Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Fiji to New Caledonia – Nov 10-13, 2012
I will board the Paul Gauguin this afternoon in Lautoka, so I pack up this morning, and my porter Koso picks up my big bag, which he will store until I leave for the ship at 2PM. I have arranged with the front desk to take their shuttle. In the mean time, I find a table between the bar and restaurant under the shade trees, and settle in for a while. I have a Coca Cola to start, and then later have a delicious roasted chicken salad for lunch. It is garnished with strips of something preserved in soy sauce, which gives it a nice flavor. That takes me to 1PM, while I work on my travel journal off and on. I talk with a group of Rhodes scholars who just disembarked the ship this morning. They are being shown around the area, doing village visits, and having lunch at the resort. Some of them stop to chat with me, and they seem to know about the “solar eclipse group” boarding the Paul Gauguin.
It is soon time for me to leave, so Koso pulls my bag and the resort shuttle takes me to the Lautoka wharf. The driver is Indian, and once he knows I am going on a cruise to see a Total Solar Eclipse, he tells me Indian women who are pregnant have to stay indoors that day, and can’t watch the event. I’ve heard of this before in other cultures, most notably the Arabs.
It is a bit inconvenient when we arrive at the gates to the wharf, since security won’t let any vehicles through without a clearance sticker, so I have to leave the shuttle, walk through the gate and pass security with my cruise ticket and passport. Once they check me off the list, I’m good to go. It is a short walk to the gangway, but I have no luggage tags once I get there, so the porter helps me lug my big bag up the gangway to the main lobby area. I’m about a half hour early, so they are still getting organized. The cruise director ushers us into Le Grand Salon, where they are all setup to check in guests and take security photos. They also take our passports – to be returned when we disembark.
My cabin is very nicely appointed. The ship was refurbished a few months ago, so all the fittings look fresh and new. It is certainly a smaller ship than the Holland America ships I was on previously. The pool is tiny, but there is lots of deck space on the top two decks, so observing the eclipse should be no problem. The Promenade Deck below the lifeboats doesn’t go all the way around the ship, and isn’t used much. In fact, there aren’t any deck chairs on this deck, which is kind of odd, and a bit of a waste of space.
I go for dinner to L’Etoile, the main dining room, and am seated at a large table. This is great for me since I’m traveling alone, because I get to talk with people I might not otherwise meet. I know Betty and Paul Long, who are seated at the same table. I know them, since we both attended one of TQ’s Costa Rican Star Party tours a few years ago.
Nov 11, 2012 – Sunday – Our first day at sea - enroute from Lautoka, Fiji to Ile des Pins, New Caledonia
I wake up around 5AM, since the clocks were set back an hour last night. I have to fill in some time before I can get a cappuccino and a French pastry at La Palette at 6:30AM. I am battling a nasty cold I obviously picked up while aboard the flight down to Fiji…damned airliners!
TravelQuest and Wilderness Travel have chartered the ship, so they have contributed a wonderful array of enrichment speakers, which start their presentations today. When we are at sea, there are four presentations scheduled for each day. What a change from the cruise on the Rotterdam last year, where there was a dearth of enrichment speakers!
9:30AM Speaker: How to Experience and Enjoy the Eclipse - Rick Fienberg gives an engaging talk about the basics of total solar eclipse watching, covering off the best ways to experience the eclipse, a bit of advice about photography and visual observing, safety tips, the sequence of events, and some practical advice on how to enjoy this special experience.
11AM Speaker: Seabirds of the South Pacific, Living on the wide, wide sea - Dr. Roger Lederer describes a wide variety of seabirds who inhabit the islands we are traveling to, and also mentions other notable seabirds who inhabit other parts of the Pacific Ocean.
2:30PM Speaker: Coral Reefs - Ethan Daniels’ presentation took the audience through how coral reefs formed eons ago, what wildlife make their home in the reefs, and where the “great” reefs of the world are located. Ethan works part-time for Wilderness Adventures, and spends the rest of his time researching the biology of reefs and the wildlife in Indonesia and other areas where the world’s greatest reefs are located.
