Black Sun Expedition
Log of the Pinto Clara
February 21 1998 to March 1 1998
By Alan Rifkin
The Black Sun Expedition, made up of myself and 5 friends set sail for the eclipse in a 41 foot yacht from Pointe-a-Petra Guadeloupe. We explored the islandís small villages and enjoyed carnival. Snorkeling there is fantastic. And the French foods great but fattening. I donít remember how many chocolate croissants I consumed. Here is a compilation of notes from the trip.
On the Morning of the Eclipse, we motored out of Deshaies at 6:30 to head to Ilet a Kahouanne, a piece of land too small to be called an island that is between Guadeloupe and Monserrat (you could see the lava flows and the weather caused by the residual heat on Monserrat clearly). There was an ominous feeling to the approach to the island. It felt like the opening of King Kong or Jurassic Park. One crewmember commented that if we saw a large gate, we were out of there. We anchored the boat and took the dinghy to the island where we set up. We had the island all to ourselves, except for a few wild goats. By the time of the eclipse eight more boats showed up. The island population swelled from zero to forty.
From First contact to four minutes before second contact, we were playing hide and seek with the clouds. There were some great sky rainbow/glory effects. Four minutes before totality the sky opened a window, and the effect of totality was amazing, as if someone had thrown a light switch. The corona was dazzling and 3 planets were plainly visible. The prominences were what blew me away. There was one big one with a loop in it, and many others just streaming. I was like a deer in headlights. I wanted to take a roll of film, but all I snapped were 6. I had nine kilos of water hanging from the tripod to steady it, but the pictures still show shake. It was truly an amazing experience.
I have also posted some pictures at http://www/Rifkin.com/Blacksun
This once in a life time trip had many things going for it.
With all this happening, it was going to be hard to live up to our expectations. Not only did it live up to our expectations, it blew them all away!
The boat was a Beneteau 405 with all the amenities and was really a first class boat (3 staterooms, 2 bathrooms, 3 showers, hot and cold water, stereo CD, autopilot, electric windlass and lots more). The provisions were very fine local and French foods. We ate like pigs and still had lots of food left over.
The high point of the trip was of course the Eclipse. It was a partially cloudy day and the sun was playing peek-a-boo with us and we were starting to worry, but 4 minutes before totality, the sky cleared. Not only was the eclipse fantastic, but there were planets and stars visible in the sky and there were many solar promenances- one was even looped! This one goes in the books as the eclipse of the century. I can not begin to describe what a total solar eclipse does to you. The 5 people I brought with me were all skeptics and thought it would be nice. They were all totally awe stuck and now want to go to the next eclipse.
Day 1 Saturday February 21 1998
Fly to Guadeloupe, Via San Juan
Relax at the Hotel Flour De Epee
Day 2 Sunday February 22
9 AM for Navigation briefing
10:30 boat check out, then Noon Departure
Sail to Basse Terre
Day 3 Monday February 23
Explore town and the market and carnival
Day 4 Tuesday February 24
Sail to Anse al Barque and snorkel, Do the same at Pigeon Island
Sail on to Deshaies for the night and watch the fun as boats from all over converge on this small cove.
Day 5 Wednesday February 25
Explore sites for viewing eclipse, then go into town and maybe snorkeling
Day 6 Thursday February 26 Eclipse Day
Pack picnic lunch (chicken)
Schlep telescopes to viewing site
Overcome the awe and continue
At Third Contact, pack up and head South to anse al Barque, arrive at sunset
Day 7 Friday February 27
Sail to Les Saintes, Terre-de-haut
Explore, and have lunch at the Saladrie
Day 8 Saturday February 28
Have warm bread and croissants delivered to boat for breakfast
Do some snorkeling
Sail to Pointe a Petre
Day 9 Sunday March 1
Explore the Lighthouse at Ilet Gossie
Drop off boat by Noon
Catch the 4 PM flight to San Juan
From Left to right
Nancy Moraski ( the Moraskiís and I have been on many diving trips together)
Joan Heffler (a computer programmer with a thirst for travel)
(Taken right after 3rd. Contact)
Day 1 Saturday February 21 1998
Up at 4:30 AM out the door at 5, go get Dan and Nancy, off to the airport, everything going smooth.
After years of planning this trip I donít believe it is finally happening.
In the sky at 35,000 Judy and Dan are sound asleep, no way that I can.
Lunch at the PR airport, a very disappointing dish of salad for $5.50 and a watered downed soda for 2.50
Meet Joan with no problem.
Fly to Guadeloupe
The ATR has more room than the 757. Joanís luggage is not here. They promise delivery tonight.
