From despair to delight – after yesterday's gloom and doom in the
doldrums, today was an absolute corker of a day. The highlight, without
any shadow of a doubt, was a close encounter with a whale shark.

I woke just before 7am, just as dawn was starting to lighten the sky, in
time for my regular Sunday phone call with Mum. I went out on deck for
morning ablutions and discovered that the wind was blowing briskly from
the north – very good news indeed. But the sea anchor was still out, and
would reduce my boat's speed as I was blown south. So I made a quick
call to Mum to tell her I'd call her back in about half an hour once I'd
brought the sea anchor in.

Mum was probably thinking I'd fallen overboard by the time I finally
called her back an hour later. "Mum," I said, "Sorry it took me a while.
Can you do a quick Google and tell me what a whale shark looks like?"
She did a swift search and said, "Wide mouth, flat head, spotted
patterns on the back…" "That's the fella!" I said.

I'd been out on deck and had just pulled the sea anchor on board. The
tripline was already coiled in its bucket, and as I started pulling in
the main line I became aware I was not alone. A big, blunt, speckled
head surfaced from the water just inches away from me. I glimpsed a
gaping, gummy mouth that took up most of the front of the head. A dorsal
fin. A pointy tail. The creature was about 8 feet long, with gorgeous
speckled markings on his skin.

I grabbed my video camera from the cabin and rushed back before he
disappeared, but I needn't have hurried. The gentle giant did lap after
lap of my boat, while I dashed from side to side in time with his
leisurely circuits, trying to film him. I didn't get any truly great
shots – I really needed a wide angle lens to capture him, because he was
just too close to me. My hand kept brushing his skin as he passed by. I
thought about jumping in – it was obvious from his lack of teeth that he
wasn't a shark of the man-eating variety – but I thought that a naked
woman suddenly dive-bombing him might scare him away.

To be honest, even if I had got some better shots from the front, a
whale shark's face is not his fortune. It's the kind of face only a
mother could love. The mouth takes up most of it, and it's less a mouth,
more of a cavern. He's a filter feeder so I suppose a big gob is part of
the job description. But it doesn't make him especially photogenic.

But photogenic or not, I was hugely, giddily, excited to see him.

I would like to thank the local fauna for making themselves so very
available for photo calls. I'm not the world's most observant person,
and it's not easy to spot wildlife from the low vantage point of a
rowboat, but the sea creatures seem to be making a point of coming up
very close so even I can't possibly fail to see them. And then they
cruise around me repeatedly while I ineptly try to catch a few shots of
them with my video camera. It's as if they're coming to visit and to
welcome me to their kingdom – and I appreciate their good manners and
hospitality very much indeed.

[photo: Sorry this picture is a bit blurry, but it's the best shot I
managed to get of his face. I've got some other pics that show off his
beautiful markings – I'll post one tomorrow.]

Other Stuff:

The day continued to deliver good things. While I was talking with Mum
on the phone there was a double rainbow. The northerly wind moved around
to the east where it stayed for the rest of the day, allowing me to make
some progress in a blissfully straight line south. I crossed over 5
degrees north – another milestone on the way to the Equator. The
afternoon was sunny, bright and glorious – a welcome change from the low
grey skies of the last few days. It's all good.

Quick answers to quick questions:

Q: How long does it take you to pull the sea anchor back onboard?
A: Normally about half an hour to get it back on board – of which about
5-10 minutes is retrieving the anchor and 20 minutes is getting all the
ropes stowed. But when there's a whale shark involved it takes a lot
longer!

Weather report:

Position at 2200 HST: 04 49.680N, 175 25.124W
Wind: 3-15 knots, N-E
Seas: 3-6ft, NE
Weather: sunny with high stacked cumulus clouds for most of the day, sky
clearing towards sunset.

Weather forecast, courtesy of weatherguy.com – with special thanks to
Rick for this additional forecast at my request

As of Sunday, 18 July 2009. As mentioned in previous reports, wind
predictions will be with an added level of uncertainty due to the
naturally occurring spatially and temporally variable conditions in the
equatorial regions. Most forecast models are tuned to the mid latitudes
and do not handle the equatorial regions very will. There is also a lack
of real time, qualified ship observations that populate the models. To
mitigate the model uncertainty and lack of data, measured data from
satellites complement other forecast aids. There is still an increased
uncertainty which you are experiencing.

