My '98 Curacao Eclipse Expedition was another incredible experience -- it ranks right up there with '91 Mexico (Baja Desert) & '95 India (Thar Desert). I obtained the results I wanted (more or less), and had quite a bit of adventure (with a dose of stress & excitement thrown in). Good vibes all the way:
I had a goal of doing some Southern Sky astrophotography. I had requested an automatic transmission rental car for the purpose of driving out to some dark sites (off-road) on the beach. Instead, I received a manual-transmission car & I had to LEARN how to drive a stick-shift. My host Andrew (who is an auto mechanic) put out a call for an automatic, but to no avail. While this was happening, I prepared for the worst case, & went to the grocery store to "train myself". It was comical practicing parking & slow reversing (learning to feather the clutch). Then, Andrew & I made a practice run on the highway & circuitous streets to Photostudio Tramm (in preparation for eclipse-day, when I had to get my film developed/scanned/uploaded). Finally on Tuesday afternoon, I headed out by myself to Playa San Juan.
I had previously scouted this beach, which had wind-blocking (for stable tracking & sharp photos). I spent a good 3 hours breaking out the 150 lbs of gear, loaded in 2 large cases. I was REAL tired, & it was a drag to assemble my 5" f8 Astrohphysics refractor (attach objective, attach focuser), assemble my 70mm fluorite (attach objective), assemble the EM100. Finding those small parts in the dark was NOT easy!! There were cliffs blocking Polaris, so I had to use a compass to get close to the NCP. It took me a good 1.5 hours to finally nail down the drift alignment (further aggravated by the fact I KEPT making the OPPOSITE azimuth corrections. Sleep deprivation. Why is the star drift getting worse?!? Boy, was I MAD!!). I pulled out my Tirion's Atlas, to get accustomed to the Southern Sky (my FIRST look ever, BTW). It was REAL interesting to see Orion so HIGH up, and as it began to set, the Milky Way was PARALLEL to the southern horizon. An amazing sight.
Would you believe I didn't bring binoculars?? (No room, since I brought 11 cameras & 21 lenses. BTW, my entire load of gear was valued at $20K.). I finally star hopped _visually_ down to the pentagonal arrangment of stars, which "pointed" to Eta Carinae. I found the 2 open clusters IC2602 & NGC3532 visually (as smudges of light), and saw another smudge to the right -- Eta Carinae. I confirmed this with the 70mm f8 fluorite (560mm FL) w/24mm Televue wide-field. I could make out some dark lanes, & noticed the rich star field. Awesome. I brought 2 Pentax 6x7 medium-format cameras, so I could do simultaneous exposures with the 5" Astrohphysics (closeup of Eta Carinae) & P6x7 telephoto lenses (I brought a 45mm/4 105mm/2.5 165mm/2.8 300mm/4). Unfortunately, one of the cameras which I bought used (which I never used on B), kept closing after 1 minute!?!? F***K!!! There goes the idea of simultaneous exposures.. I just did piggyback telephoto shots -- methodically the 45mm, 105mm, 165mm, 300mm. Didn't have time to do the narrow-angle with the 5" AP. Bummer.
I was really "hitting the WALL", i.e. big-time sleep deprivation. I just sat & took in the Southern Cross & Eta Carinae naked eye, as it set. It was now 4am, and "crashed" on the rear seat. I woke up 1.5 hours later, to get some sunrise shots & break everything down (what a DRAG!!). I had to leave the 5" AP assembled, which I placed in the leg area below the rear seats (well cushioned with foam). I was warned _repeatedly_ by my Curacaon hosts, NOT to go alone on the beach at night (one said "..please don't give me a heart ache.."). You see, there is occassional illicit activity @night involving boats (guess what they're dropping off). However, I go solo 4x4 all the time in Baja, Mexico (which is also considered risky), so I had no worries. Just at dawn, a native family came up for a day at the beach. The kids began to play, & the father played a guitar & everyone began to sing. THAT was nice..
