The morning dawned beautifully over the Paul Gauguin, with a blue sky and a bright yellow sun burning through the large holes in non-threatening puffy clouds.
By 7am most had staked out their viewing site, and were excited and optimistic. Nearly three minutes of totality were in store. I chose to view from the bar, La Pallette on deck 8, where mimosas were being served and there were tables outside where I could make my astronomical drawings after first contact.
Others, wrapped in blankets, settled in chairs on both sides of deck 8. Deck 9 and the foredeck of 8 were roped off for users of sensitive cameras and telescopes. It was windy and the sea pitched the ship a bit, creating a real rodeo for the ‘scope folks on the upper decks.
First Contact was at 9am. (Isn’t it a relief to see that tiny bite, precisely on schedule? “We’ve got the right day!” says someone, always, every single time.)
But quickly, within the hour, passengers and organizers were in despair. More clouds formed, and they grew thicker by the minute. They seemed to converge upon the ship from every direction, as if by evil design.
Feinberg continued his dignified phenomenon announcements (“this is when you should be able to see shadowbands”, etc.) from his position on the bridge with the captain. Both furiously calculated possibilities, and the Paul Gauguin was turned and turned and repositioned again and again and again to try to find a hole in the dark grey clouds, to no avail. We were skunked.
“Second contact,” Feinberg announced solemnly at 10:10am, to 300 shocked and silent eclipse chasers.
I scratched a couple of “totality” sketches, gathered my colored pencils, and trudged back to my stateroom. I snapped a couple of pictures of people on the way who were laughing at the fail—what else could you do? I didn’t wait around for third contact, or fourth, and avoided the group photo and eye contact with the trip organizers for awhile. I felt sad for them, but worse for the virgins.
Later, the “how was it for you?” debriefing presentation, which is traditionally a celebration, was like a wake. It felt good to just to be together. Captain Toni, who seemed shook up, was brought to the front to receive a standing ovation. It was a buoyant, healing moment for all.
It was time to look ahead to the rest of the cruise, and there was one consolation: the South Pacific singalong took place that afternoon, and I sat next to a musical theater guy who could sing the low note of “Nothing Like a Dame”.
Eclipse day morning—looking promising
First contact—spirits are high
We love you Captain Toni—thanks for playing our game