Friday, July 11, 2008

Fog and Phantoms

We passed over the Flemish Cap yesterday finding it on the depth
sounder. The voices of Portuguese fishermen could be heard on the VHF as
a Canadian Coast guard cutter provided medical assistance to a fishing
boat somewhere nearby. The Portuguese have a history of fishing off the
Canadian Maritimes but I didn't realize they were still at it. The
Flemish Cap and the Grand Banks of Newfoundland 120 miles to the west
are known for the large amount of fish that they support in their
relatively shallow waters. The Grand Banks maintains a depth of between
50 and 70 meters over its breadth creating a fertile breading ground for
fish who love the cold nutrient rich waters provided by the Labrador
Current that rounds Cape Race and wells up on the banks. This is the
same current that collides with the northerly most arm of the Gulf
Stream and creates eddies that sword fish search for and makes for ten
degrees of set to our compass course. Besides the water being cooler,
full of deep northern ocean nutrients, and denser it also smells very
different from the water typically encountered mid ocean. Anyone who has
ever been several hundred miles from shore on a sunny day knows the
clarity and blueness of water that is void of most microorganisms and
run off from rivers. That's the water I like to snorkel and scuba dive
in because it's usually warm. The water today though smells just like
the beaches at home, cold, murky, and full of life. It's a smell that
sticks in the air and has that aroma known so well on the shores of
Maine. I first noticed it early yesterday when I was out reading the air
temperatures and saw my first stars for what seems like weeks. Thinking
it would be a nice day ahead and knowing we were amongst an abundance of
marine wildlife I thought it possible to sight some whales on the banks.
No sooner had I started brushing up on my marine mammal identification
in a book the third mate had brought along did the fog sock in reducing
our visibility to nothing beyond the bow. It was then that I remembered
what cold water and summer brings, fog, thick unrelenting fog. And so
that's all we've seen on the Grand Banks so far, a white shroud hemming
us in on all sides day and night. It even blotted out the sky as the day
went by leaving it up to the imagination to convince your self that we
are moving along at twenty miles an hour. Only the radar and AIS can
look ahead picking up the fishing boats scattered around which is why I
am continually amazed that my lookout, an AB I'll call the Rain Man,
persists to use the window wipers throughout the fog staring intently
into nothing! I am completely perplexed at this behavior. Maybe he's
been out here too long or maybe he'd prefer to put on a rain jacket and
stand on the bow so we can truly comply with the wording of the
collision regs. It's true that it's impossible to maintain a lookout by
sight and by hearing from the comfort of an enclosed bridge. At least it
provides something to gossip about amongst the mates as we run out of
things to keep our minds occupied. The monotony of ocean crossings is a
real thing. Scrimshaw and rope work has been replaced by the paper work
for a functioning safety management system and overtime. (P.S. - the
rain man is now washing all the bloody windows on the bridge, and using
the wipers, in fog where you can't see ten feet! I've just got to roll
with it. It's hardly worth trying to make a point at this stage). 

I learned an interesting fact from the Chief Mate the other day while
walking around a group of eight Rolls Royce Phantoms. He mentioned it
because there were two more Rolls Royce's on the deck than are usually
carried during a voyage. I asked him why this was and wasn't surprised
that to limit a potential loss Rolls Royce only allows any ship to
normally transport six at a time in case the vessel is lost. This makes
since when the starting price of one of these hand crafted motor
carriages is in the neighborhood of 300,000 dollars! These cars get the
royal treatment when in transit. Unlike all the Beamers, Mercedes, and
Range Rovers these are left locked, the keys being kept by the chief
mate rather than left in the ashtray. All are stowed with a minimum one
meter clearance of other vehicles and obstructions whereas a BMW is
allowed to be parked mere centimeters from another vehicle. They are
also loaded last and discharged first diminishing the chance of a driver
side swiping it with another vehicle. The cars also receive three times
the amount of lashings and a tire chock for every wheel, regular cars
are never chocked unless on an internal ramp. The last thing a shipper
wants is an insurance claim from RR. They are pretty wild looking cars.
Only two of the six are designed for chauffer less operation, the other
four being straight out of a Grey Poupon commercial. Tells you something
about their intended market.

Sometimes I am reminded of the movie Ground Hog Day with Bill Murray
when I wake up and realize that today will be just like the day before
and stands a good chance of being mimicked again tomorrow. Consitency is
good, ocean crossings let the crew get work done that's impossible in
port, and Captains always prefer to be away from the hassles of port but
it can grow tedious nonetheless. As a Chief Mate put it one time, "The
first rule of shipping is you are responsible for your own

No comments:

Post a Comment