I drove off, to make my appointment with a private land-owner, who would
give me access to an isolated beach (not marked on the map). He offerred
me lodging at night at 1 of his 2 mansions ("I have 1 woman in each. Good,
no?? *big laughter*"), but I had to decline since I had to stay with my
equipment. He offerred me a rifle, saying ".. no telling what they [bad
guys] might do to you..", and a cellphone (to call for help). I found the
_perfect_ spot w/wind protection -- nestled below a cliff w/cactus,
white-sand beach, giant rock. See the panorama at:
It was so isolated & unused, I had to spent an hour cutting a path through the spiny cactus (similar to the Ocotillo bush in Arizona) down this steep hill. That Swiss ARmy Knife sure is handy. I barely got my 250 lbs of stuff (2 cases) , by 2pm to setup my _important_ 50mm MULTIPLE EXPOSURE shot. I centered the sun @2:13pm (24 hrs before totality, the next day) -- the intermittent clouds made this especially difficult. At 3:40 pm (24 hrs before 4th contact), I made an orientation adjustment so the sun would be in bottom-right corner. Done. What was interesting was that I used a Bogen clamp on that HUGE rock, to hold the camera.
I broke out my equipment -- EM100 mount with 2 corona cameras (1000mm, 1400mm, 800mm) & 1 prominence camera (1650mm). Panorama platform (video & 20mm lens), Wide-Angle platform #1 (14mm lens, 200mm lens, 20mm multiple exposure camera), Wide-angle platform #2 (circular fisheye, Widelux). Amazingly, I barely caught Polaris through the trees, so that made polar alignment a lot easier. I drift-aligned, and got it dead on. I made a VERY GOOD move, I decided NOT to do astrophotography & get some SLEEP. Tomorrow is eclipse-day, & I don't want to BLOW it by being a sleep-deprived ZOMBIE. Bummer, I really wanted to shoot Eta Carinae with the 5" AP!!
The nighttime clouds had me worried, and I caught a weather report from Puerto Rico on the shortwave radio "..chance of thunderstorms tomorrow..". Uh oh.. I reclined the front seat, & "crashed". At around 3 am I woke up to CLEAR SKIES, seeing the wonderful Southern Cross & Eta Carinae (YES, I could make out its nebulosity naked eye through the windshied, also the open clusters above & below it). For an astrophoto-zork like me, it was a real change to do "visual". However, there were still some occassional clouds.
Eclipse morning was looking REAL BAD, almost overcast with one break in the clouds. Then, more clouds. There was light drizzle twice, causing me to cover my equipment with trash bags. :-(!!! At one point to the south, I saw a dark cloud mass DUMPING RAIN. My greatest nightmare, & it's happening.. I was talking to myself, "I need a miracle Sky God, please give me one.. I worked so HARD up to this point" I was dreading the thought of getting wiped out, and getting a hard time from my eclipse-phile friends Bob & Jeff who didn't go ("I told you so, about El Nino" & "I'm glad I didn't go to the eclipse!!"). Incredibly, by 11 am, there was another break in the clouds. By noon, it was looking GREAT, and 1st contact began @12:40pm.
The rest as they say, is history. You can see my results at:
There is a picture of my telescope, where you can see the clouds off into the distance @11 am.
I swear, it was the CLEAREST afternoon the 6 days I was there. Previous days was always fast moving cumulus (the previous day was the _worst_), and even REAL THIN cumulus coming down from the north. It even drizzled that evening.
