Exactly nineteen years after observing my third solar eclipse in the near- freezing conditions of Roy, Montana, I observed my seventh eclipse in summerlike weather from the deck of Celebrity Cruises newest vessel, the M.V. Galaxy in the waters of the deep Caribbean.
Thanks to a weather update relayed via radiophone from meteorologist Brian Seeley at the Forecast Office of the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico on eclipse morning, plus sucessful manuevering by the Master of the Galaxy, Captain Iordanis Adamidis, our ship was properly positioned less than 10 miles north of the center line and enjoyed 3 minutes and 12 seconds of total eclipse.
Eclipse day started off with the sky 80 percent cloud covered at sunrise. The day started allowing any passengers who cared to, to leave the ship at St. John's, Antigua. The ship would then head back out to sea. Mr. Seely indicated that a cold front lay to our north and west and that our cloud cover was being caused by a pre-frontal trough of low pressure. The clouds had actually become imbedded in an upper level inversion and would likely persist until the cold front passed by later in the day or evening (after the eclipse). However, there was some hope. Mr. Seeley noted that on the latest high-resolution satellite imagery that the region toward Guadeloupe seemed to be a bit clearer and drier. That was where we intended to sail to get the best view of the eclipse.
Nonetheless, soon after we left St. Johns at 11 a.m. AST, we were drenched with a 10-15 minute rain squall. After the squall passed, our skies began to slowly clear as we progressed southward.
By the time of first contact at 1:04 p.m. AST, we had blue sky and only a 30 to 40 percent cloud cover. Most of the remaining cloudiness passed on through by 2 p.m. Totality was to occur just after 2:30, After the last of the clouds moved on by, electricity filled the air as most of the nearly 2000 passengers knew that all of our weather problems were now behind us and that we were definitely going to see the total eclipse!
We observed totality near latitude 16 degrees 37 minutes north and longitude 61 degrees 48 minutes west.
About three minutes before totality Venus was sighted by many low toward the west-southwest. Horizon cloudiness in this direction soon went from cream- colored to dark grey and then finally black as the Moon's shadow approached. The water took on an eerie deep purplish hue and rapid, almost ghostlike changes of the overall surroundings became noticeably evident.
Sam Storch caught sight of the corona about 40 seconds before totality as coronal streamers could be seen protruding from the lower limb of the Sun. In the final ten seconds, a stunning bead of sunlight gradually shrank providing us with a spectacular diamond ring effect.
The pearly corona itself was a classic textbook "minimum" type, appearing sideways to our perspective: through 7 x 35 binoculars long coronal streamers, streaks and tendrils extended for at least two solar diameters and pointed straight up and down, while off to the left and right of the black disk were faint, yet distinct polar plumes. As all the first-time eclipse watchers quickly learned from gazing at this beautiful sight, it was not at all what you see on overexposed photographs.
Mercury, appearing to the upper left of the Sun and Jupiter a similar distance below seemed to explode into view at the moment of second contact.
Totality lasted 3 minutes and 12 seconds from our location. The third contact diamond ring was just as beautiful and as long-lasting as the first. The arrival and departure of the Moon's shadow was not overly well defined -- no sweeping or falling shadow cone -- but more of a diffuse darkening. Although readily visible in the southwest just prior to totality it seemed to become more diffuse and amorphous as it swept overhead when totality began. Similarly, the southwest sky gradually brightened toward the end of totality, but no sharp trailing edge of darkness was evident.
Just prior to the rain squall, the temperature stood at a very humid 84 degrees F. After the rain ended, it dropped to 75 F. At first contact, it rose back to 78 F., then "bottomed out" at 73 F. ten minutes after totality, again recovering to 78 F. by fourth contact.
Shadow bands were not observed, though just after totality a string of lights stretched out high above the top deck of the ship obliged by producing a series of dark crescent shadows.
For those fortunate to be near the front of the ship, two whales were seen to breach the sea surface right after totality ended.
When we returned to Antigua at about 5:30 p.m. AST, we found out from those few who decided to go ashore that the total eclipse (at least for them) was obscured by local cloudiness. A newspaper on St. Thomas (Virgin Islands) had a page picture the next day, showing the corona high above the remnants of a car half-buried in volcanic ash from the island of Monserrat.
All those who witnessed the eclipse cheered soon after the end of totality and many were already eagerly talking about plans to view the next total eclipse on August 11, 1999.