To the Phoenix Islands

To the Phoenix Islands

Christmas to Kanton Island – Kiribati

by Jessica MacIntosh – Deckhand aboard Sea Dragon.

As we approach Kanton Island and our passage comes to an end, there is a new energy about the boat, excitement for what is ahead. Coffee is one thing that signals the near end of a passage – no longer do we need to opt for herbal tea so we can catch much-needed sleep between watches. As I heard the grinder go off this morning, I don’t know what I was excited for more : our arrival, or the coffee itself. I’ve never been on a boat where one pot of coffee is enough for the whole crew, so I traded in half of my 8 hours rest for a fresh cup. Worth it.

photo by P. Barr-Watson

This is our sixth day since we departed Christmas Island. Running on a four on, eight off watch schedule, we all had plenty of time to get to know each other, get rest, cook and eat delicious melas, get some little boat projects done, and conduct some science along the way. A lot of us have been listening to podcasts during our night watches, covering issues abundant in modern society – religion, race and politics, to name a few. With the most explosive night skies overhead, sunrises like silent choruses, fiery sunsets, and eerily quiet, glowing orange moon rises, we seemed the farthest away from what we were listening to. We pondered these different views of the world as we looked out upon our own world of sea and sky. At once I felt utterly small and limited, and bewildered and inspired. How could I comprehend all these perspectives and invest in their causes (if I was so inspired) when we know so little of what is above us in the sky and below us in the sea – the ultimate conspirators of our reality? But at the same time, I was comforted in that it is the different ways in which we view the world around us, and our hopes for the betterment of it, that make the quest for understanding our world so fulfilling.

photo by Shanley McEntee

In Kanton, we hope to find some of the world’s healthiest coral reefs. It is expected that the corals on these reefs are naturally more resilient to bleaching than corals in other locations, and we hope to get closer to the answer of why, and how. We will have a local observer from Kanton on board with us while we are there, and we are all looking forward to his local knowledge of the area. The open ocean has been an appropriate environment to consider big ideas about the world, and now we are zooming into a tiny corner of our planet, examining with utmost interest the molecular, organismal, and ecosystem level to answer some small questions, that, as I look out over these shades of blue, I think are just as important as the big ones.

This passage and the next part of our journey remind me of the following excerpt from Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us:

“In the artificial world of his cities and towns, man often forgets the true nature of his planet and the long vistas of its history, in which the existence of the race of men has occupied a mere moment of time. The sense of all these things comes to him most clearly in the course of a long ocean voyage, when he watches day after day the receding rim of the horizon, ridged and furrowed by waves; when at night he becomes aware of the earths rotation as the stars pass overhead; or when, alone in this world of water and sky, he feels the loneliness of his earth in space. And then, as never on land, he knows the truth that his world is a water world, a planet dominated by its covering mantle of ocean, in which the continents are but transient intrusions of land above the surface of the all-encircling sea.”

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