Velvet waves on Ash Thursday

February 27, 2020, Sailing between the Cook Islands and Tonga.

“There’s a sign over a bar saying ‘It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.’ Well it’s Wednesday somewhere.”  That’s how Father Lew opened the service.  Pastor Bruce added “Welcome to Ash Thursday.”  The International Date Line had obliterated Wednesday for us.

During the service the Coronavirus was on most people’s mind.  The service reflected that concern.  During passing of the peace people turned to each other and made the two finger “peace” sign from the 1960’s.  During communion we were told to take the wafer and dip it into the wine, no common cup.

Today was another sea day and this is the post I intended to write yesterday chronicling a sea day but the post got hijacked by my mind’s wandering.  While it was not completely typical, being a holy day of obligation, close enough.

After breakfast I tried to log on to internet (ha!).  At 10 we went to Ash Thursday service, at 11 a lecture on our New Zealand ports, from 11:45 until 1 I sat on a deck chair on Prominade Deck reading my book “Overstory” by Richard Powers.  Excellent read by the way.  I stopped to listen to the Captain’s 12:15 announcement giving our noon position, the weather and some other nautical information.  I also took time to admire the waves, which looked different than other days.  More on that later.  At 1 Suzi and I had lunch outside on the aft deck, the highlight was peanut butter bread pudding, at 2 PM a lecture.

This is not a typical lecture, none of them are really, but it’s a good one to illustrate the types of things we’re learning.  Gerald McCormack is biologist working for the Cook Islands’ Government.  He’s lived there 40 years. He wrote a pamphlet to inform a decision on whether to conduct sea floor mining in the Cook’s exclusive economic zone.  They’ve already discovered economically viable numbers of mineral nodules on the sea floor, nodules that include cobalt, copper, iron and rare earth minerals.   Mining the known reserves could provide this country of 17,300 about $45 million in income a year for decades.  But is it worth it?  It’s not his job to provide the answer but to outline information, pros and cons, for a nationwide discussion.  When Gerald started his research, he told us that he doubted it could be done responsibly but he surprised himself when his research showed that perhaps it could be done in certain areas of the sea floor but not others, at certain times of the year but possibly not others.

The processes he used were fascinating.  I will only talk about one aspect.  He looked at the frequencies of whale songs in the area and at what depths those whale songs transmitted.  He then figured out the frequencies of sounds made by ships and mining materials and the depths they will operate at.  He concluded that mining in certain areas would not disrupt whales while mining in other areas would have to be suspended several months a year, when whales are present, so as to not interfere with whale song.  He looked at fish, nutrients in the water, at how much mining would stir up nutrients on the ocean floor and what the impact on fishing could be.  I particularly found the whale song frequencies, and communication depths (different whale species communicate at different depths) information fascinating.  He’s making no recommendation but is laying it out for the Cook Islands to decide.

After the lecture I went to the café for my afternoon double shot of caffeine and sat in one of the recliners watching the ocean.  Today it is particularly lovely.  There are long and low waves with just a zephyr sometimes wrinkling the waves.  It is something unlike what I have seen before.  One other passenger described it as looking like sand dunes, or perhaps drifting dunes.  A crew member said it looked like silk.  In different lights at different times both could be true, or something else.

After coffee it was my daily lap swim, a little conversation and then dinner with friends.  Following dinner, we went out on deck to look at the waves just after sunset.  Then a doo wop show by the Alley Cats and a little time in the Piano Bar with Diane, who hails from Ketchikan. She sang the Jimmy Buffett song “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”  We left Diane and got back to the room at about 9:30 and found, to my amazement, that the internet was actually working well and I quickly uploaded yesterday’s blogpost, which was a surprise.  Perhaps I’ll not give up internet for Lent after all. 

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