Sea Dragon motor sailed through the light and fickle winds of the Tropics before the Intertropical Convergence Zone brought us some welcome breeze, albeit in the unpredictable squalls of the Doldrums. We were sailing the vast expanse of the ocean known as the Pelagic Zone, which is known as the ocean equivalent of the desert, with little presence of sea life other than the microscopic examples we recovered in our samples every day and the odd sea bird or flying fish.
We marked the crossing of the Equator with a ceremony in which the crew wore sarongs and gold body tattoos, until the south-easterly Trades eventually presented themselves, allowing us to maintain a steady sailplan. As we had envisaged, the course had us hard on the wind and the planned stop at Ascension became untenable. So instead we bore away, eased the sails and set Sea Dragon on a direct course for Recife, Brazil.
Each day was spent gathering scientific data through water sampling and by trawling the surface water using a bespoke device called a Manta Trawl. We would trim the boat to maintain a steady speed of two knots through the water and rig a line through a block at the end of our spinnaker pole set to windward, on which the trawl would be rigged at surface level.
At the aft end of the trawl a removable ‘cod end’ was affixed, comprising a fine net in which we were able to gather our samples for study under the onboard microscope. Our sailplan changed just once a day to drop the staysail, engage the engine and deploy the trawl. Each trawl lasted for half an hour, before its contents were sorted and analysed under microscope in the saloon.
Amid an abundance of plankton, the evidence of small particles of plastic was unambiguous, despite the fact that the nearest land was often thousands of miles from our position. I found that every time a plastic bottle floated past, my stomach sank a little lower.
Arrival in Recife, with its developed skyline and electric blue water, was in stark contrast to the deprivation we saw in Senegal. The stopover enabled us to complete some urgent maintenance tasks, and it was also time for a crew change, after which we began the second leg of our expedition, sailing north along the east coast of Brazil, for our second Equatorial crossing of the trip.
This time the Trades allowed us to reach with a prevented main and poled-out yankee giving us good speeds throughout. Enviable conditions culminated in