ASIAN ECLIPSE '95
A spectacular Voyage to Darkness in the exotic South China Sea
aboard the Orient Line M/V Marco Polo
October 12 October 28, 1995
AN ECLIPSE RENDEZVOUS AT SEA:
At totality, the ship was positioned west of Borneo in the South China Sea, very close to the point of maximum totality--latitude 7° 24.5'N--longitude 115° 15.3'E.
Photo by astrophotographer George Keene shot on Kodak Ektachrome Film, ISO 400, 4-inch f/9 lens. 1/30th second: The middle corona shown typical of a sunspot minimum; solar magnetic field causes polar "spikes" in the corona at upper left and lower right.
The Deepavali Triumph-of-Light-over-Darkness
Total Solar Eclipse of 1995
by Dr. E. C. Krupp
A brief encounter at best between sun and moon, last October's solar eclipse was timed poorly for a triumph of coronal light in southeast Asia, but that is where you had to be if you wanted to witness the longest totality along the entire eclipse path. Scheduled for 24 October 1995, the eclipse was due just as the rainy season was about to end, but not before the possibility of heavy rain and combative clouds would be comfortingly diminished by the advance of the calendar. For that reason, many eclipse collectors instead elected India as their destination for totality. The downside was the duration of darkness. Totality north of Jaipur and its famous observatory, completed in 1734 by Prince Jai Singh ll, would last about 50 seconds
The N.A.S.A. Bulletin, understandably tendered little encouragement for a southeast Asian eclipse, but it did include an escape clause: "One exception is for those who observe at sea a shipboard chase would confer a 10 percent advantage."
It seemed to me that this Eclipse would be trouble no matter how you tried to catch it, but rescuing it at sea would involve an acceptable risk. It takes, however, a seaworthy vessel to pilot a route to an eclipse path that crosses the ocean, and I can not even be trusted to navigate a paddle boat across Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles. I was therefore delighted when Ted Pedas, the godfather of cruise totality, invited me to join the lecture staff of his "Asia Eclipse '95" program on theM/V Marco Polo, owned and operated by Orient Lines.
Ted Pedas invented eclipse cruises in 1972, when he and his sister Marcy Sigler and Phil S. Sigler chartered the Olympia and transported 830 shadow seekers about a thousand miles out of Manhattan and into the north Atlantic for a rendezvous with the 10 July 1972 eclipse. His 1995 eclipse enterprise began with a departure from Singapore. After stops in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, in Vietnam), and Kota Kinabalu (in Sabah, an east Malaysian state on Borneo), the ship would find the optimum location at sea to snare the eclipse as close as possible to the point of maximum totality.
when we reached the arrival hall of Singapore's international airport, we were greeted by a sign and a display that wished us a Happy Deepavali, a Hindu festival celebrated with enthusiasm in south Asia from India to Borneo and Bali. In some parts of Asia, Deepavali is known as Diwali, but wherever it is observed, it commemorates a victory of good over evil, of light over darkness. It marks the end of the rainy monsoons, and in October 1995, the Deepavali sun would have to triumph over a solar eclipse as well as the storms.
Deepavali was still more than a week away when the M/V Marco Polo left Singapore on Monday, 16 October, and instead of heading east for a solar eclipse, it first turned the other direction and headed up to the Strait of Malacca and northwest to Kelang, the port for Malaysia's inland capital, Kuala Lumpur.
By Wednesday, 18 October, we were headed back down the Strait of Malacca, on our way to the South China Sea and Vietnam, when a peculiar circumstance contributed to the character of this eclipse cruise. A passenger had noticed someone treading in the busy sea lane, and so the Marco Polo's master, Captain Roland Andersson maneuvered the ship to extract him from the water. He turned out to be a 17-year-old Indonesian fisherman, and according to his story, he had fallen off the back of his boat while bathing. The bucket of water he was pulling turned out to be too heavy. He lost his balance and fell in, and his companion on the bow of the boat never noticed. He remained in the water until he was rescued at sea by the Marco Polo. Close to Singapore, the ship contacted immigration authorities in an attempt to drop the fortunate fisherman with the port personnel for repatriation to Indonesia. After some delay, Singapore informed the Captain they wouldn't accept the man because he didn't have a passport. Captain Andersson thought it was interesting they would expect a fisherman who fell overboard to have a passport. Without a reasonable alternative, he decided to bring the man along on our eclipse cruise, at least as far as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
We docked in Ho Chi Minh City. That evening, Captain Andersson advised us that our Indonesian fisherman had been accepted by authorities in Vietnam and would be returned home. The Captain also told us the young man had enjoyed his stay on the Marco Polo and wouldn't have objected continuing with us in our search for the eclipse. A day or so before, one of the passengers had proposed making a collection of donations from the passengers to help the man, but the Captain thoughtfully and delicately declined. He explained that he appreciated the sentiment but that the gesture wasn't necessary. He assured us that Orient Lines would handle everything. I suspect he also had visions of a South China Sea saturated with men overboard once word were out on what to expect when rescued at sea by a cruise ship.
