On-board Diary: Weekly journal

Author: Maribel López Carmona
Date: July 4, 2006



Hello?

Hello, How are you?

I am fine and how about you? It’s so good to hear from you!!

Listen, it’s just that I would like to return to the Ranger. Do you think it could be possible?

Of course, let me take a look at some dates, ports and all of those things with Xavier Pastor and then we will give you a place where you can get onboard once again. (…)That is how Miguel Bosé’s second visit to the Ranger began. He had already participated in part of the 2006 Mediterranean expedition at the end of May, doing some diving in the area of Elba Island to document, along with the organization’s divers, the conservation status of the Mediterranean ecosystems like the posidonia fields, the coral beds and the gorgonias. Oceana’s objective is to have those habitats protected by the European Union through legislation.

When we finished this stage, the Ranger continued with its work, this time trying to locate illegal netters which are the ones who use driftnets larger than 2.5 km, and are used to capture swordfish and tuna. More than a hundred Italian boats, along with dozens of French boats, continue disobeying the United Nations and European legislation ban and continue using driftnets. These nets, nicknamed “death curtains”, can be up to 20 Km long and 30 meters high, and capture not only the species they are after, provoking the overexploitation of its populations, but they also cause an enormous amount of accidental captures, killing tens of thousands of dolphins, cachalot, great whales, sharks and marine turtles. Many of these species are protected by the international legislation.

We arrived in Cagliari,: Pilar Barros, Jorge Candán (two of the expedition’s divers who are returning to the boat after a one month rest) Miguel Bosé and I. We met up with the first two at the Florence airport. Upon arrival around 20:30 in the evening, the Meridiana airline company had lost Miguel’s and my luggage. We filed the necessary complaints and they promised us that we would have our luggage within 24 hours. We are worried because this changes our initial plan we had of heading straight for the boat so it could continue on through Mediterranean waters, towards the south and then up the west coast of Sardinia Island towards the North.

When we got to the Sant Elmo Marina we found the Ranger crew on deck. A few minutes later we were all having dinner in the dining room. There is going to a crew meeting after dinner so that Xavier Pastor can let us know how everything is going to proceed these next few days, because everything has to be modified due to the mishap with the luggage, even though we could of never imagined it changing so much…A few minutes after finishing the fantastic chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, the last crew member arrived from the North American office. Phil Kline is an old fisherman who a few years ago, upon realizing what was happening to the seas all over the world, decided to actively support organizations like Oceana, who strive for their protection and conservation. Xavier brings us up to date. He tells us how things have been going and everything that they have done during the month, including land expeditions, ports, etc. At times, it is much more productive to stop navigation and go on land to see the activities that occur in the ports where the fisherman who use illegal methods are, simply observing them, seeing where they are, where they are going to and where they sell their illegally captured fish.

That is why he tells us how some of the crew members traveled more than 2,000 km in a rented car in order to film and gather information from ports where these boats moor. There were two groups; one went towards the southern part of Italy, Calabria and Sicily. And the other towards Naples and Ischia Island. The second group was not very successful. They did not find what they were looking for and therefore, they returned to the Ranger a few days later.

However, the southern expedition was able to find what they were searching for…they even pursued a trucked filled with illegally captured swordfish on the Cetraro Marina roads, in Calabria, in order to determine its destination point. Over the span of five days, they meticulously covered all the ports in the Campania and Calabria regions, on the Italian peninsula, and the northern and western Sicilian coasts. Even some of the smallest ports in this part of the country have been uncovered as refuges to dozens of illegal driftnetters of all sizes.

The Italian fishermen have received millions of euros to change over their boat’s fishing gear to other more selective ones dedicated to a more sustainable fishing. However, in the end, it seems that many of the ship-owners have pocketed the subsidies and continue fishing with the banned nets.

Finally Xavier Pastor tells the whole crew about the change of plans. They will supposedly bring us our luggage in 24 hours to the marina where we have the mooring, so the Ranger will be leaving first thing in the morning from the Cagliari port, heading southeast, in search of the shallow water of the Secca di Calerina, where immersions will take place in order to document an area that is protected. It will take us about three hours to get there, time which we will utilize to read some books and documents dealing with the area we are going to explore. Furthermore, the Ranger will be using a special computer program this year called Olex which, when connected to the ecosounder, allows us to represent the marine floors of the areas over which the Ranger navigates, providing us with three dimensional images. Each time we go over an area, the information obtained is more complete and accurate, thus the exploration of the areas is much more complete and planning the dives is a lot easier. In this case, the dive is carried out from the deepest spot and then moves upward little by little being very careful with the safety stops, currents, changes in temperature, etc.

Those of us who remain onboard the Ranger will have to wait for the others to come up so that they can tell us about their experience and a then a little later they can show us the pictures and images that they took. We are almost not even going to let them take a breath of fresh air when they come onboard again after the dive with their cameras and equipment, and some of us will already by asking them to show us what they photographed. Miguel Bosé, one who has dove before tells me that he found a muraena vigilant in its crevice and they were able to photograph it. They also had seen anchovies and groupers.

