Posted by: adorsk | January 3, 2008

South Atlantic

I’m back at sea on the Knorr. This time I’m in the South Atlantic, heading from Brazil to do robot operations near Ascension island. So far I’ve engaged in fierce mental combat with Brazilian chess players, braved the fierce winds of the South Atlantic, and had my voice stolen by South American germs.

The Natal State

I met the ship in Natal (sounds like ‘naw-tao’), the capital city of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. To me, Brazil is a work of choreography on a grand scale. There is a certain rhythm in the air, in the way people walk, they way they talk. There is music all around and the waves beat a steady pulse on the beaches. The conservative tempos of old Europe and the church are punctuacted by lively allegros of a young, diverse, and striving population. When buses pass in front of a church, all the passengers cross themselves in unison. When a car drives by with pumping music, people start to dance.

And the Brazilians are beautiful. They come in all colors, from licorice black to chocolate to nearly albino. Most are tall and thin and energetic. I think they know they are beautiful, and they take pleasure in it. As I walked along the beaches I would find a kissing couple about every ten steps.

Natal is a moderately-sized city of roughly 800,000 people located on Brazil’s sunny Northeastern coast. The city’s roots go all the way back to the early 1500’s when the Portuguese came over. For more about the city, check it out on wikipedia: Natal

Here’s a picture of Natal from the sea, taken as the ship was leaving:

Natal from the Sea

During my first night in Natal I had hardly walked two blocks from the dock when I ran into a live band:

Natal Band

Three blocks away from the band I found a wedding guests arriving at a church. I watched the wedding for an hour or two. At one point I saw the following sequence pass by: someone walking, a horse cart, a bicycle, a motorcyle, and a Mercedes. The evolution of transportation before my eyes!

Natal Wedding

My favorite part of the city was the praia dos artistas, beach of the artists. It’s a long boulevard along the beach where artists showcase their wares. Tiny bars that look like bus station kiosks punctuate the boulevard. Grill trucks park by the sidewalk and sell kabobs. People come to sit outside and eat and drink with their friends and families. Little Kids kick soccer balls into the waves. Teenagers form dancing circles on the sand.

Praia Dos Artistas

At one end of the boulevard there are chessplayers. I think chessplayers are like Chinese take-out, or hot dogs; they differ slightly in each locale, but there is always a deep underlying sameness. A “chessence”. I had a nice time with the chessplayers, despite the fact that I could only speak a modicum of pidgin portuguese. By the end of the night I at least learned how to say “knight”: cavalho. My record was 5/5, until I ran into Aleixandros. He’s the guy in the center in the picture:

Natal Chess Players

I made a mistake in the endgame and he caught me on it.  Jogue muito bem!

Natal isn’t all fun & games. Most of it looks poor. The paint is peeling and chipped. The walls are crumbling. There are few street lights so it gets very dark at night. But I hear that crime is relatively low (for Brazil at least), and the cabbies are generally nice. I think its citizens are as happy there as in any other city.

The night before the ship left I got sick. Perhaps it was from eating a bag of caramel cashews I bought on the beach. I didn’t get terribly ill, only a low fever and a headache. But my voice has gradually been disappearing. I feel fine now, except that I can barely talk. Bye Bye, Brasil. You left me speechless.

Overall I highly recommend a visit to Natal. It’s a nice place to visit for a few days.

Ro, Ro, Ro, your Bot, Through the South Atlantic

Now the ship is steaming through the South Atlantic, en route to Ascension island where we’ll be testing out robots. The South Atlantic looks a lot like the North Atlantic. Flying fish, deep blue water all around. The big differences are that it’s summer here now, and the stars are different. The sun rises and sets roughly on the six o’ clocks. A constant breeze counters the heat to make it a pleasant sail.

The science party is busy getting their robots ready. There are 14 scientists, ranging from engineers to programmers to geologists to graduate students. There is even an undergraduate pharamcy student from Tokyo on board (she’s helping her dad who researches deep sea vents). Most of the scientists are from WHOI, but there are also some from John Hopkins university, and the scientist from Tokyo. The chief scientists is H, from WHOI. He and his team have been developing a pair of robots called “Puma” and “Jaguar”. Each robot is an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles). Their specialty is making maps of the sea floor and finding deep-sea vents. The science party is hoping to test new methods of using the robots in tandem. At the same time they’ll be making maps of the mid-Atlantic ridge near Ascension island.


For the Oliners who are reading, there is a funny coincidence. Chris Murphy (’06) is in the science party. It’s nice to see a familiar face out at sea.

Ascension or Bust

We’ll probably reach Ascension island in about four or five days. It should be exciting. I’m looking forward to it. Check back in a week or so to find out how it goes.

Miscellaneous Pictures

eel fishermen near the dock in the morning:

Natal Eel Fishermen

Natal is working very hard to attract Yak tourists.  I hear the market is growing.

Yak Hotel

Bom Dia!

Bom Dia Boat


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