Category Archives: Outdoor News

Iosepa back in the news as archaeological team returns to sift through the past

Welcome to Iosepa! (photo by Clint Thomsen)

As I mentioned in my Tooele Transcript Bulletin report on this year’s Iosepa festivities, The archaeological team that began digging at the old Iosepa townsite in 2008 is back again this year.

The study is led by Benjamin Pykles, a professor at the State University of New York at Potsdam. Pykles and a group of anthropology students spent a month in 2008 digging on a lot that was owned by one of Iosepa’s original settlers. I spent some time with Pykles and crew in ’08 and look forward to spending some time with them again this week.

Just like it did in 2008, Pykles’ current study has caught the eye of a few major Utah media outlets. While it’s nice to see the Big Boys actually acknowledge Tooele County’s existence once in a while, I find their coverage somewhat lacking.

That’s not entirely their fault. Iosepa is too significant a topic to completely ignore, yet too far distant (physically and historically) to devote any real time or resource to. The result is usually a quick run-down of the Hawaiian ghost town’s high-level history laced with a few quotes from Pykles.  Often more interesting than the stories themselves are the comments they garner on their websites.  It’s clear that familiarity with Iosepa’s purpose and history is not widespread– at least among the commenting masses.

If you’d like a good run-down of what’s going on with the dig, check out this piece by the Transcript Bulletin’s Sarah Miley.  Later this week I’ll post a Iosepa FAQ of sorts here that will address a number of misconceptions about the old place that seem to spread through news media comment boards every time Iosepa is mentioned.  And later this month I’ll be writing about another Iosepa adventure.

In the meantime, here’s some primer material:

Search for Hawaiian petroglyphs in Skull Valley ends in discovery
At Iosepa, a few pictures are worth thousands of words
Iosepa becomes Polynesia in desert – if only for a weekend
Images of Iosepa
Immersion in Iosepa’s past requires imagination, good shoes



Chevron oil leak shouldn’t reach Great Salt Lake

I’m a bit late on this update, but emergency crews in Salt Lake City believe they have contained the oil from Saturday’s pipeline leakage to the Jordan River.  This is good news for the Great Salt Lake, but it’s no solace to the plants and wildlife who call Red Butte Creek, Liberty Park, and the Jordan River their home.  The cleanup continues.

According to Chevron officials, the leak was caused when an electrical arc traveling through a nearby fencepost burnt a quarter-size hole in the pipe.


UPDATED: ALIVE AND WELL: Solo sailor Abby Sunderland located by jet, still awaits rescue

<<Scroll down for updates>>

16 year old solo sailor Abby Sunderland is alive and well. Sunderland’s 40 foot boat, Wild Eyes, has been sighted by a Qantas Airways jetliner that had flown to her broadcast location in the southern Indian Ocean. The boat is upright, but its mast has been broken off.

The jet established radio contact with Sunderland and determined that she is in good health and with plenty of food.  She will await rescue by a French fishing vessel that should arrive at her location by about midnight tonight (Mountain).  Late last night, Sunderland’s parents– who have hopefully learned a few lessons here– posted the following on her blog:

We have just heard from the Australian Search and Rescue. The plane arrived on the scene moments ago. Wild Eyes is upright but her rigging is down. The weather conditions are abating. Radio communication was made and Abby reports that she is fine!

We don’t know much else right now. The French fishing vessel that was diverted to her location will be there in a little over 24 hours. Where they will take her or how long it will take we don’t know.

Sunderland set sail in January from Marina Del Rey, California, in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe.  She was just past her halfway mark when she activated her distress beacons.  For more background on this drama, check out yesterday’s post.

UPDATE 06/11 3:30pm: Sunderland’s parents have posted a photo of Wild Eyes taken by the spotter crew aboard the Qantas jet:

Sunderland's 40 foot boat, Wild Eyes, drifts with a broken mast in the southern Indian Ocean (photo credit: Australia search & rescue team)

The L.A. Times has further details about the spot:

When the crew did make that radio contact with Sunderland, her first words to them were, “This is Abby.”

“The window of opportunity to speak to her was very short, so we had very brief, direct conversations about her health, the condition of the vessel, and her communications,” he continued. “The seas are very rough indeed, and there is a lot of wind, and she is obviously going to have a very uncomfortable night of sleep.”

The crew said Sunderland was in good spirits.  They instructed her to activate two more beacons for redundant location broadcasts. The more, the merrier, I suppose!

UPDATE 06/12: French fishing vessel Ile de la Reunion reached Abby Sunderland’s location at about 2:45 am local time and rescued her from battered Wild Eyes. Multiple sources report that the fishing boat’s captain went overboard during the turbulent rescue, and was himself rescued by the crew. Ile de la Reunion is transporting Sunderland to Reunion Island, sometime after which she’ll make her way home to California. Wild Eyes is still adrift, though the family is now soliciting donations to recover the boat. My take: leave the boat– raise money to repay Qantas and the French fishing crew. Abby Sunderland seems mature beyond her years. Her parents, however, need to grow up.

A few hours after the rescue, Abby Sunderland posted to her blog, defending her decision to sail around the world alone.

There are plenty of things people can think of to blame for my situation; my age, the time of year and many more. The truth is, I was in a storm and you don’t sail through the Indian Ocean without getting in at least one storm. It wasn’t the time of year it was just a Southern Ocean storm. Storms are part of the deal when you set out to sail around the world.

