Hello Darkness, MOF

Prepping again for the next TSE! The welders glasses I’ve used for the partial phases since The Big One (Baja, 1991) are scratched, worn, and a little broken, but they’ll block blinding Sol’s rays one more time with a little duct tape patch on the seam. I hope.

I’m currently overpacking (example: three bathing suits) for the South Pacific “Cruise to Totality”, a TravelQuest tour aboard the MS Paul Gauguin that will sail from Tahiti on June 27. Her passengers will witness 3 minutes and 16 seconds of totality at sea on July 2, 2019, somewhere between Pitcairn Island and Rangiroa. Clear skies are expected, and I’ll have my eighth total solar eclipse in the can.

I’m almost more excited about the add-on excursion to Easter Island (Rapa Nui), a destination I’ve always wanted to see for myself. Something about those massive Moai heads are calling—so much so that I made an effort during a road trip to the Midwest this month to find and take a selfie with the “Moai Dude” sculpture. He stands in a suburban playground in Altoona, Iowa. Can’t wait to meet a real one…next week!

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Eclipse chaser log

Umbraphiles, have you logged your eclipses at the Eclipse Chasers website? All the cool kids are doing it.

Eclipse chaser “sounds better than eclipse stalker, paparazzi, or voyeur which are more accurate terms,” states site author Bill Kramer, a veteran of ten TSEs. “If you stay in one place all your life, the chances of seeing a total solar eclipse are quite slim. As a consequence, in order to see one or more total eclipses of the sun one must travel to see them. And that is how you become an Eclipse Chaser.”

Kramer has painstakingly assembled a nice little hub for chasers to keep track of their travels, surveil each other, and find out who else was there on the day of totality.

The Eclipse Chaser site allows you to find and claim any total, annular and/or partial eclipse, dating from 1806. (So, if you’re 211 years old, you might need to get a teenager to help you with the log in.) Add everything you can remember about your eclipse experiences, hit “save”, and your name, shadow time, chase success and other details will be posted automatically to the user summary—314 names, and counting!

Your log will include a delicious quantity of too much information you never knew you wanted to know.

Mine looks like this:

Eclipse count: 7, of which 6 were total and 1 were annular types. The remaining were partials.

Number of Saros Series seen is 6

Time in shadow of the moon: 17h 32m 31.9s. (all partial plus total plus annular)

Total Eclipse time: 21m 9.0s (1,269.0 seconds)

Annular Eclipse time: 6m 50.8s (410.8 seconds)

Central shadow time (A+T): 27m 59.8s

The site is fantastic resource for past eclipse data and includes fun auxiliary information about safety and equipment, collectibles, a gallery of images, how to chase an eclipse (there are five steps! who knew), and even boring transits.

Just select “join log” and you’re on your way. Don’t rush your entries—it make take a few tries to drop a pin on exactly where you were standing in the shadow—and don’t forget, like I did until later, to use the drop down menu to select the exact weather conditions (fun detail, Bill!). No worries, though—you can go back and edit your entry at any time.

Great Barrier Reef

Oh, the eclipse? *yawn* Just another breathtaking miracle of nature.

The sky was blue and the Orion steady on eclipse day, following two grueling days on choppy seas to return to the calm waters over the Great Barrier Reef near Port Douglas.

Jay Anderson—meteorologist, astrophotographer, and co-author of the NASA eclipse bulletins with Fred Espenak—commanded a microphone and walked us through the timeline of events. Meet Jay in this video and hear his play by play (“filters off!” “shadow bands behind you!”). Jay also consulted with the captain and special reef pilot who was brought on board to guide the Orion over the Reef and ensure the best viewing area.

Thanks to his coaching I got my goggles on and off in time to witness all the phenomena. Baily’s beads were meh but we saw the best. diamond. ring. EVER. The prominence flames were higher than I’ve ever seen them too.

At third contact many beers (Corona, natch) were consumed, followed by brunch on deck and a how-was-it-for-you debriefing session in the Leda Lounge for the relieved and excited chasers. Most of them were either first time virgins—virgins no longer!—or had just racked up their 10th or 15th TSE. Me?

Six for six, and counting.

The moments on deck are captured in this 5-minute video. If you’re hoping to see the eclipsed sun itself, lower your expectations: this captures the minutes leading up to totality on deck, and before and after reactions. (Here’s a 3-minute video of totality—again, no sun, but you’ll see the sky go dark and brighten at third contact.

