The “Millennium Eclipse” over the central Pacific and Atlantic oceans on Feb 26, 1998 promised to be a “tropical festival of science” (reported the AP). After the hardships of Bolivia an easy cruise sounded nice—and the Caribbean, in February? Escape rainy Portland? Heck yeah.
The 93-mile wide umbra was to pass over a string of Caribbean islands, including Aruba, Curacao, Guadeloupe and Antigua. I chose travel coordinator Gary Spears’ Astronomical League Eclipse Cruise on the Carnival ship Fascination for my next TSE, and conned my poor friend Susan to come along.
Hey, Carnival haters! I know you’re there. KMA. If you can’t have fun on a cruise, no matter the accommodations, you simply don’t know how to have a good time.
My second Astronomical League tour was again organized by Ken Willcox (may he rest in peace; Ken passed from cancer exactly one year after the Caribbean eclipse). Also in attendance was Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak of the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and Mark Littman, author of Totality, Eclipses of the Sun.
Susan, poised and pretty and definitely a non-nerd, was a good sport and a blast to travel with. She stuck out like a hothouse orchid during all the corny ship activities, though—and in the dining room, surrounded by astronomy geeks in polo shirts, patiently listening to their chatter about lens grinding.
The Fascination carried us from San Juan Puerto Rico to six ports of call. In St. Thomas we sunbathed on the beach with a three-foot iguana under our chairs. In Guadeloupe we tasted rum and bought spice necklaces; in Grenada we hiked in the rain forest. We were afraid to disembark in Caracas, Venezuela—and totality occurred over Aruba (where the group was scheduled to be deposited ashore for an eclipse viewing beach party).
You know the Caribbean drill: touring the rum factory, booze cruising, steel drum bands. Except for the eclipse, the most exhilarating event was renting a car on the island of Guadeloupe and driving it out to hike to a waterfall where Susan and I lost track of time and distance. Running critically late for re-embarkation with no time to return the car, we simply abandoned it at the dock, keys in the ignition, and ran laughing up the gangplank as the ship sounded its deafening horn. (Astonishingly, my credit card statement later showed a debit for the car rental, no extra charges, no penalty. Some benevolent Guadeloupian must have returned it.)
Above: Dames at Sea
Path of totality, 1998 (via NASA)
Formal night. Are you in this photo? Drop me a line!