Gorilla Toothbrush

The most entertaining trawl to date surfaced two pen caps, a Korean toothbrush, and to much amusement, a grey plastic gorilla among the usual unidentifiable bits and pre-production nurdles. I’ve made a deal with Marcus, and should we happen to catch a lion, it’s mine.

(a closeup of the gorilla from Algalita’s photos)

Sea state is a bit calmer today, but we’re still racing North for the elusive high pressure zone that has been ‘two days away’ for the past 5 days running. It’s getting cooler now – we were about level with San Francisco yesterday. To follow our exact location follow the link to the Algalita website and register for the ship to shore blog.

The View From Here

Looks like this. All the way around, 12 miles to the horizon.

We are pretty much alone out here. An albatross or other bird sighting is an event that brings those awake up on deck. Yesterday morning we crossed the path of a giant container ship, fully loaded and headed east for Hong Kong. I wonder if plastic waste from North America is on board. It was only the second ship we’ve seen in a week.

When seas are calmer I feel like we are traveling through an artificial dome of blue and cloud and sky. I can imagine, Truman-show style, the bow piercing the canvas horizon at any minute.

This is also the view of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Not exactly somewhere you can get out and have a picnic, but debris continues to fill trawls and float past. On watch this afternoon I spotted a bottle, a square white float and a bunch of random bits. While hardly a floating trash heap, the presence of bits and pieces so far from anything, anyone, anywhere is a constant reminder of the impact of plastics on the sea.

On watch from 10pm-2am, I imagine the nets and floats and bottles passing by in the dark, the seas still churning, mixing pieces into the water column and out of sight and reach of the trawl.


Rough seas the first few days tossed the boat and tested our bellies. We’ve been chasing a high-pressure system straight North from Hawaii, looking for calmer waters, but it’s smaller than normal and keeps moving. Bouncing around again today, I feel like I’m trying to type on a galloping horse.

I miss entered an email address a few days back and posts didn’t make it, so sorry if things are bit out of order as I try to get things up to date.


We’ve finally arrived in the high pressure zone, and seas are calm this morning. Showered, refreshed and full of papaya I’m thinking life if pretty gosh-darn nice at the moment.

We’ve slowed the boat to 2 knots to deploy the first systematic ‘manta trawl,’ a device designed to skim the surface of the sea and sift out bits of plastic and sea life it encounters. Carefully timed and mapped, the resulting samples (we just call ‘trawls’) are collected for various scientific projects of both crewmembers and shore-based affiliates. The first of what is hopefully a minimum of 25 such trawls has come up with a bunch of bits and several fish.

Since yesterday we’ve been deploying the ‘high-speed trawl,’ that, while less representative of sea surfaces, skips along at a quicker clip, picking up fish and plastics for projects where distribution is less crucial. At 2 am last night I helped extract two small silver fish, which we wrapped in foil, located, dated and froze. Today also surfaced a beautiful Christmas ornament-sized glass float encrusted with gooseneck barnacles.

Just before dinner we spot a 6 foot diameter netball – a tangle of colourful, if plastic, derelict nets and ropes, and whatever else they have snared (possible crab trap) in their travels. We rush to slow the boat, taking in the sails, keeping an eye on the netball and manage to swing round and attach it to the boat. Brandon and Jin, our resident Korean film crew, scramble into their dive gear launching selves and cameras into the still churning seas. Swimming to keep up with the boat, they bring back footage of fish sheltering in the ropes and nets. Plastic, waste, and toxic, but also a synthetic shelter, mini-reef ecosystem harbouring life in the middle of the Pacific.

Learning To Fly

The first few days were quite a trial, getting using to an aquatic life in less than ideal sea conditions. While I will spare you the gritty details, I broke through the worst of it on the second night.

Waking at 2am for watch, I barely struggled into my ‘foulies’ (wet weather gear). I stumbled on deck, the cool air instant relief, and the milky way spilled across the sky. In these wee hours, First Mate Dale teaches me, complete sailing novice, to steer for the first time, using compass and stars to keep the 72 foot boat on course. Tethered to the boat by the 5 foot length of red webbing attached to my life vest- harness, I am jostled by swells I cannot judge in the dark, which send occasional heavy splashes of sea water direct to my face. Flying at 10 knots, with shooting stars above and bioluminescence below, I finally feel I am doing something as part of the crew. The rest of my watch team nods off as I hold the wheel through dawn.

To the Sea (Dragon)!

Leaving for the Sea Dragon in a few minutes. Have had trouble looking the ocean straight in the eye the past few days. Thunder rumbles matched nervous tummy grumbles last night, but I’m all packed for the third time and hopefully haven’t forgot anything vital. If you haven’t looked at a map recently, there’s nary and mini-islet for stretching land-legs between Hawaii and Vancouver – we will be sailing across some of the deepest reaches of the Pacific. We’re spending tonight on the boat in the harbour, perhaps to ensure nothing is forgotten, or maybe to weed out anyone with second thoughts before living in close confines for three weeks.

I’ll be almost completely offline, offgrid until at least July 27th  but will keep posting as much as possible. I have limited email access via satellite phone, and have (hopefully) arranged for blog comments to be sent my way if you have thoughts, questions, messages. Pretty photos will be few and far between due to data costs, but I’ll be sharing the highlights on the other side.