My Eclipse # 11 - for 11 Seconds
in very rural Northern Kenya

Sunday, 3 Nov 2013

Sibiloi National Park, Kenya
Aboard our chartered aircraft...

3° 30' 23"N - 35° 38' 7"E shadow ingress
3° 30' 47"N - 35° 38' 15"E shadow egress

Totality: 0m 11s

That's right - 11 seconds!  And we went all the way to Kenya to see it!

 




 

I know I keep saying this, but this was an eclipse I was DEFINITELY going to skip.  The allure of possibly seeing an eclipse at sea at the 0°N 0°E point (at the intersection of the Prime Meridian and the Equator) was offset by the possibility of also seeing armed pirates.  The allure of going by myself to Cape Verde or Gabon was offset by the quite likely prospect of bad weather.  And, being a Hybrid eclipse (one where - in this case - the beginning of the path offers only annularity, because the tip of the umbra only just barely touches the earth a little later further down the path), the exceedingly short duration of this eclipse was enough to cause me to want to relegate it in favor of saving my ducats for future travels.

However, I got an e-mail from my eclipse-chasing buddies.  They were renting two aircraft, and were going to this out-of-the-way spot in Northern Kenya, where maybe there might be 1 or 2 visitors to this National Park each month.  (Like, if we died, no one would ever find our bodies...)  And the planes were on standby, in case we needed to head skyward in case of bad weather.  And, oh by the way - since enough people were splitting the cost, it wasn't really that much...  That did it, and I was on board!  I made my plans for Nairobi!

We planned to all converge in a nice hotel in that wonderful, vibrant capital city, and make our final preparations for the day trip up to Sibiloi - to see a sunset eclipse that would last only 11 seconds!  Actually, this would be pretty cool - because for an eclipse this short, there are a lot of edge effects (Baily's Beads, prominences, chromosphere), and huge wide-angle shadow views that can be taken in that will be most stunning at just this type of eclipse.  So my challenge was to concoct a video/photo regimen that could survive practically any eventuality.  As I write this (a month before the event), everything is still not finalized.  But the plans are made, and the trip is set.  So, like it or not, I will make my date with the shadow, and do what I can to try and document it for this page...

Check out our plans at:

http://nicmosis.as.arizona.edu:8000/ECLIPSE_WEB/ECLIPSE_13/TSE2013_PLANNING_OVERVIEW.html

*********************

And now that the eclipse has come and gone, I will offer a narrative of the events of that day - which in my mind ranks as one of the most amazing in the annals of eclipse chasing - EVER.  It is certainly one of the highlights of my experiences!  But read for yourself:

The plan for eclipse day was very simple - we would gather in the lobby of our hotel in Nairobi before sunrise, and take two hired cars to the Wilson airport - smaller than the International airport (but still quite large), it is the field that serves mostly local flights.  There, we would meet with our air charter company, and pile into two specially-prepared (several seats had been removed) Cessna Grand Caravans.  Our charter company did such an outstanding job, I do not mind giving them an absolutely shameless plug.  When in Nairobi, look no further than  Boskovic Air Charters, Ltd.  "Tad" Watts is the Managing Director of the firm, and also serves in the capacity of pilot.  He did a magnificent job captaining the lead aircraft, and his top-notch firm stand highly recommended by all for such superb handling of the aircraft and logistics for our most amazing adventure!

[DRAMATIS PERSONAE]

Seven of us like-minded souls were to fly in plane #1, and six were to follow in plane #2, as follows:

Plane #1:

Plane #2:

Plus our pilots, of course! (Though only one per plane - just like the number of engines!)  Tad sat left seat on plane #1, and Tom Cunningham was in command of the sister ship.

Note to self - though this was to be my 11th total eclipse (putting me well above and beyond everyone I talk to in "real life"), on this trip I believe EVERYONE else except maybe Benno (who is yet a teenager) had more in hand than me.  So I therefore remained quite the novice among this elite group.

The process of boarding the planes was reasonably painless, and we were off.  Our destination was one Sibiloi National Park - a remote (very remote) preserve in the NW part of the country, visited very seldom by anyone, but still staffed by the Kenyan Government; and on this single day, to receive and host more visitors than it usually saw in the better part of a year.  They had prepared and resurfaced a dirt landing strip, along with a parking ramp that could (AND DID) serve well over 20 planes that day!  There were two small buildings that served for shelter, along with an enclosed squat toilet (sporting two stalls!!)  This was far better than the bushes we had thought we would need to squat behind (and which didn't exist - the land was indeed quite flat and barren).

The flight to the Park was stunning.  We travelled over mountains and plains, multi-colored riverbeds and terrain that looked unchanged from what its appearance must have been a million years ago.  Everywhere the land was shaped by the flows of ancient volcanic eruptions, and the park itself was covered with the rich, black igneous stuff - reminiscent of the volcanic desert plains northeast of Los Angeles, near Barstow.




As we flew in to land, we crossed over Lake Turkana.  On the shores of this ancient lake, the Leakeys discovered some of the oldest humanoid skeletons known to exist.  Many of these are preserved in the National Museum in Nairobi, and a visit to that single room is what makes a museum trip positively mandatory for any trip to Kenya!  The lake has no outlets - the only water that exits does so by evaporation.  So the alkalinity is very high, and the lake is very green.  But the lake itself is huge - 15 miles wide, and over a hundred miles long, and we would be viewing the eclipse from within a mile of its shores.  (Well, that was the plan, at least!)

We had departed Wilson at about 7:20am, and arrived at the park just before 9:30.  We were among the first few planes there, and so we got the best parking spots - which would be useful in making a hasty exit.  You see, The eclipse would occur at 5:25pm, and the sun set about 50 minutes later.  Because there were no lights at this field, a restriction was firmly in place against any flight activities after sunset.  We would therefore need to leave in a bit of haste, just following the eclipse.  This meant we didn't want to be stuck behind other planes!

Of course, most of the people who came in on their own planes (ALL Cessnas!) immediately headed out for campsites along the lakefront.  We did not have that luxury, unless we wanted to stay the night.




Aircraft #1 was actually intending to stay the night, as many of our group had indicated an interest in camping in order to observe the sky that evening, and to watch the sun set while in partial eclipse.  The interest in this was for me outweighed by the desire to return to a nice, comfy hotel bed in Nairobi, so I was planning to be with the group planning to depart yet that afternoon on plane #2.  And, if the weather turned bad, we all had the option of boarding our aircraft and making an aerial observation of the eclipse.  This would preclude spending the night, for those who had expressed the interest - but it was in any event absolutely preferable to missing the eclipse.

So - whether we were to stay or to go, we needed to have a beeline to the runway - and by arriving early, we were assured of that preferential spot in line.  While the weather in Nairobi had been quite pleasant, our day in the desert was forecast to be hot and humid - bordering on miserable.  Shade was only to be had within the small sheds that had been set up - and so our hats, safari clothing and sunscreen came in very handy.  We had packed in enough TP for everyone to partake, and enough water for all.  Though weight restrictions had limited the amount of astronomical and photographic gear we could bring, no compromise could be made on the safety of the gang.  No major medical attention was to be found in this quite inaccessible spot, and the danger of heatstroke was very real.