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Blog Posts by: Paloma Larena

Today, three new crew members joined the Ranger to “commit” the crossing of the Atlantic. They are Xavier Pastor, Eduardo de Ana and Alicia Fraile. Xavier, a marine biologist, is the Director of the Oceana office in Europe, from where he spearheaded the Transoceanic Expedition, with enthusiastic support from Steven and Annie MacAllister, owners of the catamaran we are sailing in now.

Bermuda

Since the Oceana expedition arrived in Bermuda, the weather has been dreadful, with winds of 30 knots, rain and two meter waves. Yesterday we went out to see if we could go on our first dive, as the wind had decreased to 10 knots and the water did not see too murky.

“On our way to the reef area, while on the auxiliary raft, we stop to film a Portuguese Man-of-war (Physalia physalis).  We had just reached our spot, when we found almost at surface level, at one meter deep a juvenile specimen of loggerhead turtle (Caretta carettta) two or three years old. Its carapace may have measured 30 to 50 centimeters long, similar to the size of turtles from the Azores area; with the Gulf Current in their favor, they could be there in 10 days” Ricardo tells us, at the end of three hours of intense work which he shared with the divers, Mar, Houss, Sole and Bibi. The latter was in charge of the auxiliary boat.

Divers lose heat very quickly underwater. Neoprene diving suits are designed with specific thickness, to be worn in different dive areas and depending on water temperature. There are long and short suits. For instance, diving in a reef area in a short diving suit is not recommendable, because of the many stinging animal found there, such as jelly fish, corals, sea urchins….and neoprene can also serve as a shield.

Saint GeorgeWhen Carlos pointed me to the immense cruise ship that was coming in through the Saint George Channel, my first reaction was to run to get my camera and go on deck to take photos. As so did my crew companions, including Nuño, the captain. Outside, the colossal ship from Norwegian Cruise Line advanced slowly, while diminute tourists looked around from the railings on deck. They were oblivious of course, to the harm these pleasure trips cause the environment and anaware of the dramatic moments we were about to live: the cruise ship crashed against one of the sail boats anchored at the bay and, loosing control of the ship, its trajectory pointed directly at the Ranger. As Carlos says,”to be close to land is dangerous. Fortunately, our crew has behaved very well, reacting to the emergency fast, like cats”

Bermuda

The coral reef surrounding Bermuda acts as a protective circle to the island and its inhabitants. First, in a physical manner, sheltering the island from storms, as this ecosystem acts as a barrier where waves break off. “In fact, the most superficial corals are the most damaged after a hurricane”, Ricardo confirms. Clothed by this impressive and beautiful natural barrier-also a source of life and food-the people of Bermuda take shelter under a second protective layer: their coral houses.

As we approached the island, apart from observing the undulating aspect of the landscape-because of its rolling hills-we noticed immense white spots that were scattered around the island. It could not be snow; we thought it could be some type limestone…Now we know the reason for that color: all houses in Bermuda have the same kind of stepped roof, of an intense white color. It could have been lime, like that covering the walls of houses in the Spanish south, but this is actually coral. We learned this from Cubbit Smith, a Bermuda resident whose ancestors from this island go back more than 300 years. He says it with pride and, it also appears in his presentation card.

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.

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