Monday, November 8, 2010

Through the Strait

The presence of land is easily belied by a stiff offshore breeze. This is normally the case when sailing through the Gulf of Cadiz, the outlying waters on the western approach to the Strait of Gibraltar. After twelve days of the odorless salt tang of mid ocean the scent of trees and pollen is remarkable. It almost leaves a taste on my tongue and has my imagination working out what Portugal looks like, a place I would love to visit.

We increased speed last last night from our "Economical" 89 main engine revolutions per minute to 91. An increase of only 3 RPM provides an additional 2 to 3 knots so instead of making 17 knots we're now up to 20. The Captain did this to avoid a low pressure system forecasted to move over the coast of Brittany walloping the Bay of Biscay. This is of concern to us because the northeastern quadrant of the low would be left offshore propelling a huge swell and wind wave down the coast of Portugal and into the waters we're passing through. Instead of chancing an encounter it seemed more prudent to speed up and tuck into the Mediterranean before the system moved any further to the south.

Unfortunately for our fuel consumption running a few RPM higher than economical means burning an additional 30 tons of fuel per day! Because this is such a large vessel with a massive engine the fuel consumption is dramatically higher than any ship I have worked on before. The increase in speed (RPM) vs. fuel consumption is an exponential curve not in global warming's favor. Still I'll stand my ground when anyone harangues me for working on a boat that burns over $50,000 dollars of fuel in one day at full sea speed because waterborne transportation is the most efficient means of transportation period. And for anyone who didn't know, the diesel engine is the most efficient internal combustion engine of all time.

Luckily for the Captain he won't have to justify the increased fuel consumption to the office because later in the morning he received an email ordering us to increase to full speed as a new port known for delays has been added onto the schedule and they want us there early. We were surprised that the office is now directing us to proceed at 91 RPM when the main theme of the last officers conference was how they would be slowing the fleet to study the decrease in fuel consumption to determine if it would be better to lengthen the schedule and save the fuel. So much for that, were now consuming 3.8 metric tons of heavy fuel oil an hour!
With the impending low pressure system the passage through Gibraltar Strait was shrouded in low clouds but a few glimpses of Morocco and Spain could be had. The ferry traffic was typical buzzing right by close astern. I have always enjoyed passing through this historic narrow, especially when homeward bound but that will have to wait a month.

Long ago seem the days when I would get off watch and turn my cell phone on to see if I had a signal. Many times I would find myself crouched in between the fan housings out of the wind trying to get enough reception to call home for the first time in three weeks. Those memories make me thankful for what I have today out here.
Once you've passed under the watchful eye of the Tarifa Vessel Traffic Service, through the narrows and beyond the rock of Gibraltar the Mediterranean slowly begins to open up on both sides. The traffic diverges, the current subsides and the wind usually continues to howl. As it was still cloudy when I got up to the bridge for my afternoon watch I was impressed to see snow capped mountains to our north in Spain.

It isn't the first snow I've seen this year (Mount Washington at home was socked in two and a half weeks ago the the last time I went hiking) but I was still excited to see something I wasn't expecting and knew there wouldn't be any more of that once we got through Egypt. The higher winds, overcast skies and intermittent rain have actually raised most everyone's spirits onboard, well, at least the New Englanders.

Even someone who appreciates blue bird days as much as I do where weeks pass by on an ocean as calm as a mill pond with fluffy white clouds littering the azure sky it does get old after awhile. A change in the monotony of work is welcomed as long as it isn't more than a beaufort force 9 or perhaps a 10 on here. As the Chief Engineer proclaimed at lunch "This is sailin' weather dammit!"

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