A van meets us and takes us to the hotel, very nice, but big. We have a beautiful view out our balcony.
Relax at the Hotel Flour De Epee. We plan dinner at Mahoneís, (from a recommendation on a web site) but no one at the hotel knows where it is. We walk out of the hotel onto the street and stop at a lovely gift shop where the ladies buy these interesting outfits. We ask her where the restaurant is and she points out the door. The restaurant is almost next door to the hotel. Appetizer is fruit and smoked fish. I have Dorado with a herb sauce- delicious. Dan has a rum soaked steak. J&N have grilled fish. For desert sorbet over fresh fruit, but Dan has the Crème Brulee Maracudja, very light and delicious. I highly recommend this restaurant. The bill was about 800, cheap.
9:50 waiting for Joanís luggage and Rick.. Joan is worried. They both show up about midnight.
Day 2 Sunday February 22
Breakfast buffet at hotel, lots of food.
Van picks us up right on time to take us to the marina.
9 AM for Navigation briefing for Rick and me, the others go shopping.
10:30 boat check out, lots to check out and pack. Departure 12:37 with Patrice along for checkout.
Sail to Basse Terre 6í swells, but we are moving like hell, better than 7 knots. Dan gets sea sick. A few hours latter when I can no longer stand I get sea sick, but not bad. Everyone else is fine. Waypoint #015 is Basse Terre light. Waypoint 016 is Basse Terre Marina.
Arrive Basse Terre marina 5:00 PM. $90 to send Patrice back by cab. We did not have time to stop or make lunch. We make a salad and hot dogs for dinner. I finally get time to make my speech to the crew and present them with the special travel mugs, and official Black Sun Decals. We just had one hell of a day and we are now a crew ready to continue on our great adventure.
To bed at 9:30. Looking up through my hatch I see Orion. The sky is very clear down here. We will spend much time looking at the sky. The boat is really beautiful and is outfitted with the best of everything, Roller furling on main and jib, all lines routed through tunnels to cockpit, all the winches are double action and self tailing. We have 2 bathrooms and 3 showers, cell phone, autopilot, 10 disk CD player, and anything else you can think of. I have never seen a diesel engine that starts so easy.
Noise from the idiots in the big catamaran that sneeks in and out at night and the drums from carnival keep us awake for awhile.
The Pinto Clara
Day 3 Monday February 23
Up at 6:30
Breakfast is Swiss cheese omelets and fresh fruit (the eggs donít agree with me)
We take a cab into town. The cab driver would make a great Boston Kamikaze driver, go through parking lots and across the divider and taking the opposite lane.
Explore town and the market and carnival. Find a computer store with free Internet. I check weather and email back our cell phone number. Two stores donít know how to use the credit card machines. Lots of carnival activity, some woman was giving away this wonderful fruit bread. Lots of noise from the drummers Lunch at a place by the stairs. Pizza and fresh Bonita and lots of Orangina. A quick rain shower cools things off a bit. More shopping, postcards and vanilla beans. I also buy a calculator. Rick and I head back to the boat. The others visit the fort where the French surrendered after only 24 hours. Clean up. Test the telescope, lots of sunspots, but the rig shakes a lot in the wind.
Shrimp cocktail for appetizer & a pitcher of Pinia coladas
Fish = Malone Blanc with rice and satay sauce, desert is tropical fruit and cookies
Dock charge is 138f per night, I give him $45 for the two nights. We watched a sunset from a jet black sand beach and saw a Double green flash. Some island is out there.
To bed at 9:30, too noisy tonight from the Coca-Cola sponsored race boat (there is a race around the island going on)
Day 4 Tuesday February 24
Up at 6 AM
Out of the marina by 6:45
Sail to Anse al a Barque and snorkel and have breakfast. It is a very nice gunk hole that you can even use at night due to a lighthouse and a light marker. Off to Pigeon Island, for snorkeling. Nice but some swells. The dive operations we see are either cattle car or skiffs with out sunshades. Joan and I decide the snorkeling is enough for now.
Very nice reach (Sail) on to Deshaies for the night at this small cove. We anchor on a reef by the southern wall. Great snorkeling right under the boat. Dancing and drumming in the streets for carnival.
We watch the fun as boats from all over converge on and jam into not enough room.
The men take the dinghy to visit and talk to people who have come from all over the world. A mega yacht with a helicopter shows up and a lot of tall ships. The green flash is visible through the rigging of other boats. Everyone is standing on their decks watching the sunset. It is magnificent and gets a big round of applause.
Lamb chops with herbs du Provance and peas or Hunan fish for dinner.
