In the Doldrums

24 Apr

April 23, 2019/Day 200

Noon Position: 1 09S  29 20W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): WNW 4

Miles since departure: 27,300

Avg. Miles/Day: 137


By my estimation, we entered the doldrums this afternoon. The marker was pretty clear, our soft but steady easterly softened by half and turned northeast. Sundown. For several hours our average speed: 2.5 knots.

Squalls overnight. I was on deck almost every hour easing sheets or hauling in again. Rain. Giant lines of cloud backlit by a moon so bright it almost hurt the eyes.

Now the dominant bird is the Booby. I say dominant not like in the south, where it would indicate most of many; but rather here to mean the only bird sighted and one or two a day for days on end.

The book I use for identification draws no distinction between the Pacific and Atlantic *Sula* species. What I am seeing are the Red Footed (Sula sula) and the Blue Footed (Sula nebouxii), just as on the other side. But without the book to set me straight, I would say these two oceans host entirely different birds.

For one thing, the Atlantic birds are lithe in comparison to the chunky monkeys we have in the Pacific. And for another, they rarely dive.

In the Pacific, the Booby is entirely a diving bird. From thirty to fifty feet up, he’ll plunge head first into the sea in chase of fish several feet below the surface.

Not so here.

It’s happened so often now, I’ve recognized the pattern. Booby arrives on the scene and hovers just forward and downwind of Mo, patrolling back and forth and lying in wait for a flying fish. As a flyer is flushed by Mo’s “predatory” black hull and takes flight, it invariably turns into the wind, and so the Booby gives chase by dropping down from behind and accelerating quickly with deep, strong wing beats.

The chase can last through several waves, say four to seven seconds on average, and almost always ends with the bird shooting straight up into the air with nothing to show for his effort. This strikes me as odd in that the flying fish has eyes that point downward in order to better apprehend predators coming up from below; anything coming from above is in the fish’s blind spot. That I am wrong may explain why the Atlantic Booby is a slender being.

On only two occasions have I seen success. Instead of the chase ending in a splash as the fish escapes back into its mother element, the finale sees the fish being caught by the tail and flung into the air as the bird swoops up, catches the fish, this time by the head, and downs it in one go.

I clapped and gave a cheer the first time I saw that!

The bird went straight to the water top and sat there. Not surprised, I thought, as the fish it had just eaten was big, about a quarter its own size. But within five minutes, the Booby was on patrol again, swinging back and forth across Mo’s bow.

This article was syndicated from The Figure 8 Voyage


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