AFter totality, I had to monitor my 2 _multiple exposure cameras_ closely, to nail those shots. I was WAY behind in packing up (wanted to do it during partials through 4th contact). It was MURDER getting each of those 80 lb cases up that _steep_ hill!! I had to pause in the middle to rest, my heart was pounding madly (the thought of getting a heart-attack did cross my mind. I'm 39, and not getting younger). Finally @5:45, I drove off. I couldn't BELIEVE the front-wheel drive Toyota STarlet made it up this steep incline (real _deep_ rut, big rocks). I'm an experienced 4x4 off-roader, so I ought to know. I couldn't find the owner in the 1st mansion, and couldn't find the 2nd mansion. In the process of driving around these unmarked roads, I got high-centered on a rock!! Reverse just got me a dust cloud, so I crossed my fingers & "gunned it" in 1st gear.. SSSCCCRRRAAAAPPPPPPEEEEEE... GGOOUUGGGEEE.. Whew, I'm out, hope there's no damage. I finally met a biker dude on a Harley (!!) who just entered the gate, and let me out. Along the way to Willemstad to the Photostudio, I got lost 3 times at those _infernal_ "rings" (it was evening by that time, and the turnoffs are labelled with cities I'm unfamiliar with).
I finally got to the photo studio at 8:30 pm, 3.5 hours past my appointment. Carlos had called Andrew (my host), expressing concern. Worked until 1am scanning/processing/uploading, until I "hit the WALL". I wanted to sleep overnight in the car, & Carlos responded "Are you crazy? We've had breakins here. You're coming home with me. ". I woke up Friday at 7am, to get back to uploading images. Spent all day doing this, until 5pm. IT'S OVER, pressure is off.. I drove back to Andrew's place, & rested for 3 hours (just went outside & looked at the stars, trying to empty my mind). I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, all the PRESSURE (finding the _perfect site_, getting images uploaded, worrying about the cloudy weather, sleep deprivation). Was up until 4am, packing (what a DRAG!!). Got up @7am to finish up loose-ends at the photostudio. Searched for eclipse souveneirs, couldn't find much (most sold out). The return trip was highlighted by the "cattle-run" at Miami International Airport, picking up my 2 80lb cases, getting cleared by customs, re-checking it. I BARELY made my connecting flight to LA.
I'm still at it, getting images processed & uploaded. Haven't even looked at my Hi8 horizon video, still have to do time-lapses, do the Widelux image.
Like I emailed Fred Espenak yeseterday, it must be Eclipse Fever. I LOVE it..
I am a big fan of the TV shows Gilligan's Island & Tarzan. The running theme in each, is about "getting away from civilization", in an unspoiled-isolated natural oasis (MUCH better). (There are always those episodes where those "nasty" invaders from outside, come & cause havoc. E.g., the evil Dr. Boris Balinkoff taking the Castaways to his laboratory for brain-swapping experiments. Every week, Tarzan battles those greedy prospectors out for exploitation of the jungle). DON'T LAUGH. That one episode of Gilligan's Island about the Mars Lander correctly predicted the current "Life on Mars Fiasco". I.e., the so-called evidence of life is actually earth-based. (Flashback: the Professor repairs the singlet lens from the Mars camera (Gilligan dropped it). But, the glue vat explodes, causing NASA to see the castaways running around in bird feathers. Bird People!, exclaims the imaging scientist.. Yeah, right..)
Naturally, the solution for an ECLIPSE SITE is isolation & privacy (just ask Fred Espenak) in a beautiful natural setting. That was my main goal for the Caribbean eclipse -- to find the _perfect_ beach site much like Gilligan's Isle. Towards this end, I spent ALL Monday (with Andrew) scouring EVERY beach on the NW side -- Playa Kalki, Playa Forti, Playa Abao, Playa Kenepa, Playa Jeremi, Playa Lagun, Boca Santa Cruz, Boca Santa Marta, Playa Mansalina, Playa Bota, Playa Largu. I considered Christoffel Park, with it's bushy mountainous terrain -- my 2ndary Tarzan-Jungle-Like site, but it was too windy. Bummer.
Unfortunately, the best spot was on private property (locked gate, new owners). Incredibly, after a quick phone call by Carlos, and a meeting with the groundskeeper is arranged via the police. Before eclipse-day, they will let me in & setup. I will have "protection" & privacy, but will it satisfy the Gilligan's-Isle constraint? It turned out better than I dreamed -- exquisitely beautiful. Now all my wide-angle cameras will shoot PROUD.. Yes, the Gilligan solution is falling into place. My host Andrew reminds me of the Skipper, my sweet friend Fari reminds me of Mary Ann (who sent me maps & books, made many important contacts).
