Tuesday November 4th, 2001
Travelling down the Amazon at night
Dusk has turned the surface of the river into a greasy grey - with the sky quickly darkening after the sun’s orange and golds have gone. We always hope for a clear night, and tonight the moon will be up soon after 9pm - but this means two and a half hours of real blackness before then.
There are flashes of lightning up ahead with the radar showing a band of rain stretching out either side of our course. There are lights of ships, barge traffic, ferries and small towns; and the flaming floating pots marking the extremities of the fishing nets to avoid.
A cool breeze blows out of the lightning cloud and the as-yet unfelt rain.
The moon is up but soon disappears behind the arriving ragged cloud - a few cold drops are felt - but then that passes, leaving us in clearing conditions, the only breeze provided by our forward speed.
The rain that has fallen, before getting to us, leaves the air full of the smells of damp earth and warm vegetation.
The river tonight is flat calm - then turns choppy briefly in puffs of wind from the clouds - then calm once more. At times the swirls and small waves are caused by the current flowing over the very uneven river bed - 40 metres at times with sheer cliffs to 20 metres - then deep again; and sand waves up to 12 metres high beneath us show on the depth sounder - regular as a geometric design, the sand slowing marching to the Atlantic on a journey that began thousands of mile away, driven onward by this vast amount of moving fresh water.
There is a crew member on the bow of Seamaster - on lookout duty - mainly for large logs, patches of floating weed, or fishing boats without lights. He has the big searchlight with which to check from time to time. It can be quite cold up in front - the temperature down to 26 degrees C or so - and thermals are occasionally needed and worn. How strange to be in the Amazon with polar fleece jacket and trousers on.
The lookout is in contact with the pilot house - the crew there monitoring engine gauges, making hourly checks of the engine room, pumping fuel, marking our progress on the chart, and keeping an eye on the radar and depth sounder - our two most useful instruments for this river travel. Hardly more than a few minutes goes by without a change of course to keep in the deepest section, or avoid a sandbar, or pass an island, so there is not much time to relax.
Tonight there are bands of smoke - thick smoke - pouring out of some of the inlets and out of the forest making walls right across the river. The smell of the burning forest fills the air and also our cabins.
Strong wafts of the aroma of piles of Brazil nuts add to the tang of the smoke.
But we have the river flowing with us so are making great progress, covering in one day what it took 3 days to do on the way up.
The dawn is always welcome, although with the seasons now rapidly changing the clear fine days are becoming less - more frequent clouds and high haze foretelling the not-too-distant arrival of the wet season.
The high land around Almeirim is over to port. There is a large cloud overhead at the moment, causing a breeze to blow along the river, but it also provides welcome shade for a few minutes.
The green frame of the Amazon rain forest is ever present - contrasting with the red-earth scars on higher ground, and the yellow clay by the waters edge.
Being daytime it is easier to avoid the floating wood and weed rafts, but a keen eye is still required.
We haven’t hoisted sails for more than 2 months now but this will soon be corrected when we turn left out of the mouth of the river and enter the trade winds; early next week, fingers crossed!
Sitting here on the bow in just a pair of shorts, well clear of the drum of the engines, just the slap of the bow wave underneath me, the shadow of our masts and flags on the brown river surface is very clear on our port side. The sun is no-longer overhead any more, but in three weeks time will be at its farthest point south and will then begin the six month haul back to its most northern point again.
A standard day is 3 hours on watch and 6 off - but compared to ocean voyaging the stresses are considerably higher, so it’s good to catch up on sleep whenever possible and be fully ready for the night again.
Again I raise the question: Why are we here?
What has been the point of leaving Antarctica in March, refitting in Buenos Aires over the southern winter, then undertaking the long haul north to spend some time in the Amazon?
Why is part of our team off in the jungles of Venezuela?
Technology gives us the ability to bring this (and other) parts of the world into homes and offices and classrooms on an almost immediate basis through the Internet and our web site.
Photos that we send out each day - either from Seamaster or the Jungle Team - are generally only a few hours old - be they photos of the river, the wildlife, the plants, the trees, the scenery, the people and so on.
If we are hot - then you know it is now - not last week or last year.
If we are concerned, or have a problem, it is now.
We are reporting on what we find - not glamorised - just how it is.
So to be able to have as many “crew” with us is our aim, people who may then have a better appreciation of the reasonably remote parts of the world that we visit. And even more importantly, begin to understand the reasons why we must all start appreciating what we have before it is too late.
We could have come here by commercial plane - stayed a few weeks - and left. But that wouldn’t have given us the essence of the Amazon.
To travel by Seamaster means we appreciate the immensity of this water region and in turn have a feeling for it unlike any other.
Exploring isn’t about “getting there” as fast as possible; it is about the logistics, the planning, the research, the operation of our vessel, the crew, the meals, our equipment, the beauracracy surrounding taking all of us and Seamaster where yachts rarely venture.
When we meet people, they also have a different appreciation of what we are and why we are here.
The environmental messages that we from time to time become quite energetic over, apply all over the planet, not just the Amazon.
The quality of water and the quality of life in all its infinite forms are critical parts of the overall ongoing health of this planet of ours, not just here in the Amazon, but everywhere.
With nearly 50% of all of the peoples of the world now living in towns or cities, we wanted to begin the process of bringing back the appreciation of nature that may be missing from many daily lives: wake/car-bus-train/office-factory-school-supermarket/car-bus-train/home/television/bed.
We want to restart people caring for the environment as it must be cared for.
And at the same time we want to do this through adventure, through participation, through education and thru enjoyment.
The 2 x 1 hour television documentaries about our 3 months in Antarctica are now finished and about to be shown in many countries. If you received our Antarctic Logs, or have gone back in time on our web site, we hope you will feel that you were also part of it.
Right now our film crew is with other members of blakexpeditions, descending from a mountain climb in the Venezuelan jungle - this to form the second part of our series on the Amazon - part adventure, part educational, part environmental, but also fun.
We work closely with the United Nations Environment Programme: their messages are our massages, but formed and transmitted in our own way.
We work closely with Omega - the Swiss timing company who are instrumental to our being able to operate. And the Omega people also firmly believe in what we all want to achieve, even if the top of the environmental awareness mountain that we are endeavouring to climb is out of sight through the clouds right now.
We have support from many companies and individuals - we can never thank you enough. It is great to know that you also care.
To win, you have to believe you can do it.
You have to be passionate about it.
You have to really “want” the result - even if this means years of work.
The hardest part of any big project is to begin.
We have begun - we are underway - we have a passion.
We want to make a difference.
We hope that you and as many of your friends as possible will join us.
All the best from the blakexpeditions team onboard Seamaster and in Venezuela.