Ted Pedas had kicked the astronomy program into gear with a meeting of the lecturers and their companions even before we first left Singapore. The staff included Sir Patrick Moore, whose reputation in popular astronomy is international. He has been the host of BBC's The Sky at Night since 1957 and so has turned this astronomy program into the longest-running television show in the world. He has also authored more than 60 books. Dr. Ronald A. Parise, an astronomer astronaut with two Shuttle flights on his record in space, was also part of the team. As Payload Specialist for the Astro and Astro-2 missions, he had already seen the South China Sea from an entirely different perspective. George T. Keene, now retired from Eastman Kodak, was the supervisor of the Photo Science Group of Kodak's Research and Engineering Department. His eclipse pictures are famous, and one of them once commanded the cover of Life magazine. George was on board to advise people on the perils and pleasures of eclipse photography and to capture the eclipse himself from the deck of a moving ship, not an exercise for the faint-of-heart. The expedition's meteorologist, Dr. Edward M. Brooks, has been chasing eclipses at sea since the Olympia's successful engagement with the shadow of the moon in 1970.
Asian Eclipse '95 Meteorology
On the day of an eclipse the area available for last minute adjustment of a ship's location must be as large as possible. We had the choice of staying immediately off the coast of Borneo or sailing further off shore. Due to a reef just offshore and parallel to the coast, we knew that the near shore motion of the ship could only be 1-dimensional, whereas on the outside of the reef it would be 2-dimensional. To get around the reef, it was better to go toward the SSW, where the water was deeper than it was to the NNE.
At the first contact, the ship was heading steadily toward the S. Cumulonimbus clouds were boiling upward just to the west, but there was time enough to get out of their way before totality.
Just before totality, a small cloud suddenly covered the sun. Many observers thought that 2nd contact (totality) had occurred too soon, but were relieved when the sun made a quick comeback just before the real 2nd contact. Complete success followed with clouds blotting out the sun again only after 3rd contact when the totality was over.
(from brochure pictured at left)
Dear Fellow Eclipse Enthusiast,
We take pride in welcoming you aboard our Voyage to Darkness Asian Eclipse '95 Cruise aboard the Marco Polo.
Positioned to intersect the Moon's shadow on October 24, 1995, the Marco Polo will sail off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia--approximately 7° 20' north latitude, 115° 15' east longitude. Here we will have the greatest length of time in totality, close to the 2 minutes and 9 seconds maximum. Even last-minute changes in sky conditions will be taken into account. The ship's cruising speed and immediate access to weather information will allow maneuverability for the clearest view.
Our land and cruise itinerary (October 12-28) includes stops in Bangkok, Thailand; Singapore; Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia; and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam. There will be plenty of time for passengers to explore temples, colorful architecture and myriad side streets, immersing themselves in the beauty and rich cultural heritage of Southeast Asia.
At sea, Asian Eclipse '95 will feature a panel of distinguished experts: noted astronomers, renowned meteorologists and expert photographers who will provide Marco Polo Passengers with lectures, slide presentations and one-on-one discussions prior to the great event.
As the Sun sets on the Marco Polo each evening, passengers can join our astronomers on deck to search for the elusive and enigmatic green flash and experience the starry grandeur that graces the skies from the unequalled vantage point of a ship at sea.
We welcome you aboard our Voyage to Darkness to share with us the camaraderie of friends and adventurers with similar interests, the excitement of an exquisite cruise, the dramatic splendor of a total eclipse of the Sun and the thrill of experiencing exotic destinations in Southeast Asia.