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Caution with the Wind – 30.50N, 156.30E

We are heading along 31N trying to make as many miles east as possible in the next few days to sail clear of Typhoon Guchol, where 100 knot winds already churn the seas near the Phillipines. But here with sunny skies and calm seas we spent the majority of the day chasing debris. First a few bottles and large pieces of Styrofoam. Jesse on the bow nets a plastic comb.

Shannon yells, “Blue bucket off the bow,” so we all scramble to her side of the boat to help keep an eye on it as we flip around. On deck, we determine it’s a Japanese product, and will send photos of the logo to our colleagues in Japan. Minutes later Paul, from Two Hands Project in Australia, is pointing in all directions.  “There are a few big pieces that went by in the last minute.” We turn around and snag a bundle of tangled rope the size of a basketball and a square piece of blue foam. The rope is a treasure of marine life, with 4 bristle worms, two oysters, dozens of crabs and anemones. From it, a frog fish drops to the deck.

The square piece of blue foam is sandwiched between to woven sheets of thatch material. It’s roughly the size and thickness of a telephone book. One side has a thin outer layer of weathered plastic sheeting from a blue tarp, with long fibers flowing in all directions. The thatch is natural organic plant material, looks like reeds, layered with what looks like thin wooden veneer. The stitches that hold it all together are roughly an inch apart, spaced evenly, likely factory made.  We emailed this photo to a group of people on land hoping someone can help us identify it.  Amazingly, we receive a response right away classifying the object as part of a Tatami mat. The traditional Tatami were comprised of pressed straw boards but the modern mats have polyrthylene foam inside. The woven cover is made of rush. They are woven tightly but since it’s been soaked for a long time, it expanded and became loose.

If it were from the tsunami, could it have lasted 15 months?  Or did this arrive here, more than 1000 miles from land, from a more recent departure? We don’t know, but we do know that we’re in the southwestern edge of the tsunami debris field, as predicted by IPRC in Hawaii. The International Pacific Research Center mapped the distribution of tsunami debris based on current alone, independent of wind. We are using this map to guide our expedition. We know that there’s already wind-blown debris washing ashore in North America. Every piece reported from there has a large portion of it above the surface, acting like a sail to move it eastward. The objects we’re seeing here do not.

We let the piece of Tatami, from some home far away, rest on the deck of our ship in the rare sunlight. We’ll put it away for now, fully aware that it has a history, perhaps a tragic one. We sail away from dangerous weather and deeper into the tsunami debris field, cautious in both directions.