The August 11, 1999 Total Solar Eclipse As Seen in the Black Sea

Robert A. Garfinkle, F.R.A.S.

At about 7:00 a.m. Eastern European Daylight Time (EEDT), the 800-passenger cruise ship, MV Marco Polo, slowed to a stop in the western Black Sea at the selected center-line location (43 6.615 north latitude; 29 43.069 east longitude) for the last total solar eclipse of the millennium (no total solar eclipses will be visible on Earth in the year 2000). This position is about 115 miles north of Istanbul, 75 miles east of Varna, Bulgaria, and 150 miles south of the southern tip of the Ukraine). Many of the passengers and crew members began to prepare to witness the eclipse. By noon, six other cruise ships, a freighter, and a ferry had arrived in the area and lined up near us under completely cloudless skies and dead calm seas. They must have spotted the special eclipse flag that Russell Sipe of Sky & Telescope magazine had flying from the mast and figured that we probably knew what the hell we were doing. Actually, this was Captain Erik Bjurstedt's second eclipse and he in fact did know what to do. He got the ship into exactly the right spot for viewing this eclipse.

Eclipse day started out for me with the sound of scraping. Our cabin was near the bow and a maintenance crewman was sanding down the handrails and stairs on the bow in preparation for revarnishing them that day. Definitely not the right day to be painting rails and stairs where dozens of people would be standing in a few hours to see the eclipse. I called the pursers' office and had them stop the work before any painting was started.

By 9:00 a.m., people were already staking out viewing spots. A forest of tripods had emerged up from the teak bow and stern decks of the converted Russian troop transport. The Marco Polo started life in the 60s as the Alexandre Pushkin. Orient Lines has done a marvelous job in converting the ship into a first-class cruiser. I added my two tripods to the forest, and then proceeded down to one of the lounges to give a presentation on the beginnings of the lunar nomenclature to about 60 people. At the same time, former Space Shuttle astronaut, Jay Apt, was reprising of one of his talks on the view of Earth from the Shuttle. He had ridden into space four times on the Shuttle, and had great stories to tell of being in space.

I use two tripods on my solar eclipse expeditions. One has a special bracket that holds my Minolta 5000 camera with a f/1.7, 400-mm lens and my Nikon F with a 50-mm lens. I also mount a metal air-conditioning thermometer and a microtape audio recorder on the tripod. This tripod stands on a set of Kevin Medlock's antivibration pads. An analog tape camcorder gets mounted on the second tripod. There were several people using new digital camcorders, and they got excellent results of the eclipse. Batteries were replaced and lenses cleaned before I brought the equipment out of the cabin.

One of the disadvantages of viewing an eclipse from sea is usually the rocking of the ship from side to side or bow to stern. The seas were so calm and windless throughout the entire eclipse that the Sun did not swing back and forth through the camera viewfinder, but held rock steady. No pendulum effect on this trip!

From the time I set up my equipment until after the eclipse was over, I periodically checked the air temperature.

Near second contact over Altomunster, Germany, by Ernie Piini
The temperature was a steady 96 F for about an hour before first contact, which occurred at 12:49 p.m. EEDT (10:49 UT). The temperature progressively dropped to a low of 82 F a few minutes after third contact (end of totality at 1:16 p.m.; 11:15 UT). It slowly rose to only 88 F about a half hour after fourth contact (2:35 p.m.). The Sun was 62 degrees above the horizon.

We could see the Moon's shadow approaching from the west and the colors of everything began to take on an orange hue about 10 minutes before totality. Shadows became stark, and even individual hairs cast singularly black shadows, which lacked an outlining penumbral shadow. This began in the last few minutes before the main event and occurred again after totality. With a small Moon, Baily's Beads and the Diamond Ring were very fast. I could see a large detached prominence located at about the 8:00 o'clock position (southeast), even during the first diamond ring.

The corona was circular and extended out only about one solar radius. This was the smallest (but most interesting) corona I have seen during totality. The small corona made the skies darker than I have seen before. The inner corona sparkled, because portions of the chromosphere were still visible along the rough lunar limb throughout totality. The corona had thin yet very bright radial streaks that seemed to emanate all the way around the limb of the Moon. I counted seven prominences that were easy to spot in the camera viewfinders or my 15x54 Canon electronic image stabilizing binoculars. At magnitude 4.2, Venus was an easy target to spot and Mercury at magnitude +0.9 was a little harder. I glanced at Spica toward the 360-degree rosy horizon (an advantage of being at sea for an eclipse is an unobstructed view of the horizon all around you). The eclipse lasted 2 minutes 21 seconds at our location. It was fun watching the shadow boil away toward the east, knowing that totality was about to began over eastern Turkey. Obviously unknown to any of us on board the Marco Polo on the August 11 was the pending disaster welling up under those lands. After the eclipse, we visited Nesebur, Bulgaria, and Istanbul. My family and I left Istanbul about 45 hours before the earthquake hit. Now we need to get ready for Africa in June 2001 for the first total solar eclipse of the new millennium.

Robert Garfinkle; last updated: October 04, 2007 Prev Next