Storm Petrels

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Fri 7 Jan 2011 16:14

Noon Position: 21 03.1 S 085 31.7 W
Course: 305 Speed: 6 Knots
Wind: East sou’ east F4 Moderate breeze
Weather: Overcast, mild to warm
Day’s Run: 140 miles

I have been intrigued over the past few days by a large number of small black and white birds which have been skimming the waters in the vicinity of Sylph. They have a wing span of about 25 cm, are black on top with a white band behind the wings, and are mostly white underneath. They have a very distinctive flight pattern, they glide erratically very close to the sea’s surface and every few seconds dip into the sea often just dropping one foot in the water and then taking off again. I have been puzzled as to why they behave in this way. We are now a long way from the nearest land, over 700 miles from South America, and I wonder what they eat and where they are going if anywhere. I have looked them up in my book of Seabirds, by Peter Harrison and identified them as White-Bellied Storm Petrels. Harrison mentions there distinctive flight pattern but offers no explanation for it (it is only and identification guide), presumably it is an energy saving manoeuvre, and these little birds must burn up an awful lot of energy.

Looking beyond the immediate horizon I have reviewed my plans to take into consideration my broken tooth. I have read what little advice I have on board for such an eventuality and am met with the encouraging news that toothache is one of the three major causes of suicide because of pain, so we definitely wish to obviate this concern if possible. As I have previously mentioned I was planning on making our next stop the Gambier Group in French Polynesia as they are pretty much on the edge of the cyclone belt, experiencing one only rarely. Also I was interested in them because they are off the beaten path which I try to avoid wherever possible, but because of this, from the information I have on board, there are no dental facilities there, nor banks. So I think my next best option is to head for the Marquesas, in particular the village of Atuona on Hiva Oa which is supposed to have a dental clinic and a bank. It is a couple of hundred miles further then the Gambiers from our current position, and is marginally more prone to cyclones but I think that is a risk I am going to have to take. I perhaps should have stayed in Chile a bit longer but was in no mood to hang about there any longer than was absolutely necessary.

All is well.