The good news is you are almost through the southern boundary of the
ITCZ. There is minimal convection south of 05N. The other good news is
as you cross 05N there should be increased easterly flowing current. Any
movement eastward is good for an equatorial crossing should you decide.
And a west wind also pushes you east for better line up on potential
landing spots in the southern hemisphere. I was pleased at your slight
movement eastward from Thursday's position.

The challenging news is the winds have been recently measured at Eerly
at 5-10kts. South of 05N, they are ESE 5-10 and south of 03N ESEerly at
7-12kts.

The combined affects of how variable wind direction and speed and ocean
current affect your boat remains to be seen. All you can do to keep your
chin up and row with extra determination and you WILL get through it.
You have been through worse before and came out on top. So I know you
can do it!

Sky conditions: Partly to mostly cloudy. Isolated rainshowers, squalls,
and possible thunderstorms.

Next Update: Monday, 20 July

27 Comments

  • Wow! Sounds like a great rush.

    A whale of a tale to tell with the world, a whale of a tale to tell, about a whale shark and two rainbows

    Got a whale of a tale to tell ya, lads
    A whale of a tale or two
    'Bout the whale shark and two rainbows
    after a day of gloom and doom.
    I swear by my tattoo

    Your blog "whale story" almost sound like the song from 20000 Leagues Under The Sea

    Do you have a tattoo Roz?

    Cheers
    ~ Gregory

  • I can't imagine what a massive surprise that must've been to have that gigantic head appear in the water close to you. How did you manage not to have a heart attack?

    I've seen the whale sharks here in the Georgia Aquarium, and they are so majestic to watch. Yours must have been very curious about you to hang out for so long.

    We went out to the lake at Stone Mountain yesterday and spent about 3 hours on the water in our tandem sit-on-top kayak (the uber-beginner's kayak). Really gruelling conditions: Winds from the SW at about 3-5 kts, occasional swells from 6 – 8 inches. Sighted turtles, blue heron, ducks and geese. Great afternoon.

    Glad to see such great progress today.

  • To Phil and Alvaro: I am sorry but I will not be sending your comments on to Roz as she is unable to access links with her limited access via satellite phone. Each day I copy these comments and send them to Roz by email. Perhaps other readers would be happy to follow the links you provided. Thanks for your interest, Rita (aka Mum).

  • Roz,
    It seems as though, the closer you are to your immediate island objective, the greater the psychological impact of daily (or nightly) gains and losses becomes. Perhaps it is time to turn the binoculars around (literally and figuratively) and gain some perspective on how far you come. Also, by looking through the binoculars backwards, towards your intended destination, the surprise gains and the undesirable losses will tend to be moderated.

  • That must have been a fantastic way to start your day. And, I loved your tweet – SHARK. Ha. Great stuff. I wonder why he took such an interest in your little boat? And where was Birdbrain in all of this excitement?
    You and Birdbrain remind me of an old Cary Grant movie – Father Goose I think – in which Grant's character is stalked by a pelican. At first he tries to shoo it away but since that does no good he eventually just accepts the bird's company.

  • Roz, You are in the area where an Eclipse may be partly visible, on July 22. Don't look directly at it. Marshall Islands thru Kiribati Islands.

    The central line of the Moon’s shadow begins at 00:53 UT (Universal Time) on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 in India’s Gulf of Khambhat (Bay of Cambay) and crosses through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, and China. After leaving mainland Asia, the path crosses Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and curves southeast through the Pacific Ocean where the maximum duration of totality reaches 6 min 39 s

  • Hi Roz! The whale shark must have been an amazing sight! I just wanted to chime in and let you know I am inspired by your adventure and cheering for you!

  • Should a 30 foot whale shark show up and want to scratch her back on the keel I might get a bit nervous.
    I see green turtles quite often but they usually show up near a reef maybe you are near a place where a current is upwelling and that would be good. I sure hope you make a safe landfall.