Ironically, a diving boat (for scuba diving & snorkeling) was anchored off-shore. Reminds me of the S.S. Minnow. Cool. And, some divers swim their way on shore, to view the eclipse. Incredibly the skies clear, so the scene is set for the eclipse..
I finally got around to looking at my horizon video, and it turned out better than I expected. As reported by others, I confirmed that Venus was visible (barely) on the video, ~1 minute before totality. 30 sec before, it shows up clearly. The video gave me a chance to re-live what I missed (as I was consumed with running 11 cameras). A diving boat (you can see it off in the distance) dropped off some snorkelers (Dutch vacationers), who came ashore. Their reaction to the eclipse is interesting. As usual, I kept quiet & just ran my cameras.
I've uploaded 3 QT videos:
I looked for shadow bands, but couldn't see anything obvious. Maybe I'll have to look closer (getting some sleep would help also).
I just realized that I was so "focused" (pun intended) on taking pictures, I never got one of myself in Curacao. As I was doing the panorama, I "ducked" in order to prevent from "ruining" the picture. However, as seen in the video, the wide-angle attachment "caught" me anyway. I dreamed of having some animal-life in the pictures. Chita (the chimpanzee) from Tarzan, would have been perfect.Story #3
I've uploaded some of my night-time astrophotos, taken during my eclipse
Click on "ASTRO". It illustrates my 1st encounter with the Southern Skies. A very memorable experience -- "Diamonds in the Night" (the local Curacaon description of the nightsky, quoted to me by my main contact Fari) at a beautiful beach location. Playa Mansalina in the San Juan area of Curacao. Nestled in a horseshoe cove with cactus-laden cliffs (to the rear), palm-tree grove further back. In front, turqoise waters of the Caribbean, light surf, beautiful sunset. Despite persistent advice by my Curacaon contacts, I spent the night there by myself. It was sufficiently isolated (long drive via dirt road), thus minimizing any potential problems. I.e., no one knows I'm there & won't bother me. I'll upload a picture later on.
At dusk, Orion was approaching the meridian, way up HIGH. Almost the zenith. Sirius was notably the brightest star towards the south, & Canopus was down & to the right. NOTE: Sirius & Canis Major was positioned in the sky altitude-wise, where Orion is AT -- at home in California (34 deg N latitude). Trippy. Before Eta Carinae/S. Cross was suitably placed for photography, I was busy star-hopping visually to familiarize myself with the unfamiliar Southern Sky (with the aid of Tirion's Sky Atlas).
What was interesting was that ~2am (12.5 deg N. latitude), the Southern Milky Way was parallel to the horizon. See the 105mm horizon shot, with the mangrove tree in the foreground -- it illustrates my naked eye view. Eta Carinae was near the meridian, and the Southern Cross just to the left. Sirius was off to the SW, & Orion already setting. The open clusters IC2602 & NGC3532 (to the left of Eta Carinae) were easily discernible naked-eye. I tried to discern the Coalsack, but really couldn't see it clearly (factors could have been the low elevation & Caribbean haze, also bit of light pollution to the east). The sky near the horizon was really murky & blacked out, as is evident in the photos.
There were occassional fast-moving clouds moving around, some occassional plnaes "streaking" in the north. This killed off any ideas of long star trail exposures near Polaris, or the SE/SW horizon. Also killed off any time-lapse shots with my interval camera. Neither my narrow-angle cameras (AP 5" f8 or 4" 400mm/4 APO) had an opportunity at Eta Carinae. Major disappointment. I had only 1 night of (hasty) astrophotography, before leaving to my main E-day site (complicated logistics to get in). The night before E-day, my Tak EM100 mount was all drift-aligned for accurate sun-tracking. I was tempted to do some astrophotography, but had to let it slip to get some rest.