Thursday, August 14, 2008

North Channel

Three days prior to departing Southampton the weather forecasts were
predicting a sizeable low pressure system moving into the English
Channel. Considering the forecasted sea state the Captain decided we
would deviate from the usual west bound track passing south of Bishop
Rock and instead hang a right after Lands End passing East of the Isles
of Scilly and due north into the protected waters of the Irish Sea. I
also think that after twenty years of traversing the exact same
waypoints hitch after hitch the Captain looks for any excuse to change
the voyage plan.

The deviation worked well, the low pushed 8 meter seas into the mouth of
the English Channel for a day and a half while we rounded Northern
Ireland only encountering 6 meter seas for less than 18 hours. Winds
maxed out at gusts of 50 knots. The Irish Sea was uneventful, the only
memorable aspect being the names of certain towns, mountains, and
peninsulas. Giant's Causeway, Bloody Foreland, Muckish Moutain, The Oa,
and Balley Galley stood out on the chart. It was night time when we
passed our final two lighthouses so the scenery unfortunately wasn't

The sky cleared shortly after loosing sight of land and for the first
time in a week I felt incredibly energized after sleeping for a solid
nine or ten hours. This has got to be the most gratifying part of the
voyage second only to getting paid off and on a plane. You've just
busted ass for the last eight or ten days to the point of exhaustion and
finally can get away from the hassle of pilots, harbors, stevedores, and
port state control authorities to sleep without interruption. It's
always a quiet ship after a coast, hardly anyone is up for breakfast,
the Captain and Chief avoid checking emails and keep their door's shut
for a full day.

All this may change though. Internet is making its way into the deep
water merchant fleets of companies like mine. The Scandinavian Flagged
portion of the fleet is already fitted with broadband which is a
wonderful addition for the crew but a curse for the Captain and Chief.
Rather than linking to a satellite two or three times a day to send and
receive the latest batch of emails the ship will be continuously
connected, 24 hours a day. Uninterrupted communications with the home
offices in New Jersey, as well as company headquarters in Oslo and
Stockholm, means that any question or order by email will be immediately
received and an immediate response will be expected.

There was a day when ships received their orders through radio telex
only when it could be received from a transmitting coast station.
Communications with the office were limited to certain times of day and
geographic location. I remember as a kid getting phone calls from my dad
which were over the single side ban radio and patched through a coast
station at an exorbitant cost. With satellites the telexes could be
received almost anywhere in the world and with satellite telephone the
ship's had a phone number in addition to their radio call sign which
meant no longer having to wait for my dad to key the mike when he was
calling on Christmas Eve.

All that was good for enhancing safety and letting crew keep in touch
with family but with email, and shortly internet, the authority of the
Master and the fleeting autonomy of a ship at sea is quickly
disappearing. Well, at least there will be the weekends when the office
is out playing golf and having barbecues leaving the ship in peace.

This crossing is taking us on a Great Circle from the northern tip of
Ireland to a waypoint 25 miles south and east of Cape Race Newfoundland.
The ice edge has retreated to the coast of Labrador over the last two
months allowing for this. Otherwise we would have to head for a point
further south and away from the hazards of icebergs. From Cape Race
we'll parallel the Canadian Maritimes passing through French territorial
waters south of St. Pierre and Miquelon islands, over the Laurentian
Trench, north of Sable Island, over the Fundian Trench and then to
Georges Bank.

Our speed is again reduced to about 80 rpm to conserve fuel; another
Captain in the fleet set an all time record for fewest tons of fuel
consumed in a North Atlantic crossing so now there is a heated
competition to run as slow as possible. It will also give us a chance to
throw a couple of lures over the stern tomorrow as we cross the Grand
Banks in hopes of jigging some dinner. I checked out the galley and we
have an ample store of soy sauce and wasabi paste thanks to our Swedish
predecessors. Sashimi always tastes the best with the heart still

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