Drifting with the Rubbish

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sun 2 Feb 2014 09:50
1800 Position: 27 30.4 N 128 52.7 E
Course: Drifting
Wind: Calm
Sea: Calm
Swell: East 1.5 m
Weather: sunny, mild

Undoubtedly most of us have read about the rubbish that is supposedly accumulating in the oceans. For my own part, in all the miles of ocean I have sailed I have not witnessed much rubbish at all. This is no doubt in part because a sailing boat clearly needs to sail where there is wind, and most of the rubbish is in the ocean gyres, which are at the centre of the large long term high pressure systems where there is on average not much wind. However, today I think I have seen more rubbish in one day than I have in . . . I am trying to think of an appropriate comparison, for I do not want to exaggerate. I am inclined to say in all my years of sailing, which is perhaps close to being true but might give the impression that we are sailing through a rubbish tip, which is certainly not true.
From the above, you can rightly surmise that we have in fact left Wadamari.
At dawn, when the alarm aroused me, I looked outside, things were pretty damp and there was not much wind, but it wasn't raining. I had an extra thirty minute's snooze which for some reason always feels so nice, then got up to make a decision as to whether to sail or not. The wind was light from the south west, a very favourable direction for getting to our next destination, Konetoku Ko on Tokuno Shima, the tide was in, and it looked like the rain was going to hold off, so I decided to get going.
It didn't take long to clear things away and have Sylph ready for sea, and at a quarter to eight I threw off the dock lines, motored clear of the dock wall, set the mainsail within the confines of the fishing harbour where it was nice and flat, then motored out of the harbour, where once clear it was a simple matter to unfurl the genoa to the light breeze. Initially we made good progress, though I was disappointed to find as we made some offing that the breeze was heading us, but not as disappointed as I was when after less than an hour it faded to leave us drifting on the swell, rolling and sails all a-slatting. I persisted for a while, but it soon became clear that there just wasn't going to be enough wind to keep Sylph moving, so I handed sail and resorted to motor for half an hour to clear the northern headland of Okinoerabu Shima.
We managed to sail a little bit more after clearing the headland, but by midday we were totally becalmed. We drifted for a couple of hours, and at two I decided to motor for a bit. Something white about two hundred meters to the north east had attracted my attention. I went over to investigate. It turned out to be a plastic bottle. Stretching away further to the north and east were what looked like small polystyrene floats. I thought they might have been marking a fishing net but as we got closer it became obvious that they also were just bits of rubbish. As we continued to motor we sighted more detritus - more plastic bottles, small tree branches and other pieces of wood, bits of broken polystyrene, and even what I thought was fluorescent light tube. This last item led me to think that maybe a small vessel had sunk here recently, but there was significant marine growth on many of the items, and most of the stuff was not what I thought would have been representative of the sorts of things that would float to the surface from a sunken fishing boat. This might sound a little dramatic, but the Japan Coast Guard has been issuing a message about an overdue vessel that was last heard from about two weeks ago some sixty miles to the north-east of our current position, so obviously the thought was on my mind.
An hour of motoring was enough for me. It was clear that we would not make Konetoku Ko before sunset unless I kept on motoring for several hours straight, and I am just as happy to drift out here as to go alongside for the night. For now the plan is to drift and motor as necessary so as to arrive off Konetoku towards high water tomorrow morning, which is around 9 o'clock. It is only sixteen miles away. If no wind appears that is about four hours of motoring which I will break up into one hour stretches during the night. With a little luck we might even get some wind to sail some of the way.
All is well.