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Sailing the Patch

Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Dr. Jim Graham are oceanographers and drift analysis experts. Although they’re based in Seattle, they work on ­— and are interested in — all sorts of things that go adrift at sea, from lost buoys and abandoned ships all the way down to sneakers and rubber duckies. Some of their early work — remember the thousands of Nike running shoes that broke out of containers about 15 years ago? — generated so much interest among scientifically-challenged folks (in other words, most of us), that Curt started the newsletter Beachcombers Alert! a decade ago. Published six times a year, Alert! intersperses serious drift analyses alongside heartwarming ‘message in a bottle’ stories, and celebrates the other weird and wonderful stuff that people find on beaches.  

Occasionally, our paths intersect and Dr. Curt has been a great help when we have questions about yachts that have gone adrift. He recently informed us that one local boat is going to be the subject of an upcoming Alert! article: the Olson 40 Pterodactyl, which was ‘abandoned’ after her owner and a crewman were washed overboard — and recovered quickly by another boat — during last spring’s Doublehanded Farallones Race. The boat has been spotted twice since then, once by a Navy ship and once by a commercial ship. All known coordinates were forwarded to Ebbesmeyer and Graham. Here are a few ‘sneak peek’ highlights from the upcoming article:  

  • In the 45 days she was adrift before the commercial ship found her, Pterodactyl covered 726 nautical miles, a speed of 16.1 nm a day.    
  • The verdict: Pterodactyl is moving into the Pacific Gyre, or as Ebbesmeyer calls it, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. “The Patch is the great dust bunny of the Northern Hemisphere where winds collect flotsam beneath the Pacific Subtropical Pressure cell,” he writes. “It’s at least several times the size of Texas.”

Once in the Patch, Pterodactyl will join a long list of lost or abandoned vessels that goes back centuries — literally to the days of native canoes and Spanish galleons. And she may be caught there for years. Ebbesmeyer thinks there may be ‘dozens’ of yachts out there, endlessly ‘sailing’ the Patch.

For more on the Beachcomber’s Alert, check out http://beachcombersalert.org/

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