The View From Midway

Our Midway stop began with a big thunderstorm building at dusk.

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Pilots flying near it later confirmed that it was a system of storm cells 100 miles in diameter, the size of which they’d never seen before. The top of the anvil head was at 50,000 ft and they became nervous when they saw a lightning bolt shoot straight up from the top towards outer space.

50,000 ft lower was a terrifying place to be. The squalls caught us at midnight after  a day of sailing just out of reach. By 0300 lightening bolts were slamming into the water all around us. There was no reason for us not to take a strike and after 45 minutes of hiding out below with the autopilot steering towards the edge of the storm the bolt with our name on it found us. Half the electronics went black the other half locked up. The radar froze with a final image of the squall in it’s last sweep like a yellow death-grin. We were very thankful that the hull and rigging were fine and no one was hurt.

The morning gave us our best view – the monster we had just passed through well behind us, though we weren’t positive that it wasn’t going to come back after us for another round.

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But before you could say “Zzzzzzt” we were tied up safely on the tugboat dock in the Midway turning basin.  K had several days of electronic work-arounds to solve before we could put back to sea.

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In a bit of a daze with our nerves still a little frazzled we went through a brief orientation to the do’s and don’ts of the wildlife refuge.  Then it was dinnertime and we found ourselves chowing down on an incredible Thai buffet and salad bar, with a selection of desserts. This was the most surreal event in two years at sea.  We felt like Dorothy waking up in Oz.  Only twelve hours earlier we had not been at all sure that the voyage of Bint al Khamseen would have a happy ending as we cringed beneath a very, very angry Zeus who was dropping lightning bolts around us like dangerously close artillery, but here we were making new friends and taking a second trip to the ice cream machine like college freshmen. We were invited to the bowling alley.

After stuffing ours gullets at the buffet, we made our way back to the boat and went to sleep, thankful and more than a little disoriented. In the morning S commuted off on a pink girl-bike through fields of fledgeling albatrosses to do laundry and meet the residents while K field stripped our key electrical systems.

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The albatross chicks displayed a variety of personality types.  As we passed, most would regard us with what seemed like mild curiosity.  Some would get alarmed by our passing and backpedal away as fast as they could while clapping their beaks at us.  Others would just sit there and coolly look us up and down with their soulful eyes.  A few took no notice.

The human residents were super helpful and we had constant offers to help with anything we needed. Joe and Perjim came down to check out our HF radio. Joe is a very serious ham (KH4/W5FJG) and we kept a daily schedule with him for about 2000 miles.

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It didn’t take long to see that this was a wildlife refuge for good reason. Even far offshore we could tell that this is a very birdy island. Laysan albatrosses were sweeping across the waves along with frigate birds, boobies, terns and tropicbirds.

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Every inch of the island had a nest or a roost of some kind…

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and the air was full of wingbeats.

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Huge protected green turtles left their naps on the beach…

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to swim over and inspect our steering gear.

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Curious white terns interrupted their lunches…

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to hover over us and inspect our head gear.

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Frigate birds were inspecting there wing pits.

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Red tailed tropic birds were performing endless acrobatics.

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Crazy emerald green invasive beetles were eating everything in sight.

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And 400,000 young albatrosses filled the land.

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28°12.82′N 177°21.80′W   03-Aug-11 01:28 UTC

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