Friday, August 24, 2007

Green flash at last

Back on land after a quick, but extremely good time on board the SSV Corwith Cramer. I have tons of pictures and will post some of them with a recap of the experience early next week.

For now though, I wanted to share that I finally saw the elusive green flash at sunrise Wed. morning while on dawn watch (more on that later too). For those who don't know about the green flash, it's a rare optical phenomenon (a small, brief, green flash of light on the horizon, "on top of" the setting/rising sun) that occurs the instant before sunrise or after sunset. It is best viewed where there is a clear, straight horizon, so it mostly associated with sunrises and sunsets over the ocean.

The green flash occurs because the sun's rays are refracted by the earth's atmosphere, separating the light into its spectral colors. When the sun is below the horizon, the shorter, blue wavelengths tend to bend more and get scattered before they reach an observer's eyes, thus there is no blue flash. The longer red and orange wavelengths bend less and do not scatter, but by the time they reach an observer's eyes the sun is just above the horizon and so get washed out by the sun's own brilliance, thus there is no "red flash". Green light waves sit in the middle of the spectrum and are refracted at a good angle and just the right time so that they reach an observer's eyes without being overwhelmed by the sun itself. Thus, under appropriate conditions, the observer sees a green flash.

I have well over a 1000 hours at sea and until this week had never seen a green flash. Some people deny its very existence because they've never seen it no matter how long they've spend on the ocean. Seeing this brief, but brilliant emerald green flash was certainly one of the highlights on my trip. I was in the right place, at the right time, under the right conditions. Definitely worth the lack of sleep.

Stay tuned for more details about the whole trip...I think I'm going to go sleep for a few days now.

UPDATE 8/31/07 - A reader, Priscilla B. from South Africa, emailed me about how the San people of South Africa call the Green Flash the Green Python and believe it to bring good fortune to those who see it. Apparently, I was supposed to make a wish when I saw it, but alas, I was too excited about actually seeing it to wish for anything, like world peace, universal health care, or a bitchin' 72" plasma, HD TV. Maybe next time.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Down to the sea

Avast ye landlubbers. If ye be needin' me, ye be out o' luck for I be ridin' on the se'en seas. In the meantime, keep your scurvy hands off me treasure. I be countin' it when I return.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.

the SSV Westward
So wrote John Masefield around the turn of the 19th 20th century. And to me (and countless others I am sure) it still rings true to this day.

It's hard to put into words, but the ocean has a power over me. I've always enjoyed the ocean in all its mystery and power and wondrous life. I grew up spending summers exploring the beaches and jetties of Cape Cod, collecting "mermaid's purses", whelk egg cases, scallop shells, and sea glass, searching for hermit and sand crabs, picking helpless periwinkles and dog whelks off the rocks, and shining flashlights into the night waters looking for blue crab and comb jellies and pipefish. I tried fishing for blues and stripers, but was never very good at that (apparently my brother, Carl, got all the fish-catching genes). Though I did catch my fair share of spider crabs.

For all that though, most of my connection to the sea was shore-based. Sure, I went out on my uncle's Boston Whaler on occasion (the best was going out to Monomoy), but really never spent that much time on the water and never more than a few miles from shore. All that changed however in my junior year at Bowdoin when I had the opportunity to take part in Sea Education Association's SEA Semester. It was during that experience that I contracted Masefield's sea fever.

Instead of going into all the salty details here, I'll send you over to the website I designed to celebrate my and my shipmates' experience. (don't laugh when you click over there - it was the first website I ever put together - 10 or so years ago - no digital cameras, no CSS, no Photoshop - and though I keep saying I am going to redo or delete it, I can't bring myself to do it).

On top of the science of the ocean and of sailing, SEA Semester teaches you more about teamwork, leadership, and your strengths and weaknesses than any other experience I've encountered - you deal with real problems in real weather in real seas. Torn mains'l in the middle of a squall in the middle of the night? Work together and deal with it. Seasick in twenty-foot seas? Help each other out and deal with it. One of your watch members not pulling their weight? Figure out how to motivate them, teach them, encourage them or deal with the fact that you're just going to have to move forward without their help.

Ever since my SEA experience, I've jumped at any feasible opportunity to get back on a sailing ship - afternoon sails at SEA alumni events, my wife's and my honeymoon on the Grace Bailey, our Galapagos adventure on the Sea Cloud. Why am I posting about all this now? Because in a couple of weeks, I'll be rejoining SEA for a 4-day cruise on the SSV Corwith Cramer and that sea fever is flaring up again.

I imagine it won't be nearly the experience my original trip was - it's only a four day "Colleagues Cruise" - but I'm counting the days till I climb aboard (even if it's not on the Westward, which was retired a few years back). I plan on bringing my camera (digital now!) and will share my photos when I get back.

Yes, I am a pirate. Born 200 years too late.

Friday, August 03, 2007

She takes after her dad

Today is "Pirate Day" at my daughter's daycare.

I think this is the Book of the Day.

(BTW she does a great "Arrrrrrrr". It brings tears to this old salt's eyes.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

That'll teach you to mess with my heirloom tomato!

One of the joys of my summer is growing our own tomatoes (actually, growing our own tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce,...). This year, my dad bought us an heirloom 'Brandywine' tomato. We planted it along with the rest of our vegetables and have watched it flower and start to produce a number of robust fruit. It looked like many more flowers were on the way and so I was anticipating a bumper crop. But now, it looks like I'll be lucky to salvage the four fruits currently on the vine.

We have a tomato worm in our midst. Or at least, we did.

I hadn't been outside to check on the garden in the past few days, so I didn't know we had a Manduca quinquemaculata larvae munching away on our prized tomato plant. When I went out this evening to water, here's what I saw:

The entire top half of our 'Brandywine' was completely defoliated. I'd seen tomato worms before, so I knew what to look for - a large, green, and, admittedly, cool-looking caterpillar - so large and cool in fact that people's first reaction to them is usually, "Wow". Well, sure enough, there it was hanging onto a leaf just at the base of the damaged area - the bugger was working its way down the plant, towards the ripening fruit.

But, actually, this one wasn't really moving. In fact, it wasn't really doing anything. Just hanging there underneath a leaf. Not only that, but it looked different than the ones I've seen before. What are all those white things?

On closer examination, I had a pretty good idea what it was, at least in general. I'd run across this kind of thing in grad school, studying yucca moths (a tale for another day). Looks like our tomato worm had a bad case of the parasitoids. If I had to guess, I'd say some female wasp came by and laid her eggs inside the caterpillar. Once the eggs hatched, the wasp larvae ate their way out of the caterpillar to pupate, forming these white cocoons. Gross? Sure, but cool too.

A quick search on Google confirms it. Specifically, some species of braconid wasp appears to have parasitized (parasitoidized? parasitoided?) the moth larvae (or perhaps, even cooler, the moth eggs). The tomato worm is decidedly dead now - nothing more than a tomato plant ornament. An ornament housing hundreds of developing wasps that is.

So what do I do now? Well, I could remove the offending caterpillar carcass. But the caterpillar is no longer threatening my heirloom crop. So, I think I'll leave it be and wait for the wasps to emerge. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to get some photos. At the very least, I've got my very own biological pest control system in place. Tomato worms beware!

addendum: August 6th - After a weekend away, I went outside today to check if the wasps were emerging and found that the entire tomato worm carcass had disappeared. It, and the wasp cocoons, were just gone. I checked the ground around the tomato plant, thinking the caterpillar and passengers had succumbed to the force of gravity, but, alas, it was no where to be found. Not sure what could have happened to it - could some other critter have eaten it? In any case, there will be no photos of emerging Hymenoptera. :(