Follow this link to hear my very excited and hopeful (and in retrospect, sad) RNZ interview with First Up host Lydia Batham, recorded at sea on the M/S Paul Gauguin after leaving Pitcairn Island.
Sunday, June 30. At last, Pitcairn Island—but crashing breakers prevented the Paul Gauguin from reaching shore and, for some reason, pickup by Pitcairner longboats wasn’t an option either. All were disappointed, and the younger, able-bodied cruise guests (who could have managed the descent into the longboats via treacherous rope ladder), were especially frustrated.
The Pitcairners (if you’re not sure what this means, read this) boarded the Paul Gauguin with their wares for sale, and I was delighted to purchase some unique gifts for friends back home, a pretty wood dish made by Randy Christian (Fletcher Christian’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson), and several first day covers. Commemorative Pitcairn stamps were what I was anxious to find onshore anyway. Pitcairn Island was slated for an 80% partial eclipse, so while they were aboard I gifted a few dozen leftover Blackout Rally shades to the islanders and their children.
Since the onshore Pitcairn experience failed, the captain announced that we would pull up the anchor and make for the eclipse site early. New coordinates just beyond the edge of a thick cloud band were charted by Feinberg and Jay Andersen, the popular eclipse meteorologist who was stationed safely on land somewhere sunny in Chile.
A last minute weather update the day before the eclipse was delivered to the anxious chasers packed into the Grand Salon. Details about viewing were announced (the pool will be drained, the bar will be open, etc.) and questions were answered. It’s looking good for eclipse day, and spirits were high. I overheard more than one passenger proclaim, “seeing the eclipse will make up for not getting to Pitcairn.”
(Captain Toni made daily shipwide intercom announcements that rattled everyone’s nerves as we got closer to eclipse day. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he would begin, slowly and formally, in his Croation accent. “I have some information. Some information that will be of very much interest to you.” Long pause. “As you know, we are doing our best to find the best possible eclipse viewing position for you.” Oh no, what the fuck NOW we think collectively, and all souls aboard freeze, hanging on his every word. “We are cruising at eighteen knots away from our position,” he continues. “At twenty seven degrees south latitude to longitude one hundred thirty degrees to arrive five hundred seventy nautical miles from latitude minus fifteen…” and so forth. After two minutes of this level of out-of-context technical information, he concludes. “And so we are hoping for good outcome. And good day.”)
I made my eclipse phenomena “shot list”—see photo—including an essential tip from Filippenko: “make sure you go to the bathroom.” Others ready their custom solar viewers.
Somehow I was contacted via Twitter by a producer for New Zealand Public Radio; asking if I would submit to an interview for their First Up morning show about our ship and the nutty eclipse chasing passengers, all steaming for somewhere in the middle of the sea to witness three minutes of totality. How hopeful and confident I sound in this interview. I was still convinced that my eighth TSE would be a slam dunk.
Approaching Pitcairn Island
Pitcairners come aboard
Eclipse update: New coordinates, a hopeful weather map
Fashioning custom solar filters
A smashing sunset after navigating around the backside of Pitcairn, and sailing onward to the eclipse
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!
I was on the “Countdown to the 2017 Eclipse” show on Boss Radio 100.7 broadcast from the Oregon Coast—where residents will be the first people to stand in the shadow of the Great American Eclipse on August 21. Here’s a recording of that interview. (You can make a drinking game out of the number of times I say “spectacle”.)
Host of the weekly talk show, Kay Wyatt, is an astronomer who has her very own observatory north of Lincoln City in the coastal mountains. I was honored to be part of the 17-episode program that included interviews with several notable astronomy stars (pun intended)—among them, Fred Espenak (“Mr. Eclipse”) who was recently honored as the astrophotographer whose image was used to make the USPS Total Eclipse stamp.
I also spoke with bubbly Janine Pettit, host of the Girl Camper podcast —as Airstream trailering and eclipse chasing will soon overlap at the Oregon Blackout Rally in August—and with the Technology Reporter for the Bend Bulletin. “Eclipse Chaser Plans Life Around Solar Events” is actually a pretty accurate headline.
Update: I recently enjoyed a conversation with Brian Resnick, a reporter for Vox who interviewed several chasers for this fun and informative article.
Where my philatellas at, yo? Stamps and first day covers from each eclipse make a fabulous (and flat, lightweight) souvenir. To celebrate a special TSE, local governments often issue a commemorative stamp and/or a first day cover—an envelope affixed with said stamp, postmarked on the first day of its issue, usually imprinted with some kind of illustration.
Today the USPS released their Total Eclipse of the Sun Forever stamp, a first-of-its-kind stamp that transforms the eclipsed sun into an image of the Moon using thermochromic ink.
Make your own philatelic souvenir for the Great American Eclipse: address an envelope to yourself, place a Total Eclipse of the Sun Forever stamp in the usual corner, take it to the post office on the morning of August 21, 2017, and ask a clerk to date stamp the envelope and drop it in their outgoing mail. (Add artwork on the lefthand side for a personal touch; kid’s drawings of their interpretation of the eclipse would be adorable.) Be sure to physically perform this transaction with a postal clerk; you might miss the postmark by a day if you drop it in a mailbox.
Above: Stamps and cover from Bolivia, 1994. Below: Another from Bolivia; Mexico 1991; Aruba 1998; Madagascar stamps and handmade card 2001; souvenirs from Papua New Guinea 2012 (Orion ship stationery and kina bills—folding money is fun to collect, too).
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.
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
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?)