We are somewhere in the North Atlantic Gyre about 300 nautical miles southeast of Bermuda.  Our Saturday evening departure from St. George’s, under clearing skies and fair winds, raised further everyone’s already high excitement for the voyage and, after sailing all day Sunday, we reached the gyre this morning.

We already spotted some small bits of plastic in the ocean yesterday and this morning all hands were on deck by 0730 hours preparing for the first trawl at 0800.

Before we left St. George’s we had made a couple of practice lifting and lowering exercises while still tied to the dock.  Those rehearsals helped familiarize us newbies both with the trawl device itself and with each other working together as a team. The practice paid off this morning when we deployed the trawl for three flawless collections, albeit under perfect weather conditions. We were done trawling by 1200 hours and ready for lunch! Julia was very pleased and happy with the day’s work.

After lunch much of the crew rested then, at the 1600 hour change of the watch, Captain Eric called for all who wanted to stop for a swim to come up on deck with the swimsuits and towels. The sea was calm and the wind light.

I was the first to dive into the warm (31C/87F) dark blue ocean. What an experience! Deep end of the pool – 4700M deep! The rest of my crewmates were right behind me and we all swam about enjoying the refreshing warm water until it was time to pull up the ladder and get underway again. For all of us first-time mid-ocean swimmers it will be the memory of a lifetime.

We were soon back to routine sailing until about 1720 hours when Captain Eric spotted something large and white floating about 100M off the port bow. In addition to the trawl’s catch, we had been seeing mezzo-plastics (several cm-long), some larger, floating by all day but this object was big, coiled on itself like a great white serpent. Eric called out and immediately turned the boat toward the “thing” – we did not know what it was. Shanley came up from the cabin with the boathook as Eric positioned the boat for capture.

A huge tangle of polypropylene mooring hawser floated before us, under it swam fish, above it hovered several shearwaters. Shanley snagged it with the boathook through its eye-splice and lifted high enough for us to grab and try to pull aboard. We succeeded in getting about five or six meters aboard when we encountered the huge knot and realized we were not going to be able to lift it all by hand. A halyard was swung over and the Sea Dragon’s power winch lifted it high out of the water and over the railing. On deck the crew stretched it out and managed to untie the great knot. Our rough estimate is that the rope is about 40M long – truly a beast. The crew hauled it to the stern and coiled it for transport to Horta and, hopefully, shipment back to Delft for further study. So begins our first day of the great ocean clean up!

– Tom Ventresco, The Ocean Cleanup Gyre expedition #5 | Bermuda to Azores, June 29, 2015


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