Day 5 Wednesday February 25
I am up a few times at night to check our position. I see a very bright mast light next to us, but no boat. I wake up enough to see that Venus is amazingly bright in the sky. Brighter than the mast head lights on the other boats.
Up at 6 AM, Out by 7, we have some trouble with the anchor windlass. We motor to Ilet a Kahouanne. On getting close to the island it is very eerie, someone says if we see a large fence and gate like in King Kong, we are leaving. You can also see the heat coming off of Monserrat and the lava flows down the side. We take the dinghy through the surf and explore the island. We are the only people there. There are some wild goats. We pick out a spot and stack some rocks, and leave an offering (carrots and chocolate) to the spirits. The goats will eat it. I start to clear the sand were I will set up. I find a piece of beach glass in the shape of a crescent moon, I know this is the place to be. Back to Deshaie (pronounced da hay) get water for the boat (100f). Walk around town. This is our only time of bad weather, there is a little drizzle. I buy a sun and moon at a local shop. We stop in a very nice restaurant right next to the dock for some acras ( a local fish dish) but the Crab Frais are much better. Lots of boats have been showing up all day. We take the dinghy out to visit boats and the tall ships, we get a total of 7 of them. I am the only snorkeler.
Appetizer is Eye of newt (curried tuna canapés with a green olive in it). I give a lecture on what to look for and serve a special blackbean and rice dish that looks like an eclipse (it even has tomato paste prominence, that by coincidence are where they will appear tomorrow).
Dinner is hot dogs and hamburgers, (or curried tuna) potatoes Provance and chocolate pudding for desert.
Day 6 Thursday February 26 Eclipse Day
Up at 6:00, Breakfast
Joan and Rick Pack picnic lunch (chicken)
We watch the parade of tall ships, seven in all! This cove is just packed with boats
We leave and 20 boats follow us, but only five follow us to the island the rest are heading out to the centerline. We are the first to arrive at the island and we relax and snorkel. The snorkeling here is just beautiful. The sea is a little ruff for all of us in the dingy, so we have to make 2 trips. Between the wind ( 11 mph and gusting higher) and sand I have trouble setting up. The motor drive is almost useless and I take it off. I miss first contact. The population of this island has swelled to almost 30 to 40 people. The sun plays peek-a-boo with the clouds and we see some sun rainbows. Three minutes before totality the sky opens, the light has been getting weirder and weirder. Totality- WOW!!! Itís night. The temp has dropped 18 degrees. I see three planets around the sun. You canít describe the colors of the corona. The solar promenances have me glued to the scope. I forget to take many pictures- I only take 6 of the 30 I planned to take and none of the corona. The wind has added some shake to the pictures, nine kilos of water are hanging on the tripod, but I think the problem is in the slow-motion adapter that was never designed to hold so much weight. An edge of fire appears, then the diamond ring dazzles us and puff- itís over. Three minutes and ten seconds. Please please do it again. We hug each other and watch the daylight return. We take pictures and talk to some of the other people here, pack up and head South to anse al a Barque, arrive at sunset, a beautiful hugh green flash just as we enter the cove. What a day. Now its time to make dinner. We want some greasy food, but they didnít supply us with any, so we make up a few batches of fresh Cajun potato chips and a fresh vegetable plate to go with them. I make up another batch of satay fish with mushroom and French (really French, most of the canned and frozen food on the boat is from France and of the highest quality) cut green beans. Desert is a big bar of fancy chocolate and cookies. We then turn off the lights and stair at the stars and the Milky Way (itís very bright). Later than night we can see the Southern Cross. Way too much energy this day to get to sleep early.
Here are Joanís notes on the Eclipse:
Feb 26, 1998
Eclipse day has dawned!
I heard the 5am church bells, and can still see lots of stars.
Thankfully the weather has cleared up since yesterday's gloom.
At 6am, the church bells rang and rang and rang. There are at least 75 boats anchored in this little cove; I wonder where they're all going for the eclipse?
Nancy still has claustrophobia in her "stateroom", and I'm still having it with the "bathroom". We only have a few more days to go, so we'll survive.
After everyone who wanted to, had a showers, we got underway to the "Big Kahouna", the little island where we'll be viewing the eclipse. There are some big puffy clouds in the sky, and it seems to be clearing up.
There is some wind here, too.
Everyone is getting excited - we have books with maps of the eclipse, books about viewing eclipses, and lots of nervous energy on board. More later...
For lunch, we're having chicken - Rick and I made it together.
I'm starting to woof and stamp my feet - I can't believe how happy and excited I am. It's about 2 hours to the eclipse...
Back on the boat after the awesome show that nature gave us today.
