Ocean Change

Ocean Change

The 85-year -old cutter „Dagmar Aaen“ returned to the harbor in Hamburg exactly one year after her departure. The traditional sailing ship has covered 21.000 sea miles – an equivalent of 40.000 kilometers - since the farewell ceremony in Hamburg on the 5th of August, 2015. When one considers that the circumference of the earth also is approximately 40.000 kilometers, then this is a proud achievement of the “Dagmar Aaen”. During this long sail which went through the tropics and around Cape Horn to the Antarctic, Arved Fuchs and a total of 44 crew members travelled with the “Dagmar Aaen” to eleven different countries. The expedition has come to a successful finish despite extremely unfavorable weather conditions.

The expedition “Ocean Change” focused on the changes which are taking place in the world’s oceans. Especially the problems of overfishing and the pollution caused by plastic garbage were documented during the long journey. As well the expedition focused on the production of two documentaries for ZDF as well as a three-part story for the National Geographic Deutschland (NG). Arved Fuchs and the National Geographic have been successfully working together for several years. During the preparations for the actual expedition, an agreement was reached.  The renowned magazine would report on different topics in three issues. The first is a report on Guinea-Bissau and the Bissagos Islands. For the crew members and Arved Fuchs, who almost exclusively sail to the Polar Regions, a visit to this small African country was a new and exciting experience.

The second part revolves around the notorious Cape Horn. Thirty two years ago, Arved Fuchs was the first person to circle Cape Horn in a folding boat. This winter the cape presented itself from its typical side. One low pressure area followed the one before it, wild currents and wilder cross seas characterized the daily picture. In order to cross the Drake Strait on route to the Antarctic Peninsula, a suitable time frame had to be met so as not to be caught up in a storm front with waves of up to six meters in height. And continually under time pressure: A significant penguin project could only be tacked in a specific time period and the journey to the Antarctic was also only possible in an authorized phase.

The third part concerns the world-wide problems local fishermen are facing. During the many journeys the “Dagmar Aaen” has taken along the earth’s coasts, the crew has time and again sought contact with the local fishermen.  From the North Sea to Greenland, from Newfoundland to Tierra del Fuego, the fishermen always report the same thing. The big well-funded fishing companies are healthy – the individuals are fighting for their existence and are giving up by and by. While in Norway the cod catch is still going, it looks, for example, completely different for the Iberian Peninsula. On the “Costa del Morte” north of Cape Finisterre the fishermen are fighting for survival and are earning, according to a study conducted by Greenpeace, just 8.000 euros a year – tendency falling.

TV- Documentation

Besides the National Geographic magazine’s coverage of Cape Horn, it will also be the subject of a TV-documentation for ZDF. The production company Topas accompanied the “Dagmar Aaen” on her journey to the Cape to convey their impressions of its 400th anniversary. On January 29th, 1616 the Cape was discovered and  circled for the first time by the Dutch seafarer Willem Cornelisz Schouten and named in honor of the council of the city Hoorn Capo Hoorn. A circling of the Cape has always been one of most feared ship passages. Until the Panama Canal was opened in 1914, circling Cape Horn was the only possibility to reach the South American west coast from the Atlantic. According to estimates, more than 800 ships and 10.000 persons were lost in the waters around Cape Horn. The documentation on the 400th anniversary highlights the exciting history of this legendary Cape.

The second TV-documentation will concern the German marine officer Gunther Plüschow  (February 8th in Munich –January 28th in Argentina). In November 1927, Plüschow journeyed, with his expedition cutter “Feuerland”, from Büsum to Punta Arenas in Chile. This journey took him to Tenerife, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and Buenos Aires to Chile – Arved Fuchs chose a similar route for his journey from Hamburg to Tierra del Fuego. Upon arriving in Punta Arenas, Plüschow built the Heinkel biplane HD 24 W in the wharf of Braun y Blanchard. He was the first person to fly over the Darwin-Kordilleen and Cape Horn with this aircraft. He returned to Germany in 1929 where his book “Silberkondor über Feuerland” was published. A film was made with the same title. He returned to South America at the end of 1930 and crashed on January 28th, 1931 into the Rico arm of Lago Argentina and was killed. The documentation commemorates this aviation pioneer who was referred to as the “Airman of Tsingtau”.  

In the course of the different documentations, the crew on the “Dagmar Aaen” experienced both the unpredictability and the beauty of nature at the southern tip of America. Violent storms, the force of waves as high as houses, dangerous cross seas in the Drake Passage as well as in the “Roaring Forties” during the return journey to Europe  with waves of up to 10 meters in height -innumerable penguins, humpback whales, fur seals and albatrosses along the coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula totally impressed the crew.

Overfishing and Plastic Garbage

Off the coasts of South America the crew observed Asian fishing fleets, freezing units, tankers and cargo ships which exploit the seas in an industrial manner. During the outbound journey along the coasts of France, Portugal, Spain, Cape Verde and Brazil the crew of the “Dagmar Aaen” experienced similar procedures. While speaking with many coastal fishermen, Arved Fuchs was often told that they advise their children against pursuing this traditional business.

Each year millions of tons of marine creatures are hauled out of the waters – many populations are more endangered than was assumed till now. According to the biennial report of the UNO on fishery, 52% of the marine fish populations have been so intensively overfished that an increase is no longer possible. A big problem is that of bycatch. Estimations assume a total of 39 million tons worldwide. In the North Sea for example a third of the catch is thrown overboard as garbage - that is a million tons of fish and other marine creatures.

As well as overfishing the world’s waters are also fighting against the problem of plastic garbage. This garbage is hardly broken down in the sea and is almost imperishable. It breaks down – if at all – very slowly over a period of decades and sometimes centuries through the effects of salt water, sun and friction. A plastic bag needs for example 10-20 years, a Styrofoam cup about 50 years and a PET bottle 450 years until these items are completely decomposed. Each year 300 million tons of plastic are produced – 10 million tons end up as garbage in the oceans. Presently up to 18.000 plastic pieces of different sizes are drifting on each square kilometer of water surface.

During the long journey with the “Dagmar Aaen” the crew sighted numerous spots in the ocean where plastic was floating. They took photos of these sights and documented them. Only the Antarctic regions are spared from plastic garbage. Obviously the restrictions which were enacted in the nineteen-eighties have been effective.

The metropolitan city Rio de Janeiro was visited twice during the long journey. The Olympic Games take place there this year. The sailing competitions will take place in Guanabara Bay by Rio. The crew got an idea on site of the state of the water in the bay. Despite attempts at removing the vast amounts of garbage, the quality of the water has not improved. More dangerous than the visible garbage which descends down the slopes of the favelas into the water, are the bacteria and germs which pollute the water through an uncontrolled and insufficient sewage system. Diarrheal diseases and other malaises are a result. The sailing competitors will have to concern themselves with the protection of their own health.