Above: Diamond ring photo via Snapfish, taken from the Paul Gauguin, July 10, 2010

Below:

Scenes on board the Orion, November 13, 2012.

Variety of customized gadgetry, including scope “squint” aids and fancy pinhole projection art.

TravelQuest founder and president Aram Kaprielian. (Is there a bigger smile than the one on the tour director after a cloudless TSE?)

 

Betel nut

Like most island nations in the tropical Pacific, chewing betel nut is a popular pastime among the people of Papua New Guinea. The effect (I’m told) is a mild and calming buzz, akin to cigarette smoking. Like cigarettes, betel nut is addictive and not without side effects beyond the ghastly red smile: gum disease, tooth loss, and mouth cancer.

So what! Betel nut—actually, the areca seed and associated chewing paraphernalia—is widely sold on any market day in PNG. Some roughnecks on the street in Madang were happy to demonstrate the technique for enjoying “buai”: bite the nut meat a bit to, what, get it going I suppose, then spit the fibrous wad onto a betel leaf and add powdered lime (or, if you’re man enough, just pour the lime onto the inside of your lower lip). A type of mustard may be added to make it extra gross. Position the wad to the side of your mouth or under your lip; do not swallow. When spent, spit it on the ground, adding to the various clumps of ABC fibers in the gutter.

Justin, the Orion’s cultural liaison (and official tribesman by marriage) brought some on board for us to try during happy hour. After tasting it I can safely say I will remain betel-nut free. 

Above: Market selection

Below: The Faces of Betel Nut

 

 

WWII history

Aspects of the cruise would have been a challenge for Ralph: wading ashore after a cramped and bumpy Zodiac ride with twelve strangers; the terrifying blackfaced guy who jumped out of the jungle with a spear on Tufi; the crew talent show. But as a historian he would have loved the significant World War II sites and the buried and rusting remnants of tanks, aircraft and military vehicles in Rabaul, Alotau and Milne Bay.

The military history in Milne Bay in Alotau is dear to Australians as the site of the Battle of Milne (or “Millin” as the locals say). Yamamoto—you’ve heard of him: Japanese Admiral? Battle of Midway? Bombed Pearl Harbor? that’s the one—spent his last night in a bunker in Rabaul where hand-scawled battle maps and notes remain on the walls down in the dark. Exposed caves and tunnels reveal Japanese cargo barges, and the steel bones of sunken ships and aircraft are still half buried in the sand.

For actual details, please read this moving article about PNG’s war history and relics.

Island artifacts

At every island there were ample opportunities to shop for handmade artifacts and home goods: carved bowls and raku-style Bilbil pots, shell jewelry, bilum string bags, woven penis sheaths (a lovely souvenir to bring back to the men at home), and eerie masks.

Those who had an eye for tribal art were salivating, and at one point on Tami Island it was like a sale at Filene’s Basement—the collectors were prepared to physically fight each other over who would take home the best spirit mask from the selection lined up on display along the muddy main street.

I had yet to purchase my showpiece collectible when the mask supply ran low (and a sneaky couple bought the one I had chosen when I turned away for a few minutes to pull more Kina bills from my backpack). One of the sing-sing dancers ran to their costume shop and brought me a three-foot tall white Tago “ghost” mask with a feather headdress that was used ceremonially, not just made for tourists to buy. Look—it’s the same type pictured on our tour t-shirt.

Many items—certain turtle shell and bean beads, Kundu drums with lizard skin heads—would be disallowed by customs officials when we returned to Trinity Wharf in Cairns. The ship’s purser helped sort out the mess of souvenirs on board, and ensured that all items were brought to the deck of the ship to be soaked liberally with an anti-infestation spray.

I spent the entire last day on board scrounging bubble wrap from the Orion gift shop and wrapping my treasures for shipment home.

Above: New mask collection

Below:

Tapa cloth 

Shlepping our souvenirs on the Zodiac

Shipboard treatment

The Tago mask—represents an ancestor ghost

Sing-sings

A sing-sing is a cultural demonstration of ritual dance and kundu drumming, that, in many cases, was necessary to perform before we were allowed to set foot on the islands to ward off the evil spirits we brought with us on the ship (they got that right).

Extravagant ceremonial costumes and body paint are worn, incorporating reeds, leaves, flowers, feathers, skins, and shells. Each island cultivates their own unique style and local custom for welcoming guests. This video will give you a taste.