Imagine my surprise when the toilet bowl that I was flushing suddenly lit up with dozens of tiny globules of light. It was the middle of the night out on the ocean, and I’d gone into the tiny head to relieve myself. In order to flush the toilet, I needed to flip a small valve, then pump a handle vigorously to bring in seawater, then flip the valve back to its original position and pump vigorously again to remove the seawater and other fluids. Both pumping actions resulted in flashes of light! Intrigued, I set my mind to thinking, and later to researching, and discovered that bacteria, or more likely tiny organisms called dinoflagellates, were being stimulated by their cell walls being bumped, and then a chemical compound (a”luciferin”) was reacting with oxygen, giving off a bluish light as a result. We see this transient light in the bow wake of the boat too, but I didn’t expect to see it in the toilet bowl!
Our leg from Newport to Eureka was full of unexpected occurrences, and several were light related. We were delayed getting away from Newport on Sept. 18, due to fog, but finally at 11am sailed south and this time stayed 8-10 miles offshore, not wanting to endure another dash for a port if we sailed a lot farther out. It turned out that this allowed me to watch the lights of the towns and isolated residences that we passed in the dark of night, imagining the lives on terra firma while we sailed with our little tricolor lights at the tip of the mast, and running lights port and starboard. Nothing needed fixing, the seas were calm, and it was very different from the sailing leg that came before. On the 19th we refueled in Coos Bay early in the morning, we needed to refuel because we had been motoring the whole way, only using the mainsail for stability, due to almost no wind. Even though Captain Nikk was frustrated at not being able to sail, First Mate Jan was happy because we were able to cook, eat, and drink without everything sloshing and sliding, and our 3-hour watches were very easy, just checking the radar and position and going above every 20 minutes or so to scan the waters for ships. Off Cape Blanco Nikk spotted two humpback whales only about 200 feet away, but the most unusual sighting happened right on the boat the next morning.
About sunrise on the 20th, when we were getting close to Crescent City, Nikk said “there’s a bird on the boat!” Sure enough, there was a Leach’s Storm Petrel hunkered down in the cockpit well. This is a bird about the size of a robin, with black feathers, a white rump patch, and long, long wings for its size. They migrate from Alaskan waters all the way to Argentina or perhaps New Zealand. We didn’t know what was wrong with it, but it let Nikk hold it, and then tried to burrow under the seat cushion down in the cockpit well under the wheel. When we got to Crescent City, we found the number of the Humboldt Bay Wildlife Care Center and called them. They told us that they would meet us in Eureka the following day, and take the bird to the care center. So we went off to explore Crescent City, thinking that we might stay there until we saw the only dock covered in seagull poop 6 inches deep. The smell was rather overwhelming. Poor Crescent City marina is still recovering from the tsunami caused by the Japanese earthquake in March, 2011. The city just received federal funds for repairs, and there was a lot of construction going on at the marina too, so continuing to Eureka seemed the best option. We did eat breakfast and a late lunch at the marina cafe, and walked down to the jetty to take pictures. Logging big redwoods and other trees was big business for this area for many years.
The locals called these flowers “Flamingo Lilies”
At 3:30 we left Crescent City and motored on, getting out about 8 miles by 8 pm. Suddenly our little Petey the Petrel became active, flapped his wings, and when Nikk took him out of the cockpit well he flew away to our cheers and good wishes for a safe migration!
Petey the Petrel
The sunset that night was brilliant.
On the light theme, I discovered that a setting Jupiter is bright enough to cast its own sparkle of light on the water, before this I thought only the sun and moon were brilliant enough to make that strong a reflection. We’ve sldo discovered that some fishing boats use three huge halogen lights while out fishing, and they light up the ocean like they were a small city. We saw many fishing boats as we waited for the light of the sun to return on Friday morning the 21st, waiting because the entrance to Humboldt Bay is not one we wanted to try in the dark. Finally we followed a fishing boat into the bay, then motored five miles north up the bay to Eureka, and the little marina on an island which is a Nature Preserve across the channel from downtown Eureka. The only buildings are the marina buildings, including another marina cafe with great food and service (salmon with panko/onion/butter crust, baked potatoes and green beans, and a lovely Bloody Mary, to replenish our veggie and protein needs). And I almost forgot, there was a National Weather Service building too. Saturday we went into Eureka to rent a car, and saw many, many Victorian homes and mansions, including the Carson Mansion, 16,000 square feet, built in 1888 by a lumber and mining baron. Resouce extraction really paid off for him, I think.
A quick trip to Portland for Nikk to take care of some legal business, and to pick up important pieces of equipment like the dive tanks means a pause in the journey. We hope to be continuing to San Francisco and Fisherman’s Wharf on Monday Oct 1, and finally Jan gets to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge if weather permits. Stay tuned for the next chapter hopefully written in the City by the Bay.