After the immersions, we returned to Cagliari with the hope that our luggage had arrived… But no, the one in charge at the marina knew nothing about the luggage. We called the airport but the company said that they forgot about it once again and that they had not sent it; since there is only one flight a day from Florence to Cagliari, we should wait another 24 hours. With the fury and helplessness that matters like this causes in a person, we informed Xavier Pastor about it once again, who, once again, after dinner told us what the next day’s plan was going to be. We will go out and find another diving area. We will carry out some dives and return to port in the afternoon.

Throughout the day work will be done onboard, nobody will be without anything to do, in spite of the fact that sometimes we lose direct communication with the exterior, everything will need to be prepared for the moment in which it is restored, pictures can be catalogued, images edited, articles written, notes taken, little things can be fixed onboard like pumps or any other mechanical element that tends to be an occasional problem, etc.. The Ranger is like an anthill, everyone is constantly moving, small but sure steps so that the high sea doesn’t make anyone fall down. Everyone has a very concentrated look on their face doing and sometimes undoing a thousand and one things.

On our third day of waiting for the luggage, our patience runs out and we decide to take a taxi to the airport. With our complaint in hand, we go to the Meridiana airline so that they can give us a solution. The answer, however, is the same. We don’t know if it is because Italy won the game or what, but in Cagliari the people have decided to not work and Meridiana, especially, has decided to not take responsibility for its own incompetence. So we were left with no choice but to leave our luggage to its own luck and we boarded the Ranger with nothing more than a borrowed toothbrush (but new!) and a couple of T-shirts.

We began to navigate at the 1000 meter depth sounding line. During the navigation, during the entire night, we hardly crossed paths with other boats, a cruise ship in the distance cut through the darkness that drowned the night with its disco lights. At 8 in the morning, it was my turn once again to keep watch. With a cup of strong coffee in my hand, I went towards the steering wheel so that Jordi, our captain, could give me a lesson on high sea matters and share his nautical knowledge with me. If being on guard in general sounds boring, I can tell you all that it is never boring on the Ranger, firstly because you are always on guard with one or two other crew members, so you are never alone. Normally, the watch groups are very heterogeneous which makes for a difference in knowledge and character making it all very entertaining. You can always learn something new from your fellow workers. The watches are usually didactical and pleasant as along as the high sea conditions permit it, of course, but tiring as well.

We have total visibility. The sea is very calm. We are keeping track of our route and we can even use the automatic pilot at times allowing us to be a little more relaxed. We can see in the distance, some freight carriers, small recreational boats, and a towboat but not much more. The great blue desert is in front of us. We haven’t seen anything for two hours, blue sky, blue sea, there are no birds, there are no fish, there are no boats…

We continue our search for the netters, but nothing, the sea is like a plate, the temperature rises and rises, the aluminum Ranger lets us know what a two degree rise in temperature outside represents. Inside the Ranger nothing moves because the heavy and hot air almost doesn't let us breathe. We make a technical stop and take a bath, everyone takes turns jumping in. That sure did make us all feel a lot better!!!!!

Once everyone got back onboard, we set sail once again and not long after, we spotted a turtle up in the near distance. When it heard us, it lifted its head like it was a periscope. It then tried to submerge itself in the water but it seemed like it couldn't.

Our cameras were already out and in the water next to the turtle. As soon as they were in water they realized that the turtle was injured, apparently from a while ago, on the left front leg. There was nothing we could do to help it. We filmed it and then continued on our way.

The afternoon offered us another surprise. A few hours later some striped dolphins paid us a visit, playing at the bow of the catamaran for a little while, they showed us their little ones, they jumped, they did flips, they splashed the water with their tails.... We were all on deck, cameras in hand prepared to capture that marvelous second that will allow us to later on remember with precision all of the magic that happens on the Ranger. The dolphins swam away, jumping and flipping in the air to submerge themselves once again and swim at an astonishing speed with just a flap of the tail.

On the horizon, we saw the evening disappear with the orange sun softly touching the indigo blue line of the sea. Everything calmed down and after dinner, the crew members dispersed themselves amongst the cabins. Even though 4 of the members continued on guard.

The day began to wake with its greys turning into yellows. The dolphins got up early this morning and made their first visit to the Ranger before 8 o’clock. I can’t think of a better way to start the day. They will come back a few hours later, but this time in a much larger group. We love the fact that these visits get longer each time.

We head once again towards Cagliari. We continue around the 1000 depth sounding line.It seems like we aren't going to be able the "capture" any illegal netters this time either; which I'm not sure if I should interpret as a good thing: have they either stopped utilizing this technique and are now dedicated to other occupations, or are they just in some other place on the Mediterranean.It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Although, to honor the truth, the previous weeks had been productive and the Ranger spotted two or three of those fishing boats each day.

We finally reach Cagliari and upon entering the port, we cross paths with flamencos, terns and seagulls who give us their own particular welcome; we go to the airport and there is our luggage, finally. It could have been worse; we can at least change our clothes for the trip back home and not torture our fellow passengers on the flight. eridiana, the airline company, without a doubt, has no commitment to its clients. Before leaving, Jorge Candán and Juan offer us the possibility of enjoying the recorded images of the past few days: turtles, dolphins, the nearest Mediterranean flower and fauna.

We left with a lump in our throats, like every time we have to distance ourselves from the Ranger and its magical crew. It is not easy finding people like them, so dedicated and so brilliant.

Thanks a lot to Miguel Bosé for his active participation in our campaigns, his unbounded support, and above all his great sense of humor.