I don't really know what I expected, but the sheer beauty and awe of this is almost more than I can verbalize. The moment that the moon covered the sun, and the corona shone through, the whole sky was lit in pinks and whites and glorious colors. The drama of the clouds covering the eclipsing, and the window of time that the clouds parted were just icing on the cake. Eclipse light is eerie. I don't think that any photo can capture what it looks like. The light gets more and more subtle until the moment that the planets begin to appear. Suddenly, it is like dawn or twilight, the moon just covers the sun, planets appear, the corona appears, and it is truly what Michael and I would call "the insignificance of man". It's easy to see how ancient people would have been frightened by this spectacle of nature. I knew it was coming, and still was overcome by the whole thing.
There were other people on the "Big Kahouna" with us. The group we spoke to the most was from California.
So much happened - the magical lighting, the temperature dropped 18 degrees, Dan's camera changed its F stop, all in the course of 90 minutes.
It's hard to believe that this lasted for about 3 minutes.
I HAVE to see another eclipse. This is too amazing to do just once.
Rif saw a loop backed solar flare with a second flare coming off it. "This is what astronomers live for". Also, early in the event, I saw sun spots.
Even my most cynical friends would have been awed by this!
March 1, 1998
(I have little drawings in my book for each part of the eclipse that I'm describing, so use your imagination!)
... I will try to describe the eclipse again - a little after 1pm, I looked through my viewer to see first contact. Rif had the telescope going and I was able to see 2 distinct areas of sun spots. Each area had 2 spots.
We had some clouds, but were able to monitor the progress of the shadow. The moon's shadow devoured the sun spots, and after about half the sun was occluded, the light changed a bit. I called it eerie before
and that is still the best word I can find. As the shadow progressed, a magical quality of light began to develop. The colors were muted, almost like an impressionist painting. The lighting was like what I've
seen in Florence, or like the Monet paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. It was fascinating to watch the horns of the sun as the shadow progressed.
As time passed and the clouds were more and more in the way, it began to feel like the edge of twilight. Suddenly, still using the glasses or filtered telescope, you could see the moon's shadow on the sun and then
all at once, 2nd contact - totality!!
It was as dark as twilight, and in almost orchestrated sequence first Jupiter and then Mercury blinked in, and the sky became rosy and lavender, and farther away it was darker blue/black. The corona was
white with pink around the edges.
I looked into the telescope and saw some sort of prominence activity at 4 o'clock.
The emotions that poured over me were a series of joy and excitement and wonder and awe and thankfulness and how insignificant humans are. Try to imagine ancient people going about their business, seeing the sun go away, praying with all of their being to have the sun return, and then have it be so. It's easy to see how any type of worship could have gotten started and then continued. Even knowing how this happens, knowing what to expect, I was screaming and jumping up and down, and thanking G-d that I was able to see this incredible, wonderful, beautiful part of creation.
I asked Fabio of the Moorings if he saw the eclipse, and he called it " a work of G-d". I couldn't agree more!!
End of Joanís notes
Day 7 Friday February 27
Waypoint#017 Anse al a Barque
Up at 6 AM Cool. On our way by 6:42
8:30 we try to go to Basse Terre for water, docking is a disaster due to the wind, not a big disaster, but a nuisance, because many boats are waiting for this one dock and we almost have to fight over the order of arrival. Not to mention the wind blowing and that this place is a little small for turning boats and you have to back out of the marina, while someone else is trying to get in. 9:30 departure, 50f for the water
Sail to Les Saintes, Terre-de-haut. Need three tacks to make it into the harbor. Dan has been our helmsman. Nancy uses the words "Dan" and "sailor" in the same sentence and we have to stop and discus it, because up to this point it was an impossibility. It was been a wonderful "sail" and Dan is now hooked on sailing.
We arrive at 12:30. We quickly anchor and go into town for lunch.
The Saladrie was recommended at the briefing (not the one by the town dock, but the one over the hill). We have a wait for a table and walk around town. Town is adorable and the lunch at the Saladrie (mostly smoked fish saladís) is just fantastic so is the decor of the place. I go back to the boat to change cloths (I fell in an underwater hole and got wet while bringing the dinghy to shore, the rest of the party tours the town. But when I get to the boat, it is not where I left it. I look around and finally see it hiding behind the boat that was behind us. I re-anchor, this time not so quickly. Latter I go into town and pick up the rest of the crew and do some shopping. We buy a copy of an old map at a wonderful clothing store owned by a Jewish artist who paints on clothing, Yves Cohen is his name- check out his web site at www.maogany.com/ycohen. The rest of them also got to visit the strange little airport that is between two mountains.