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Posted by on June 11, 2010 in Outdoor News


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UPDATED: Teenage solo sailor Abby Sunderland feared lost at sea


ABC News reports that the family and support crew of 16 year old solo sailor Abby Sunderland have lost contact with her and fear that she has been lost at sea.

Sunderland, who is attempting to become the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the globe, was sailing in the southern Indian Ocean this morning when she dropped a satellite call and later activated her emergency beacons.  When the ABC story was filed, Sunderland’s family said the closest rescue vessel was 40 hours out from her broadcast position near Reunion Island, which is about 120 miles east of Madagascar.

Sunderland’s brother told an L.A. radio station that his sister’s boat, Wild Eyes, was “most likely not completely submerged” because another beacon, which fires automatically when the boat is 15 feet underwater, has not yet activated.

Sunderland reported bad weather in a blog post yesterday:

The wind is beginning to pick up. It is back up to 20 knots and I am expecting that by midnight tonight I could have 35-50 knots with gusts to 60 so I am off to sleep before it really picks up.

Sunderland’s story is fascinating, though its one I haven’t mentioned here because I question the wisdom of parents who their kids take such risks.  However, now that the rescue mission is underway I’ll provide updates here.  Keep Miss Sunderland in your prayers.

UPDATE 06/10 2:55pm: A spokesperson for the Sunderland family has just posted an update to her blog:

We are working closely with American, French and Australian Search &  Rescue authorities to coordinate several ships in the area to divert to her location. There are several ships in her area, the earliest possible contact is 40 hours. We are actively seeking out some sort of air rescue but this is difficult due to the remoteness of her location. Australian Search & Rescue have arranged to have a Quantas Airbus fly over her location at first light (she is 11 hours later). They will not be able to help her other than to talk via marine radio if they are able to get close enough. Hopefully, they will be able to assess her situation and report back to us.

UPDATE 06/10 3:41pm: This from

As Abby’s automatic, water-activated EPIRB has not sounded an alarm as yet, this indicates that the EPIRB has not been submerged and Wild Eyes is still afloat. As long as this automatic EPIRB is operative and not damaged, this points to the possibility that Abby has been hurt or that the boat is sufficiently damaged in some way that she can no longer sail it. It is not at all likely that Abby has gone overboard as reported in some of the world’s press, as she would have been unable to activate her alarm. has also posted a map of Sunderland’s position.

UPDATE 06/10 6:28pm: (via L.A. Times) Engineer behind Sunderland’s voyage believes Abby is alive and “most likely floating” in the Indian ocean.

Casher said the family is looking at three possible scenarios. Either the boat’s mast came down, giving her no ability to sail the vessel; the keel hit something and possibly flipped the boat upside down; or she may have broken an arm or leg while being whipsawed about in violent waters.

“She set this off not because she lost communication, but because something else was wrong,” Casher said. They had set very clear guidelines for when to activate emergency beacons – and losing communication alone was not enough, he said.

An update from the Atlanta Journal Constitution quotes Jeff Casher as saying the two distress beacons are still broadcasting, providing GPS data that shows them drifting together at 1 mph.

UPDATE 06/11 6:30am: ALIVE AND WELL! The L.A. Times reports that a Qantas Airways jet has spotted Abby and made radio contact with her. Her parents posted the following on her blog:

We have just heard from the Australian Search and Rescue. The plane arrived on the scene moments ago. Wild Eyes is upright but her rigging is down. The weather conditions are abating. Radio communication was made and Abby reports that she is fine!

We don’t know much else right now. The French fishing vessel that was diverted to her location will be there in a little over 24 hours. Where they will take her or how long it will take we don’t know.


Posted by on June 10, 2010 in Outdoor News


Will the GPS system fail? The Straight Dope tackles satellite worries and sunscreen science

I’m a long-time fan of The Straight Dope question and answer website (and podcast) authored by the pseudonymous Cecil Adams.  Awesomely, a recent article addressed two outdoors-related topics– GPS and sunscreen.

Question: Is it true our GPS satellites are deteriorating and there’s no good fix?

I had the same question while researching for my TTB piece on Geocaching last year.  A few excerpts from Cecil’s response:

The satellites have limited life, typically seven to ten years.  There’s no practical way to fix them once they break. Of the 59 GPS satellites launched to date, 31 are still operating. Of those 31, 17 are past their life expectancy — the oldest was launched in 1990.

The problem is that 24 functional GPS satellites are required for complete global coverage. With 31 still beeping we’ve got plenty of spares for the moment. However, due to a combination of schedule slips, construction problems, and cost overruns, we haven’t been launching new satellites fast enough to replace those likely to fail soon.

So what’s the possibility that military operations and, heaven forbid, consumer recreation could be interrupted?  Adams cites a 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report estimating that “over the next four years or so the probability that at least 24 satellites will remain operational will be less than 95 percent, at times dipping as low as 80 percent.” (gotta love that government nuance).  Dropping below 24 won’t spell system-wide disaster, but it could mean reception problems in urban and mountainous areas.

The U.S. Air Force responded quickly to the GAO report, stating flat out (via Twitter, amusingly) that “going below 24 won’t happen.”

Adams is also optimistic:

The fact that GPS technology has become ubiquitous is the best guarantee that the system won’t be out of action for long, if at all. Ten years ago civilian GPS use was confined to a gaggle of geeks. Today if the system goes down, just imagine the screaming: fix this sucker now.

Thank goodness for ubiquity!

Bonus question (paraphrased): Does 2 coats of SPF 8 sunscreen equal SPF 16?

The answer?  Yes!  And some.

Check out the full piece here.

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Posted by on April 29, 2010 in Outdoor News