The Total Solar Eclipse of February 26, 1998

To see an animation of this eclipse, click here.

Location: Island of Guadeloupe, Eastern Caribbean Sea.
Time: 2:31 pm, February 26, 1998.
Camera: Olympus OM-1 35mm SLR, on tripod.
Lens: 200mm at f/4 with 3X Teleconverter (effective 600mm at f/11).
Film: Fuji Provia 100 Professional Slide Film.
Exposure: 1 second.

The solar eclipse was the highlight of a Windjammer Barefoot Cruise that my wife and I took though the French West Indies, on the four-masted schooner Polynesia. Four Windjammer ships (Polynesia, Legacy, Fantome and Mandalay) formed a loose flotilla during the week; all were at the island of Guadeloupe on eclipse day, either offshore or on the centerline.

The typical Windjammer schedule is to sail each night, and explore a different island every day. We started our adventure on Sunday on the Dutch island of St. Maarten, where Polynesia stayed at anchor that night and we partied with a local band that jammed till midnight. The next day on Anguilla we found about a half-dozen fossilized sand dollars, then went snorkeling off of the beautiful white-sand Shoal Beach. On St. Barts, the playground of the rich and famous, we ate Jimmy Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise," did some more snorkeling, and joined the town's Mardi Gras festivities. By Wednesday we were on St. Kitts, where we toured a scenic old fort and the Caribelle Batik factory, where beautifully colored clothes are made by painting wax-treated fabric. The gathering clouds throughout the day Wednesday were worrisome; by the end of the day it was completely overcast. Would we be able to see tomorrow's solar eclipse? Reassuringly, as we sailed that night the clouds dissipated and Thursday dawned clear.

Thursday was eclipse day. My selected location for viewing the eclipse was La Grande Anse Beach on the northwest tip of the French island of Guadeloupe, which was within the calculated path of the moon's shadow. We were given the option of going on land (and taking our chances with island clouds) or sailing the center line on the Legacy. My wife chose to sail, while I opted to go on land so I could have a solid base for my tripod and get a telephoto picture. After the launch dropped a group of us ashore at the small town of Deshaies, we discovered that the promised taxis were non-existent, so everybody split up. Several of us decided to hike to the next beach north of town (about 2 miles over a hill in blazing tropical sun, carrying tons of photo gear!). Once there, we picked the far end of the beach as having the most unobstructed view toward the southwest where the eclipse would take place. So we trudged a half-mile up the beach and set up all our tripods and cameras. We attracted some attention among the French-speaking locals, and showed them the view thru our eclipse shades and viewfinders. I managed to get a few photos of the partial phase between ominously building clouds before we decided to pack up and move back down the beach, where it seemed a lot sunnier. I got my camera set up with about a half-hour to spare, only to have a big dark cloud park itself right in front of the sun. After some serious prayer, the cloud moved out of the way only a couple of minutes before totality! Thin cirrus clouds lingered, but these did not significantly obstruct the view, and totality was upon me.

Night had fallen in mid-day; several planets had appeared, and the sun had become a black hole with a ring of light around it! I was so dumbstruck that I had a hard time concentrating on taking my planned pictures. I then took a moment to look at the eclipse with binoculars and the naked eye. Orange-red solar prominences were visible along the edge of sun's disk and were best seen with binoculars. The milky white corona was much brighter and extended much farther out like gossamer streamers. Eclipse photos do not capture what it really looks like with the naked eye, because the film cannot "see" as wide a range of brightness as your eye. But also, it is an emotional experience, which one can only attempt to describe. It was so beautiful, I wanted to reach up and grab it to keep it from ending. But a brilliant spot of sun reappeared, forming the "diamond ring," and much too soon my 3 minutes of totality was over.

Of course, after totality even the thin clouds disappeared and the rest of the day was very sunny! Back on board the ship, everyone I talked to said they had seen at least part of totality; those who sailed the center line had the most unobstructed view with only very thin clouds. That evening, we toasted our success with a bottle of French champagne purchased on St. Barts.

Friday brought us to the island of Nevis where my wife went scuba diving while I took a rainforest hike, with spectacular views of volcanic eruptions on the nearby island of Montserrat. Saturday we were back at our starting point of St. Maarten, where we did some shopping on the French side of the island before catching our plane back to the states.

Besides the eclipse, we saw lots of interesting things on this trip: Venus during broad daylight with the naked eye (next to the crescent moon 3 days before eclipse), Mars next to a very thin crescent moon 28 hours after eclipse, the Green Flash at sunset (3 times), the southern night sky (Southern Cross, Eta Carinae Nebula, Omega Centauri Star Cluster), the zodiacal light, and the erupting volcano on Montserrat (both at night and day). Those who sailed the centerline even saw some whales! All of these sights plus excellent sailing and great companions added up to an unforgettable adventure!

This Windjammer eclipse cruise was booked by Dan Oppliger of Tropical Sails. Thanks Dan!

Scanned by Rick Scott using a Nikon Coolscan 35mm film scanner and Adobe Photoshop.

Revised: October 4, 2011
Copyright © 1999 Joe Orman
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