Dyer - Nov 3 2013 total eclipse
Total solar eclipse November 2013 seen from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Star Flyer ship. (Alan Dyer)

Total Eclipse Voyage

With minutes and seconds to go, it was unclear whether we were going to see the eclipse.

On Sunday, November 3, a morning of gloomy faces gave way to smiles and exclamations of joy as the captain piloted the Star Flyer into a clear hole in the clouds. We have a happy ship of 150 eclipse chasers who enjoyed a stunningly clear view of totality—all 49 seconds of it—with the eclipsed Sun set in a deep blue sky.

My image above captures some aspects of the scene as it appeared off the port bow of the ship, but it fails to show just how colourful this eclipse was. Because it was a short eclipse, with the Moon’s disc barely large enough to cover the Sun, the hallmark of this event was the brilliant pink chromosphere that was visible all around the Sun with bits of prominences sticking out.

The pink ring was set amid the silvery white and symmetrical corona, which in turn was set in a dark blue sky, above the yellow twilit horizon. The naked-eye view and the view through binoculars were stunning. It was the most colourful eclipse I can recall, and this was total eclipse number 15 for me.

Dyer - Nov 3 2013 total eclipse
Total eclipse of the Sun, November 3, 2013, as seen from a latitude of 16° 58′ 50″ North and 37° 10′ 37″ West in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from the Star Flyer sailing ship. I took this with a Canon 5D Mark II and 16-35mm lens at 19mm for 1/40 second at f/2.8 and ISO 800 on a heavily rolling ship. This is one frame near midtotality of a 360+ time-lapse sequence. (Alan Dyer)

The second-contact diamond ring was prolonged, with the last bits of the Sun breaking up into beads of light as the Sun disappeared behind valleys and craters on the Moon. The third-contact diamond ring appeared as a sharp, tiny but brilliant point of light exploding off the top edge of the Moon. It happened all too soon.

In the days leading up to the eclipse, we worked with Captain Yuriy Slastenin to choose a new intercept point 160 nautical miles east of our original site, one that would give us another six seconds of totality but still allow us to maintain our schedule of reaching Barbados on Sunday, November 10, on our transatlantic crossing.

On November 3, the captain got us to that precise spot on the centre line about an hour before sunrise, exactly when planned. But after a week of beautifully clear skies on the sail down from the Canary Islands, the sky on eclipse morning was filled with cloud and unsettled weather. The clouds took us on an emotional roller coaster all morning.

In the minutes leading up to totality, the captain was at the helm and propelled us under full engine power into a clear hole that opened up just before totality. We ended up 1.7 nautical miles east of our choice position and slightly south of the centre line, but with the same 49 seconds of totality (48.8 seconds, to be precise).

As totality ended, the Sun went into thin cloud again. From then on, we saw the Sun only briefly during the final partial phases. But no one cared. We saw what we had sailed across the Atlantic to see. It is a happy ship of shadow chasers.