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.
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.
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?)
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
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.
It was a wedding gift of sorts. Two months after we married, Ralph sent me on my own to join another TravelQuest eclipse tour, this time on the glamorous expedition ship Orion. The dream itinerary: a private charter flight from Cairns Australia to Papua New Guinea to join the Orion for nine days—a ship small enough to carry passengers to several remote villages—and a grand finale, totality at the Great Barrier Reef.
The intimate Orion (90 passengers, 75 crew) came equipped with kayaks, Zodiac landing craft (many of our ports were “wet landings”), and diving and snorkeling gear. The professional expedition staff included a marine biologist, acclaimed wildlife photographer Sue Flood, a field biologist, meteorologist Jay Anderson, planetary scientist and former NASA astronaut Thomas Jones, and a cultural anthropologist—an Aussie who married into a PNG village and actually became a chief, who knew everyone and all the local customs.
Each day at sea there were workshops and lectures on the flora and fauna of PNG, space travel, photography, and a cultural briefing on the islands we would visit—all accompanied with drinks and traypass hors d’oevres. The food—three squares a day plus high tea and assorted cocktail parties—was exquisitely prepared and, like most cruises, nonstop. I was giddy like a girl asked to the prom when a note addressed to Miss Coleman in Stateroom 310 included an invitation to dine that night at the table of Captain Andrey Domanin, “Master of the Orion”.
One night after dinner the captain took a joy ride past the actively-erupting Manam volcano; red lava flowed down the side and rocks and flames shot out of the top. (As I watched from the deck, a glass of champagne in my hand, I wondered: am I asleep?)
Performers boarded the Orion in our last island port and drummed a farewell before we sailed to the Great Barrier Reef. The last days at sea were rough, literally and figuratively. Barf bags were tucked behind the rail on every deck. The ship’s doctor Doctor Chris administered shots and big blue nausea pills; Dramamine was heaped in a tasteful bowl on the reception counter.
I was one of the few unaffected and had work to do—an article on Burning Man due for Trailer Life magazine. I found an empty bar on the top floor of the ship but my laptop kept sliding off the table what with all the pitching and yawing. (Cruise ship tip: when seas are high, climb down to the level nearest the hull, where it’s calmer.) The dining room was sparsely populated with wan-looking, uncommunicative passengers. The ill-conceived cocktail of the day was banana liqueur and coconut rum—a little warm ginger ale might have been a bigger seller.
(Sound like fun anyway? Get on board for this one: the TravelQuest South Pacific Cruise to totality on the Paul Gauguin with a pre-vacay on Easter Island.)
Above: The Orion
Commemorative rubber stamps; All aboard; Lounge and meeting room; Stateroom 310; Cairns; Snorkel gear; On deck; From the Zodiak; Manam volcano; What to wear?; Dancers on board; Still waiting for the Green Flash.
If you’re thinking about traveling to a TSE, I can’t recommend TravelQuest highly enough. I generally hate the term, “trip of a lifetime” (unless you’re 100 years old, never say “never again,” right?) but a TravelQuest astronomical tour is so unique each time, so outrageously special, that you really will refer to it as a once in a lifetime adventure, just like their website says. Founder and President Aram Kaprielian is the most dedicated, detail oriented travel professional I’ve ever met and a man who really shares the joy of the experience with each traveler on the tour.
Even the grating lady—there’s always one—on our “pink” bus, who broadcast her every movement to no one in particular but for all the bus to hear. “I’m getting a coke from the ice chest now.” “I’m going to use the rest room now.” “Oh my, look at that <whatever outside the window>.” There must be a name for this disorder.
Western Egypt is flat and arid and refreshingly devoid of tourists. The bus stopped at the El Alamein WWII museum and cemetery at Mersa Matruh, the site where Rommel’s German Afrika Korps were smacked by the British and the allies.
In the Time Before Ralph (TBR), I was indifferent to ye olden days, but through him I’ve grown to appreciate the past…a little. Traveling with a history teacher is like having a personal docent at every museum, castle, monument and art gallery, and Ralph knows all the dirt about every world leader. It’s enlightening (and sad) to hear about the scandals and deceits and failures of yesterday that continue to repeat today, over and over, exactly as before.
Military museums like El Alamein and this one provide a historical perspective that can deepen your understanding of a place and its people, and they usually exhibit early attempts at technology (and some flat out crazy items) you won’t see anywhere else.
The bus came to rest in Mersa Matruh the night before the eclipse. It felt heavenly to put a beer in my hand and dig my toes in the sand on the private beach outside the hotel.
Above: Everybody on the bus
Tour group (and swag)
Historian at large
What a cool destination for a total solar eclipse trip. This time I took Ralph, the current and final husband; a somewhat twitchy traveler but an avid historian who was lured by a scheduled visit to the El Alamein WWII museum, a place of vast interest on the way to totality at the Egypt/Libyan border.
Before hooking up with a tour group for the ride west to the viewing site we hit the must-sees in Cairo: the pyramids of Giza (bigger than you think), the Sphinx (smaller than you think), and the Khan el-Khalili bazaar (home of the world’s scariest public toilet).
The most exhilarating memory of Egypt wasn’t the eclipse: it was crossing the street outside the Nile Hilton, on foot, through four lanes of speeding traffic. It was the only way. We stood pathetically on the curb for what seemed like forever, waiting for a break in the flow of traffic that was never to come. To our right and left we watched in amazed horror as Egyptian pedestrians simply stepped into the oncoming melee and somehow waded safely to the other side. When we could stall no longer we looked at each other with equal parts “let’s do this” and “goodbye”, and I strode forward like Indiana Jones taking his leap of faith on the Path of God. Somehow invincible, we moved in a dissociative fugue state through the honking swirl, cars rushing and lurching inches away, to reach the the opposite curb. The eclipse actually paled in excitement. Oh, that and the time our cab quit running and began rolling backward on the Sixth of October Bridge. That, too.
Above: Giza. (What you don’t see: the photographer is standing with her back to a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The pyramids are just yards from the edge of Cairo, the largest urban area in Africa.)
View of the Nile from our balcony
Giza pyramid complex