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Blog Posts by: Paloma Larena

Bermuda7:00 a.m. The Ranger remains anchored at the bay of Saint George. This first day in Bermuda is dark; rain and wind were pounding hard. Nuño, Carlos and Ricardo meet to analyze the situation and organize the work for the members of the expedition. The fact we were anchored instead of docked by the port further complicates plans, because we depend on auxiliary boats to go ashore. One thing is clear: due to bad weather, today we are not diving.

11:00 a.m. We wait impatiently for the weather to improve in the next few days, because we have planned a series of dives to document corals and phanerogams, sea horses and anyone of the numerous ships that were sunken centuries ago near these coasts. That is the case of the Spanish passenger ship “Cristobal Colon” that sank at the beginning of last century. In order to accomplish these tasks, it is important that the members of this expedition are able to move about freely through this island. But we soon found out with a dash of desperation that it is impossible to rent a car in Bermuda. Car rental companies simply do not exist here. Most residents of Bermuda-about 70.000 people live in the island- use buses, taxis and scooters as transportation modes.

Lowering the sails

12:30 a.m. Bermuda emerges magnificent in the middle of the North Atlantic, like a wavy line of rolling, green hills. There it stands, at a place with nothing around for hundreds of miles- except deep waters reaching down 4.000 and 5.000 meters- its sighting brought comfort to the Ranger’s expedition members. It has been five days of travel since we left Bahamas, as a storm began to form and threatened to reach the catamaran, keeping us from carrying out the dives we planned for the Sargasso Sea, at least for the moment. Quite frankly, we all look forwards to going ashore.

Although many people know it as the Bermuda archipelago, its residents just call it Bermuda, as if it were only one, indivisible island. And it is. Observing the nautical chart our captain uses, we can see it quite well; Bermuda is an almost perfect circle. The southern part is elevated, forming a figure in the shape of a hook, measuring about 30 square kilometers, while the north side is submerged and forms an immense coral reef. In the middle of this gigantic ring are superficial waters; outside of the circle, the deep ocean.

The Sargasso sea…. It is so diferent from any other place on earth that it may well be considered a definite geographic region ". By Rachel Carson.

The Sargasso sea

“Land on sight!” after months of navigation, Christopher Columbus’s caravels began to encounter large clusters of yellow brownish algae, on which small crabs and crustaceans of all types floated. The Great Admiral thought that, at last, they had reached land. His calculation was erroneous. They were in the Sargasso Sea, at more than 1.000 miles from the American continent. The Portuguese named it that way because of the immense accumulation of algae floating adrift for kilometers after kilometers, it reminded them of a common grape from their country, the “salgazo”.

The Sargasso Sea occupies 2.000 square meters, extending almost from the US coast, to the proximity of Azores, and it is estimated that it may contain around six million tons of these algae. These include two predominant species: Sargassum natans and Sargassum fluitans. Unlike other similar algae from the Mediterranean or the European Atlantic Sea, these two types of Sargasso are not attached to the substrate, but live exclusively adrift. In order to float, they use small capsules filled with oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The Ranger is now traveling through the south side, where algae density is lower.

The Portuguese man-of-wars we have begun to see are fascinating and dangerous organisms, abundant in these waters in the Bermuda Triangle, rich in Sargasso. Today, their presence has decreased a little, but once in a while someone on the Ranger still sounds the alarm: man-o-war starboard side!”, man-o-war by the prow!”… We see them pass, drifting at the mercy of the wind and surf.

Mar Mas

In the open sea, at 350 miles from Bahamas, it was a remarkable sight to see flying fish jumping out of the water and glide over the surface, moving their fins so fast that they resembled a hummingbird. This morning, a tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus) came to visit, and returned in the afternoon. It is a beautiful bird of elongated tail, which would fly around the catamaran and then glide over it, as if looking for a place to land. Indi, the naturalist, consulted his species guide book to give us further information. Tropicbirds are called rabijuncos in Spanish, because their tails resemble a flexible plant called junco. They have relatively short legs, which makes it difficult for them to walk on land. This is why they go straight to their nests that they build over cliffs or ledges, from where they resume flight, being able to travel hundreds of miles into the ocean. How lucky! After this adult bird visit, a juvenile came to around. In this case, the feathers of the juvenile’s tail were fewer. In addition to the tropicbirds, we saw some petrels (Hydrobatidae), an exclusively a marine bird.

Now we are sailing with “choppy seas” comments Carlos, the first officer “and the foam that forms around the crest of the waves when they break are disappearing. It is a sign that calm is coming.  Our navigation becomes very slow, advancing barely five knots, so Carlos, who was on guard duty at that point, decided to lower the sails and switch on the motors. The captain, who was resting, came out see what was going on.

Carlos Pérez

During the seven days we spent in Green Turtle Cay, at the island of Abaco (Bahamas), the main objective for Carlos, Nuño, Bibi, David and Jose Carlos was to prepare the catamaran for the next leg of the journey. “Many of the tasks we perform onboard are geared to improve the systems, both while we are docked, as while navigate”-indicates Carlos Perez. In this context, they have prepared a complete system “to be able to work with the mizzen sprit as if it was a crane and be able to load auxiliary boats onto deck” –he explains to me. “This will allow us more control of the boats when the sea conditions worsen while at the same time we can operate with fewer personnel.” They have also performed routine oil change to the motors, installed special containers in the bridge to keep binoculars and lanterns, they finished cleaning the hull-“because the “beard” on the ship grows very fast” and they have also installed the platform where the dinghies are placed. Oh! And we also moved the life savers to a more logical location!

Mar remained onboard the Ranger this morning, cleaning the case that protects her video camera while under water. When we came back to our home base operations in Green Turtle Cay after our daily dives, we found her patiently examining each of the case parts: screws, pressure joints, bolts, handles, 32 sealed tight devices…fortunately, when the humidity alarm went off yesterday, she was still floating on the surface, filming the other two divers from the water: Houssine and Sole as they prepared their diving gear. Making use of swift reflexes, Mar took off her jacket (floatability control; in diving it is just called jacket) and asked Brendal to grab the camera, and screamed at Houssine: “No, don’t jump!” “The camera made water”. When she opened the tightly sealed case once onboard, a flow of water came out, seting off the alarms again.

Let’s get back to the ship!-Ricardo calls out.  In the fraction of a second my brain processed the authentic meaning of those words: “Danger, sharks”! My companion points down with his fingers, ten or twelve meters to the left. Right where the reef ends and a deep underwater ravine of sandy floor begin, I see the animal emerge. If I had been able to scratch my eyes underwater I would have. But after the moment of fascination, a visceral fear began.