Yesterday I arrived in Valencia with the extreme good fortune to be able to join the Ranger. At this moment we are still in port and it sounds like we will be departing this afternoon. Everyone is quietly busy in their own way getting ready to leave, to take care of themselves in a way that’s not possible at sea. In port everything gets washed, from clothing to the boat and the people on board. We also take advantage of the improved connection to land, with free access to fresh water, direct cell phone calls and shopping for food or cigarrettes for the smokers.
This morning Carlos climbed to the top of the mast to fix a light that is used for nighttime signaling. It’s a pretty big production just to change a lightbulb. Carlos donned a special harness that looks more like a padded chair for stadium seating with big pockets to put tools in. One could imagine how dangerous this operation would be at sea, and it made me think of tall-masted sailing ships in olden days, when sailors had to climb the rigging to change the sails even during storms and wartime attacks. At least on the Ranger Carlos completed the task without a second thought and easily returned to the deck.
The rest of the day I felt seasick, as always happens to me the first day at sea, even on a small sea like the Mediterranean. I had a long conversation with Ricardo Aguilar about the Mediterranean as a microcosm of the world’s oceans. It has a little bit over everything within much shorter distances. There are seagrass beds, undersea mountains, great depths, and much more. Because of its small size there are some differences, including the absence of any noticeable tides. At a glance it seems like the opposite of Alaska where everything about the sea is writ large, including the 20 foot tides. With the pleasantly warm waters and the conspicuous lack of summer storms, the Mediterranean is in some ways ideal for scientific exploration… except for the horrendous heat that beats down all day long.
The main problem with seasickness is boredom, apart from the nausea that can be so bad that you want to (1) take any kind of drug within reach that will allow you to sleep (2) throw yourself into the sea (3) flee for solid ground. This trip hasn’t been that bad, it’s more like a mild but persistent feeling of uneasiness and a turning stomach. The main problem is that when you are seasick you have very limited options, basically all you can do is sit quietly outside in the fresh air and wait for your body to adapt. In times like these I can really relate to the saying that being at sea is like being in prison. Happily during the night the appropriate neurons switched over to adapt to the movement of the boat and I woke up feeling great.
This morning the divers set out to document the seafloor habitats here in Altea. We made a number of measuring squares to take photos to scale of the seagrass meadows. Each square is marked with red tape that indicates five-centimeter intervals that can be used to make measurements later. The divers took these metal squares to the bottom but in the end we were in the middle of a giant expanse of Posidonia seagrass and we were not able to find the edges we wanted to study. At least it was clear how much seagrass there is here.
Afterwards, Juan and I went freediving to help Riki look for a different kind of seagrass called Cysmodocea. We dove at various locations with the zodiac and each time found more Posidonia. As always I was struck by the amazing silence and tranquility that you find underwater when freediving that you don’t experience as much when scuba diving. It feels like you are a marine or at least amphibious creature in the wilderness. It’s much better to free dive with a buddy, one watching the other descend, and then taking turns. It’s also very beautiful to watch your companion swim slowly downward with arms stretched forward like Superman, leaving a small trail of bubbles behind. You watch as they disappear into the darkness and reappear to slowly accelerate and surface. At this moment you take your three slow deep breaths, to dive down on the third, kicking a soft rhythm and looking to see what sights await you below the surface.