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Infinite Divisibility and an Otter Update

July 10, 2012

July 10

Day 20

Local Noon Position (11:25am HST)
GPS: 55.52.443N by 140.00.614W
Sextant: 55.54.0N by 140.10W

Course: 59 degrees true
Speed: 4 knots most of day, decreasing
Wind: 6 – 8 SSW, decreasing
Sea: 1 – 2 feet
Sky: Mixed sun, mostly sun until evening, now high cloud, but an open sky Bar: 1030 … way up from yesterday
Air Temp (in the cabin): 50 degrees
Water Temp: 47.5 degrees, increasing
Sails: All up, all searching for a breeze.

Since last noon: 119
Total for passage: 2330
Daily average: 117
Miles to Sitka: 157

Debris: Small piece of plastic, submerged. A liter soda bottle, crushed, floating at water top.

Ships and other piloted vessels: None.

Birds: One Black Footed Albatross. One Long Tailed Skua. Several shearwaters, puffins, storm petrels…I didn’t pay much attention today.


In high school geometry I learned of the infinite divisibility of numbers. The principle is simple and obvious: four can be divided into two, two into one, one into .5, to .25 to .125 to .0625, etc. and forever. But to my young mind, searching ever to be logical, this posed a problem for objects moving through space.

It was the logic of it, that and a pleasant lack of math, that made geometry my favorite math class. Frequently I stayed long after the period asking questions and arguing theorems at the blackboard with the teacher, Mr. Gifford, and it was here and after days of pondering the problem in private, that I posed my riddle.

On the black board I drew an arrow headed toward a target. “If the distance between an object and its destination can be halved infinitely, how does the one ever reach the other?” I asked. In truth I was proud of my discovery. It seemed a real stumper.

Mr. Gifford looked at the arrow I had drawn, then at the target, and answered with weight, “I think after a time the arrow simply runs out of patience.”

The arrow is luckier than we if it can shake free from its mortal coil and make that last leap to the bull’s eye simply by pitching a fit. I’ve tried that and failed. We in the North Pacific have no such fortune. We are bound to the infinite divisibility of, in our case, wind speed.

It is now a truism for Murre and me and passage making that the closer we approach a destination, the softer blows the wind, and just before we enter the long sought bay or round that final point, the sea turns to glass and we bob.

Same now. Earlier and earlier the day brightens (well before 3am–I have yet to be up early enough to see sunrise); it blooms crisp and fresh; views are expansive; clouds stretch out like mountain ranges above this great plain of blue. But the beauty comes at a price to be paid in wind. The bar has jumped to 1030, and all day wind has worked to become a dissipating vapor. Successfully. Each mile we make, there is less of it with which to make the next.

“Why are you so focused on mileage?” asked my friend. “Why not just slow down and enjoy?”

A fair question. I have the privilege of being a Thoreau aswim in a vaster Walden. Why not rest from the toil of chopping wood and admire the view?

And I do that. Some days, like today, that’s nearly all I do. For hours I sit in the hatch and watch the ocean be its ever-changing, ever-the-same self. Bathed in nearly-warm sunlight I nod off into a kind of monkish bliss that develops into a full blown nap. I wake. Murre is still here; the ocean is still there. Nothing could be grander. Seriously. Have I not made that clear?

But the ocean punishes dawdlers. This is not, after all, a pond. If we are to make port, we must work at it, which is challenging when our major resource, the wind, slacks off.

Otter Update

My good friend Jim was kind enough to ask a couple of experts in the field whether spotting an otter in the North Pacific 600 miles from anywhere was cause for concern. Could it be, or should he arrange to have a psychiatrist meet me at the docks in Sitka? (“Zis otter you say, it is more resembling your mozzer or your fazzer?”)

Here’s one response from Tim, as wildlife biologist at UC Santa Cruz:

“It is certainly not a location where we would expect to see a sea otter, although we do know they occasionally make very long distance movements. However the location is much more consistent with where we expect fur seals to go at this time of year – a female fur seal is similar in size to a sea otter, has prominent whiskers and does a similar “periscoping” type of behavior as sea otters.”

And another from James of the Alaska Science Center:

“I suspect that what Randall observed was a northern fur seal. It is extremely unlikely that a living sea otter would be found at such a location as they require frequent (daily at least) access to water less than 100 meters in depth for foraging. I looked at the approximate location of the sighting and could find no habitat suitable for sea otters until quite near the Aleutian chain. Otters feed almost exclusively on benthic marine invertebrates such as clams, urchins and crabs. Even after several decades of observing sea otters I have been fooled by a fur seal impersonating a sea otter, they can appear quite similar.”

So it was not an otter–but I am not entirely nuts. Jim, many thanks!


  1. Lawrence Killingsworth permalink
    July 11, 2012 9:17 pm

    You otter known it was a fur seal…

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