arrive at the Azores, we will turn south while deploying special nets that can determine the amount of micro plastics in the water. We will sail roughly 600 miles south, then north, then south again in a zig zag pattern.  This way we can survey the amount of plastic (AKA marine debris) in the center of the North Atlantic Gyre, or Atlantic Garbage Patch.  No one has ever done this type of research in the epicenter of the Atlantic Garbage Patch so it shall be interesting to see what we discover.  We will deploy an acoustic receiver that can help determine the migration patterns of tagged marine life and deploying drifters.  This 6,000 mile trip needs to be completed by the end of July in the hope that we return before hurricanes start turning north.
At this point all is well, Nikki doesn’t have any problems with sea sickness which is rare as most people do.  I’m just happy as can be to be back out to sea, and I’m glad that we are out here to collect data that will help the scientific community better understand the problems facing our oceans. It’s hard to say what may or may not happen on an expedition of this magnitude. We are not looking for danger and I hope to have an uneventful expedition, that being said, the ocean is typically far from uneventful.

Waiting for Sails

This month has been crazy, preparing for this expedition has been 10 times harder than my trip around the Americas. I guess that’s what happens when you buy a 42 foot steel boat with a rotten plywood couch roof, old wiring and a good engine with bad parts. It was all I could afford. I needed a sailing vessel that would allow me to take scientists and their equipment to the far corners of the planet, a 27 Albin Vega wouldn’t cut it. I tried to get someone to donate a boat or the money necessary to buy one. I now run an official 501 (c) 3 non-profit. The reality was that it could take years to find someone to donate the boat I needed, so I took out the biggest loan I could (which wasn’t much) and bought a good boat that needed a lot of work.
I bought my 42 foot Colvin Gazelle in the bustling town of Titusville, Florida last December. I sailed her to the Chesapeake Bay offshore as a shake down cruise. I learned many things about my new boat on the way up, like the deck was worse than the survey showed and the engine was leaking diesel faster then a leaky stuffing box. I removed the rotten deck, fixed the engine, added all new electronics, solar, wind power, wind vane, ect, ect. Long story short it was a 12 month refit crammed into 5 months. As all boat owners know the work never truly ends and I’ll be working on this boat until the day I sell her.
I wont be singlehanded this time (thank god), I sailed 42,000 miles alone over the last 4 ½ years and could use some company. I have onboard a NOAA scientist named Nicole Trenholm. She recently quit her job with NOAA, taking a major pay cut, to work for Ocean Research Project as its lead scientist. Nicole has done a great job gathering the scientific equipment and making connections with various universities and organizations. I couldn’t have organized this without her help.
So here we are, sitting on anchor in Little Creek, VA by the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay waiting for our allusive and two week late sails to finally show up so we can leave. Once at sea we will do our best to collect the scientific data and have fun while being as safe as possible. I have some great sponsors and partners, I thank them all for there support.

Sargasso Sea Gyre Marine Pollution, Climate, Tagged Marine Life Observation Survey

There are three objectives for this survey:

Monitoring Marine Pollution

To conduct a Sargasso Sea marine debris survey recognizing standardized methods to add to the global understanding of what the quantity of marine debris in surface waters within the gyre is and to stimulate awareness of the consequence of human activity. This project is run in collaboration with our partner 5 Gyres. Samples will also be analyzed for persistent organic pollutants (POP) such as PCB’s and pesticides through University of Tokyo’s Pellet Watch Program.

Monitoring Marine Life

To collect detection files of monitored marine life within the Sargasso Gyre to provide to Dalhousie University’s Ocean Tracking Network for scientists to monitor migratory routes of tagged species.

Monitoring the Climate

The vessel will act as a mobile observing platform reporting atmospheric and oceanic observations to NOAA as a voluntary observing ship to feed international atmospheric and oceanic modeling databases that depict global weather forecasts, climate studies and in effect support mariner’s safety at sea. Work will be in cooperation with partners NOAA’s Voluntary Observing Ship, Ship of Opportunity Program and the Atlantic Oceanic and Meteorological Laboratory. Ten climate observing drifters will be deployed which are capable of reporting more than 400 days of data a piece while any expired drifters will be retrieved upon identification en route.
Data will be submitted as requested to partners and made accessible via multiple open source data portals. An educational documentary will highlight our experience meeting our objectives during our Atlantic Garbage Patch Survey.

Ocean Research Project

The Ocean Research Project is seeking funds and materials to carry out our objectives:
developing and conducting expeditions to various locations throughout the world to collect data to aid the scientific community and to create documentaries that are both educational and fun to watch.

A nonprofit science and public outreach organization, we are dedicated to gathering scientific data that enable improved characterization of the global oceans and coastal areas.  In addition to collecting useful scientific data, Ocean Research Project creates educational documentaries promoting sailing and discussing the various problems and solutions for our changing oceans.

The expeditions will be carried out aboard a sailboat, which provides us with a floating research station as well as an affordable and environmentally low-impact method of transportation.  For each expedition, the research team includes scientists that specialize in each particular region.

At present, we have determined locations for the first three expeditions:

Atlantic Ocean

Atlantic Ocean


Arctic & NW Passage

Pacific Garbage Patch Pacific Garbage Patch[/