  • It's neat you got to see a shark I was at a beach on long island sound yesterday, one with no life guard, and my first thought was "am I more likely to be attacked by a shark because I am off from all the others?". Fortunately, the Great White sharks do not usually show up in Long Island Sound before August, and we have had a cold spring, so maybe not. I have seen wild whales, but no wild sharks. The real weird ones are that Basking Sharks in opinion. Also fun, the Goblin Shark, the Cookie Cutter Shark, the Greenland shark(covered in hangers on) and the Angel Shark to name a few that I would like to see. Anyway, it was probably best that you respected the Sharks space, and also, catching back up to you boat might be a problem. good luck getting through this seemingly endless ITCZ that you have been talking about.

  • Wonderful news on your progress – Keep up the hard work – It is exciting to see such good results after a tough day. It is quite thrill to have such a beast take an interest in your travels. Hope you have other sightings to go along with this one since you seem to be in a relatively active biological zone.

  • You did well with the whale shark. I have just returned from holidaying in Exmouth half way up the West Australian coast, the whale shark season is just coming to it end. They boast it is the only place in the world that you can interact with Whale sharks, you proved them wrong |-)

    Chris

  • Frankly, dear Roz, we your faithful fans aren’t nearly as concerned about your encountering a man-eating as we are your encountering a nakedwoman-eating shark!

  • Thank you Phil for more information about the eclipse. I was so thrilled to share in Roz's excitement, on the phone, just after she had seen the whale shark. This unique creature is in fact a very large fish; it is endangered, and there is a website asking people to report sightings, and if possible a photograph of a particular part of its body for identification purposes. Roz and I will see what we can do to report her sighting. Rita.

  • Hi Roz, looks like you are starting to tack like a sailboat so you can line yourself up for a landing someplace TBD. I love seeing wildlife and the whale shark even let you touch it? That's impressive.

    Just wondering if your book is going to be published as an audiobook. Will you narrate it yourself??

    -Sindy

  • Thanks, Wireless.Phil for info on the eclipse. Checking heavens-above.com for Roz's current coordinates and time zone shows the new moon will be at 16:35 Tuesday 21 July in Hawaii time zone. I suppose that would be the time of maximum eclipse as well. I believe the July 22 pertains to those majority of Asian countries viewing just the other side of the IDL.

    NASA's Orthographic (Global) Projection is a bit hard to read but seems to confirm that Roz will experience (note I did not use "see" — Roz please do not gaze at sun) a near-full ~80% eclipse at about 03:30 UT to 04:00 UT.

    Roz, we can't wait to read about your experience. Also, please be on the watch for the first sighting of the crescent moon just after sunset on Wednesday. (The crescent will set about an hour after the sun July 22.) You will have much better opportunity to see the crescent if you have broken clouds on Thursday July 23 as the moon will set about two hours after the sun. Let us know the time you observe — or don't observe as the case may be — Tues, Weds, Thurs and cloud conditions and I will report to CrescentMoonWatch.org for you. Yours will again be the farthest east report and get special notice by MoonWatch folks. Good luck!

  • Roz,

    I've been listening to several of the Bernard Cornwell "Sharpe's" Napoleonic War era novels* with my Audible.com subscription (thanks to last summer's listening), and the phrase Roz's Regulars came to me. Just another option, and definitely not as diminutive as Rozlings. You could perhaps use different versions based on the way you're feeling at the time.

    Best,
    Joan

    *Bernard Cornwell highly recommended to others who like history and a ripping good action novel.

  • Roz, 37 miles to the 4th parallel … here's hoping you'll cross 4N this time tomorrow (6:40 pm). With luck, you'll get a tail wind or doldrums … got my fingers crossed for you.

  • What an amazing creature, and what an amazing experience! I'm trying to imagine the sheer quantity of food they must hoover up to be able to grow so huge. At 8 feet long it sounds like this guy was a youngster. Fabulous!

  • Roz,
    I admire very much what you do. And I thank you. Your story gave me a kick last year. I lost several years ago everything and I became very ill. But I made a restart with sports every day. Now I'm fighting to come back in life. And it goes up. Thank you and good luck for you.
    Tom

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