Actually one of them is a volcano because you can see the smoke coming out of it, makes a good wind sock, but after Monserrat blew its top a few months ago (we were originally supposed to go there) but nervous at the idea of being close to an active volcanic chain.
At sunset Joan got out her Sabbath candles and holders that she received at her Bas Mitzvah, and explained to everyone the Sabbath ceremony as she preformed it. We than had a discussion on the many Jewish prayers and the symbolism of our ceremonies and holidays with the other crewmembers.
Dinner- Pork chops au Provance ( we had a big jar of some wonderful "herbs du Provance" and we used it whenever we could) or Cajun Tuna, French cut green beans au gratin and Cajun corn. Desert was a double pudding with a chocolate surprise.
An exhausted crew went to bed at 8:30, but latter we got up to look at the stars and the Southern Cross again. Yesterday has caught up with us.
Day 8 Saturday February 28
Up at 6 AM to the sound of church bells, roosters and a dinghy. The dinghy is very important. It belongs to Jerome the baker, and he delivers from boat to boat, fresh baked croissants, warm baggets of bread, fruit and coffee and other things. You can place special orders on channel 68. The pain du chocolat (chocolate croissants) were just too good to resist, I ate three of them for breakfast. Our bill was $25.
I take Judy to town to run. Latter Nancy and I go back to get her and we do some vegetable shopping, I try to buy some plantains, but the vegetable lady does not want to sell then to me because they are not bananas. Luckily Nancy was able to convince her I did want plantains. Nancy gets a nice watermelon. We also try to find some more of the Tourment Dí Amour cakes (agony of love), which are an island specialty, a small cake with a sweet coconut filling, served to visitors- we wanted more of them after pigging out on them for desert the previous day at the Saladrie.
We motor around Sugar Cain Island to a lovely cove and anchor for snorkeling. We manage to hook our anchor on the sewer pipe, but we finally get off at 11:00 AM.
(The view of the cove and Yves Cohenís painting of it)
We arrive at Pointe-a-Petra (Peter was a Jewish fisherman who found this a nice place, a few hundred years ago) at 3:45 and almost run into a cruise ship or vice-a-versa. The Market has closed and the town is locked up tight, a little depressing. Back to the boat for afternoon snack- Fruit, Pate, and some white wine pickled mackerel.
Dinner- appetizer is fresh pineapple with a Kilo of shrimp. Then Satay fish again, I offer to make other types of fish, but I have brought this special curry power and everyone is crazy about it. Herbed rice and corn. For desert I make fried plantains with a caramel rum sauce. I get out the fire extinguisher and we made it Flambé. I donít remember the rest, and I donít drink, but the Local Island rum and French wines were not that much more expensive than bottled water.
Day 9 Sunday March 1
Up at 6:00
Leave Point a Petra at 7:30. We have a leisurely breakfast of fruit and French pastries. We get a brief light rain, but it is only a sprinkle. No wind at all, the sea is flat. We motor to Ile Gossier. I take everyone but Rick to the island to explore the Lighthouse, then I head back to clean up and pack. About a half-hour latter I go back and get them. When we are ready to leave we have trouble with the windlass. Good thing we are only in 12 feet of water and the hand ratchet is easy.
Back to PP to drop off boat by Noon. Leftovers for lunch. The debriefing is very easy and nothing to sign.
(Left over food stuffs: 10 bottles of water, 4 Ls milks, 1 can of pate, 1 can of French Spam, 2 cans of tomato sauce and 2 bags of pasta, bag of onions, bag of garlic, some potatoes, soda, fruit, veggies, rice, 2 lamb chops, 2 hot dogs, 6 eggs, cheese, 6 yogurts, 2 butters and lots more. (Plus the soup and Griffles I brought))
Rick heads out for a hotel for the night, because he couldnít get a flight out with us. We head out early for the airport (the airport is more interesting then the area of PP around the marina) Lots of nice shopís in the airport. You can get a two-foot long bagget sandwich for 15f ($2.50) everything smooth. We say goodbye to Joan in Puerto Rico. Dan gets singled out for customs inspection, but it is no problem. Long time boarding an overbooked flight home. Some woman had a ticket with Judyís seat number on it, but the Stews take care of it after a looong while. Getting close to home. Bradley is fogged in and the airport landing system is broken. We circle a while (11:17), then they decide to take us to JFK, but as we are on approach to JFK, we get word they fixed BDL, so back to BDL. Land at 11:57, get the luggage, drop Dan and Nancy back home, go home and unpack and canít believe it is really over.
PS If you had a chance to go on this trip and didnít take it, you blew it big time!