4PM Speaker: Anatomy of the Sun, from Core to Corona - Holly Gilbert works for Ames/NASA in Solar Physics as a solar prominences specialist. Despite confessing to not feeling well because of the ship’s motion, Holly delivered a great talk with lots of information about the various layers and processes going on with the Sun.
I meet my cabin stewardess this afternoon; who is a very nice Tahitian woman called Diojani. I find out from the bridge that Magnetic North is 349º True in this area of the world, so I calculate the magnetic deviation to be 11º East in order to setup my Kestrel weather station’s wind direction. I go for dinner to L’Etoile, the main dining room again, and meet another interesting group of people. I turn in early, since I’m still not quite comfortable with all the time zone changes lately.
Nov 12, 2012 – Monday – Second day at sea - enroute from Lautoka, Fiji to Ile des Pins, New Caledonia
We have an Eclipse Rehearsal this morning, at the same time as the eclipse will happen in a couple of days’ time. Afterward, I have an early morning cappuccino, yogurt, and French pastries for breakfast in La Palette on the stern deck. I line up the enrichment speakers for the day:
9:30AM Speaker: Capturing the Eclipse in Images & Video - Bill Kramer gives advice I mostly agree with, but then he said don’t go over ISO 400, which I disagree with. We are on a moving platform, so capturing sharp, in focus images without any apparent image motion is important, which I think means using higher than normal ISO. Lower ISO will give a richer image, but we can’t afford that while on board a ship.
11AM Speaker: The Navigators - Human Settlement of Oceania - Mark Eddowes gives a very interesting talk, although it takes almost twice as long as scheduled. He describes how the Lapita people migrated from SE Asia to the western Pacific Islands.
2:30PM Speaker: The Sun-Earth Connection - Holly Gilbert works for NASA, and talks about the solar wind, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and solar prominences, and how these various phenomena affect the Earth.
4PM Speaker: Highlights of the Southern Night Sky – Rick Feinberg highlighted all the same objects to be found in the night sky which I would have talked about. He started off his talk describing how our location on the Earth affects what we observe in the night sky.
Nov 13, 2012 – Tuesday – We pick up the pilot at 3AM and arrive a few minutes early at Kuto Bay, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia at 8AM. It hasn’t changed at all from the last time I was here aboard the Volendam two years ago. The temperature today is cool but comfortable. There were lots of clouds around, and it even sprinkles rain for a few minutes this morning. We only have a few hours here, since the ship has to leave at Noon to keep our appointment with the Sun and Moon tomorrow. People who snorkeled in the bay report the water felt cold, but the reef fish were enjoyable.
Right now at 3:40PM local time, we are underway in a southerly direction, with the wind running to 31km/h and the temperature is only 21ºC. It is a fairly rough ocean out there, with heavy cloud cover, and almost looks like the North Pacific instead of the South Pacific. The ship is lurching and crashing into the large waves, and the passengers are also lurching around a bit more than usual!
2:30PM Speaker: Coral Reef Fishes – Ethan Daniels goes into too much biology, when all his audience really wants is to look at some pretty pictures of reef fish, and perhaps learn about what species of fish we will see while snorkeling.
4PM – Last Chance Eclipse Update – Rick Fienberg, Holly Gilbert & Bill Kramer give us some good last minute advice about the eclipse event coming up tomorrow morning. The weather forecast from Jay Anderson looks very promising…the chance of cloud cover is now running only 20% where we will be located.
I update my travel journal, since I have been so busy while aboard the ship. From the journal, I also create another blog entry to cover the first few days aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship. Later, I go to dinner at L’Etoille and sit at a large table where I have lots of stimulating conversation to participate in.
After returning to my cabin, I check over my equipment to ensure I’m ready for tomorrow’s Total Solar Eclipse, which will be all over by 9:16AM local time.