Letter to [SEML] from Terry Cuttle, November 5, 2013
Congratulations to all those with success especially the two dramatic flights to totality; and commiserations to those less fortunate. Now back in Libreville with a little more time I can explain the view from the edge at Cape Lopez.
The morning was generally cloudy with sunny patches as I set up the equipment on the beach at Cape Lopez about 50 metres back from the northern end of the Cape. This was about 250m in from the limb corrected southern edge of the path. The beach extended a little further than the Google Earth image (which was 10 years old) suggested. The weather prospects looked decidedly better than the previous day when it had rained in Port Gentil most of the day. However the clouds thickened and I did not see first contact with only one short break in the clouds about an hour before C2. As totality approached the clouds began to dissipate. The Sun was initially visible briefly unfiltered through the clouds as a very thin crescent. The area around the Sun cleared quickly and it became clearly visible no more than about a minute before C2. There was no doubt that it was substantially influenced by eclipse cooling.
I scrambled to locate the Sun in the TV-76 scope but with the Sun so dimmed I could not use the Sol Searcher and alternately looking at the spectacle and trying to line up on the Sun, finally giving up and sitting back and watching the spectacle unfold.
The display of Bailys Beads was simply stunning. It went on for almost 30 seconds as the Moon skimmed the left side of the Sun with the beads moving and sparkling like a diamond necklace along the left side of the Sun, finally reducing to a spectacular double diamond ring. The bead display continued on for so long that I considered for a while that those who were sceptical that Cape Lopez was in the path at all, may have been right and I would miss totality. But totality finally came right on time in clear sky with a beautiful solar max corona made all the more spectacular by the chromosphere which appeared to be visible down the left side of the Sun for the whole of the about 27 seconds of totality. The display at C3 was similar but not quite as spectacular as at C2.
The view of the approaching shadow was equally dramatic. Being right on the edge, the approaching shadow was quite different from a centreline view when the shadow approaches spreading out and enveloping the observer. Here looking west, the shadow was all to my right side and it looked just like a deadly serious thunderstorm approaching very rapidly from the horizon over the ocean. All this time the view to the south was relatively bright. I expected to see the edge of the shadow extending at 45 degrees down from the Sun I but did not see that, probably because the edge is so diffuse and the air relatively clear. The edge of the shadow during totality was quite visible projected on the cloud to the south not clearly defined but brightening from my position outwards. A lighthouse that I could see more than a kilometre away to the south appeared to be slightly brighter. I did not specifically look for nor did I notice any shadow bands.
The beach at Cape Lopez was almost deserted. There was only one other group of three observers located further along the beach. I was frequently visited by groups from the local village where I had earlier distributed eclipse glasses. Initially I was surrounded by kids watching and wanting to help. A group of about 20 adults and kids came out and shared their excitement and sheer delight at totality.
A big thankyou to Xavier and Dave Herald for providing the tools for me to confidently go right to the edge. The display was so spectacular and dramatic that I would certainly consider being right on the edge at a future eclipse. But I would certainly appreciate better weather than the heart stopping last minute clearing.