The 2015 March 20 total solar eclipse — 2. From the decks of MS Boudicca

This is an extract from my log book covering the time around total eclipse as viewed on board MS Boudicca (Fred Olsen Line) on the Atlantic Ocean on 2015 March 20.
2015 March 19, 23:47UT
Location: On board MS Boudicca, Captain Lars Juel Kjeldsen commanding.
Position: North Atlantic Ocean, north of the Faroe Islands, strong winds 7-10 knots.
With Jon Culshaw, Kevin McNulty, Pete Lawrence, Tessa Lawrence.
Tomorrow morning is the day of the eclipse, and expectations on board the MS Boudicca are decidedly mixed… At dinner tonight, Pete Lawrence once more checked the weather. The new charts showed that the precipitation band had widened considerably, and the position we had first selected would now almost certainly be under a large bank of cloud. Pete quickly sent the captain a message, advising him that we should not head to our last chosen site but rather continue NE along the eclipse track in the hope of finding a clearing. Given the motion of the ship (which is quite considerable tonight), I am assuming the captain is moving the ship as quickly as possible to our new location.
Alarm set for 04:30UT, and although the weather is at present quite dreadful with strong winds buffeting the ship, I have experienced enough dramatic weather changes at sea recently to know that there is still hope that we might see something tomorrow….
2015 March 20: Eclipse Day
Location: On board MS Boudicca, Capt. Lars Juel Kjeldsen commanding.
Position: North Atlantic Ocean, somewhere between Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
05:11UT: Been out on deck for a look at the conditions…. Both Pete and myself were met with a howling blizzard and heavy snowfall! Not at all promising. A few other passengers are up and about all with the same resigned look. Thankfully, no one has yet stated the obvious…
05:58UT: Pete and myself have set ourselves up in a reasonable position forward on deck 7, port side, outside the Lido lounge. A few other brave souls have similarly staked their ground and a few newcomers have huddled together like penguins. Things have improved however – the snow has now stopped and the strong wind continues to blow as we head ever northward. As dawn broke, it was clear that the sky was not a uniform grey – there were darker and lighter sections forming within. Moreover the cloud deck was not static, I am hopeful that cloud breaks will probably occur….
07:48UT: Out on deck, some holes in the clouds!
Approx 08:00UT: We’ve all just had our first sighting of the Sun! Hope seems to be spreading rapidly throughout the ship. There can’t be many occasions when some 880 people clap and cheer as the Sun appears from behind the clouds for the first time in the morning in the Atlantic ocean… tension on the ship is quite palpable!
Approx 08:40UT: First contact! Without a doubt, the edge of the dark limb of the Moon can be made out on the limb of the Sun. The eclipse glasses are rather good, and present a strong image of the solar disk when the clouds shift.
Sometime between 08:40UT and 09:20UT: The Sun’s phase is now rapidly decreasing as the lunar disk passes over the Sun. Conditions have rapidly improved and we are getting some excellent views of partiality. The excitement is building now as we are heading into large gaps of cloud. Will we see totality?
09:25UT: I went up to the navigational bridge to announce totality was due in 15 minutes… The bridge of MS Boudicca is very impressive and a good place to view the eclipse! Captain Lars welcomed me and pointed out the large clear gaps dead ahead which he was steering the ship towards. Everyone on the bridge was just as excited as the folks down below…. I made an announcement that totality was due in 15 minutes and that we seem to be heading into clearer skies so we might catch some of it. The captain ordered all staff on board to stop work and go outside and watch the eclipse just before totality, stressing to them that this was a remarkable event which no one on the ship should miss. I saluted him and quickly headed back down to deck 7.
Approx 09:40UT: Things happening rather rapidly now. The thin crescent Sun is starting to rapidly disappear and we have just passed into a vast clear space. The sky is now rapidly darkening and the temperature has dropped. In the darkened sky, Venus is shining brightly in the 9 o’clock position to the left of the partially eclipsed Sun. Mercury can be made out on the other side in the 4 o’clock position, slightly orange in colour. I believe I can hear 880 heartbeats as totality approaches.…
Approx 09:46UT: The Moon’s shadow rushed towards us, the horns of the Sun joined and we had the first diamond ring. Afterwards totality occurred. It is almost impossible to describe what a serenely alien sight an eclipsed Sun is in the sky – totally unreal, almost absurd. All the excellent photographs of the event don’t really capture the visual aspect of it. There’s almost a three dimensional quality to it – the black disk of the Moon looks like a void in the sky.
    Along the limb, the Sun’s corona extends out into space and as one’s dark adaptation improves, so more structure becomes visible, and it is shocking to realise just how far the corona extends. To me the corona appeared to be slightly golden yellow in colour, the magnetic field lines appearing like delicate one dimensional lines etched into the corona almost as if the whole eclipse was the sculpture of some cosmic glass artist. The corona slowly changes and is by no means constant. Two prominences were also visible, the one in the 11 o’clock position (north upwards) being stronger than the one in the 8 o’clock position. In both cases the pink/red colour was absolutely striking. It is hard to explain, but I felt I could see gravity at work and hear the silent machinery of nature….
    Everyone marveled in awe and silence at the spectacle, until the second diamond ring occurred. People cheered and applauded – against all the odds we had seen it….
    I wish to note in this log that had it not been for the diligence of Pete Lawrence, and the determination of Captain Lars combined with the flexibility of the Boudicca crew, we would never have seen the eclipse. Once Pete had found a better position for the ship, the captain acted swiftly to make sure we cleared the cloud bank which would have totally obscured the eclipse.
Shortly after totality: As rapidly as it started, the eclipse came to a close. The light quickly returned to the sky as the Moon’s shadow raced northeast away from us. I had seen my first total eclipse in truly remarkable conditions! The captain made an announcement from the bridge that this was the most remarkable voyage he had ever made, his voice cracking with emotion. There were only two things left to do – tuck into the free bacon cobs provided, then head to the Observatory bar on deck 9 for champagne!

Paul G. Abel

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