Monday, March 30, 2009

Sailing from A to Z

Our Indian Ocean adventure stretched for more than 3,000 miles. As a result, our explorations were interspersed with some extended periods at sea, including three full days in which we never saw land. After saying farewell to Albadra, we had one of those days on our way to Zanzibar.

We had worried that days at sea might get boring. However, we found more than enough to keep us busy. Writing blog posts and managing our photos and videos took a chunk of time (and even then, we are running more than a week behind on blog postings). Nature also presented diversions. Tropical seas may not be as rich in life as those in cooler areas, but we did have fun with the flying fish, boobies, and the occasional whales and dolphins.

Happily, the organizers of the trip also arranged various talks.

* We heard a trio of lectures from Tim Severin, an explorer and historian who made his name by recreating legendary voyages from the past. He spoke about sailing a leather vessel from Ireland to Newfoundland (suggesting that the Vikings could have done the same), tracking the travels of Alfred Russell Wallace (co-developer of the theory of evolution by natural selection) through Indonesia, and following the travels of Sindbad, sailing from Oman to China along the path of Islamic traders. His presentation on Wallace was particularly timely given all the attention to the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. It's a shame that Wallace doesn't get the credit he deserves.

* To help the many photographers (and aspiring photographers) on board, we heard from National Geographic Photographer Michael Melford. He explained how he usually took photographs (mostly on aperture priority), how he manages his photographs, and what he looked for in a good subject. This was a little like getting golf lessons. If you change your swing, the first thing that happens is that your scores get worse; but if you stick with it, things get better. The same is true with photography. The new tips provided new ways to mess up photos, but also ways to make them better.

* Finally, the trip naturalists gave talks about the local flora, fauna, culture, and history. A particular highlight was Ian Bullock's overview of the discovery of the Coelacanth, the "missing link" fish that had been presumed extinct 60 million years ago. The first Coelacanths known to western science were caught in the waters we sailed. Not surprisingly, we didn't see any live coelacanths on this adventure, but we did see a crumbling taxidermy of one in the natural history museum in Maputo.

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