Day  4: Eclipse Day (First contact at 0908UT)

A note on timings Since we were on a boat and cruising between time zones, the ship kept "Ship time", which was Greek time i.e. 3 hrs ahead of UT.
The times given here are Libyan time (hereafter referred to as local time)  - this may, therefore, confuse fellow travellers on the boat.
Ship Times are given on our Timeline page.

The alarm rang at 12.50am local Libyan time (and again at 12.55 and 1.00 - wonderful things snooze buttons). The original departure time (of 3.30am local) has been brought forward and bus loading began at 2.00  (0000UT), hoping to be on the road by soon after 2.30. We set off shortly after 2.30am and travelled through the near deserted streets of Benghazi to a nearby petrol station because, it seems, a number of the coaches failed to fuel up the day before (it took a long time before anyone told us that this was the delay - there being no information being passed around). It takes a long time to fill up coaches with fuel when there is only one pump working and we hit the road again at the old departure time of 3.30am local. Although the organisers thought it was 5 hours to the eclipse site ("the buses will do the 500km at an average speed of 100km/h - the maths is easy"), the Solar Eclipse Mailing List (SEML) had reliably informed us that it is 7 hours from Benghazi to Jalu - we were getting some bad vibes).

The first "official" stop was at a wall in Ajdabiya which was a toilet stop. The men in front of the adjacent wall, and the ladies behind the far wall. At least there was no queuing required and we got on the road again quicker than we might have done, and heading towards Jalu at varying speeds - we think that the escorting Libyan "security" had instructions to get us to our destination as late as possible (or perhaps it just felt like that). They were making a pretty good job of this, anyway, as we crawled at times and stopped for no apparent reason (again, no communication passed between the convoy of 20 buses), though it turns out that our "national" police escort was in constant argument with the local police at the boundaries with arguments over jurisdiction and who should be doing the escorting. 

With a huge sigh of relief we hit the Northern Limit at 08.30am (0630UT). With the buses racing along it looked like we would make the eclipse site in good time - were it not for the traffic queues as we approached the Centre Line. It would seem that there were other people wanting to view the eclipse from here, too (fancy that, eh?). We were in the traffic jam, the time was 10.00 (0800UT) and our destination is not quite in sight. Our police escort gets us through this jam and onto the "slip road" to the viewing site where we encountered the next traffic jam, though grid lock is a better description of this one. Our leader decides that, although the eclipse site is in visible contact (about half a mile or so away) the time is now 10.45am local (0845UT)  and with first contact less than 25 minutes away, it might be a good idea to get off the buses now and set up camp here - which we do.

Buses - as far as the eye can see (about 20 of them!)

Having selected our location, Andrew unpacked and set up the thermochrons and camera first to capture (just after) first contact at around 0909UT - phew. Others were not so lucky, especially those who have to actually set up any quantity of equipment. The next 40 minutes or so we spent getting ourselves sorted out with the other stuff we brought - video cameras, other cameras, binoculars, pillow case to view shadow bands etc... followed by using it!

With just a minute or so to go off came the filters and in the freakish light of a total eclipse as the very last bits of the sun became obscured, there was a shout of "SHADOW BANDS". Eyes were briefly diverted to the pillow case, where any bands were not prominent at all. However as the eyes left the pillow case, the desert sands around us seemed to be alive with incredibly bright, clear, shimmering, moving shadow bands - the first time we have seen them, and it was subsequently agreed by the "experts" that these were the best bands EVER. They honestly had to be seen to be believed.

Meanwhile back at the sun/moon combination, things were getting darker, then it was there - TOTALITY. A few pictures at first to catch any prominences, then on to binoculars - and what a sight that turned out to be. The streamers were bright and the polar brushes were pearlescent, incredibly sharp and extraordinarily detailed. We don't remember seeing the corona as good as this before.

Andrew took more pictures reducing exposure time to reveal more outer corona structure, but began wondering why the shutter speed didn't change its tone (i.e. take a second to open/close). With the sun at an angle of 65 degrees and the camera details on the back of the camera, it was impossible to check - or rather it wasn't worth missing any totality for the sake of a few pictures. 

Diamond in

Baily's beads in


The Corona

Less exposed corona

Baily's beads out

Diamond ring out

After the speedy 4 minutes of totality it's time for a photo call

Val and Andrew in the Sahara Desert

As mentioned above, we took our thermochrons to see how the temperature behaved during the eclipse, and the results are shown on a separate page.

After 4th contact we were (as is usual on organised eclipse trips) pressured into packing up as quickly as possible - there being so few people wishing to stay to the end, there is always a load of folks waiting to go. The (last bus) then traveled up to "Eclipse City" and the available facilities - though we had no idea how long we were to stay there (no one to tell us), so we rushed around to the portaloos, and then got back on the bus, only to sit around for even longer. Partly, it turns out, due to one of the buses getting stuck in the sand.

We finally hit the road soon around 3.00pm local time  (1300UT) and slowly made our way through the traffic and up again towards Jalu, where we stopped for fuel (or more likely the ones that didn't fill up in the morning, filled up now). We set off again - 5.00pm local time! - and the convoy moved at a much better rate, though still in convoy. At around 8.00pm local, it seemed appropriate to have a comfort stop, or at least our coach did. We almost left someone behind, because the number of people on the bus had been varying due to the  redistribution of "stuck bus" passengers, and some being reunited with the unstuck version later on in Jalu. With there being no formal tour operator representative on (most of) the bus(es) keeping tabs on numbers of passengers, it almost came down to taking a vote as to whether the rest of us thought that all were aboard. At last we arrived back at the boat at around 10.15pm. We then went to the dining room for dinner - a bit (LOT) later than advertised.

After dinner we returned to the cabin to look at the pictures we'd taken, and the video. After which Andrew just HAD to download the temperature data from the thermochrons and plot the graph for tomorrows Eclipse "debriefing". During the graph production the alarm clock went off at 12.50am - left over from this morning - a 24 hour eclipse day. Longer, actually because we didn't get to bed 'till about 1.30am local time (2.30am ship time).

See timeline of the day's events

A couple of days later (in Leptis Magna) we saw and bought the Eclipse stamps miniature sheet

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©2006 Andrew J White