Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Smoke On The Water...

The Gulf Stream--that powerful warm-water engine that drives so much of weather and climate in the Atlantic Ocean--snakes its way up the U.S. east coast.  Off the coast of North Carolina it collides head-on with the colder waters of the northern Great Ocean.  Here, in this meeting of widely-different temperature gradients, are often born the violent and unpredictable storms that batter Cape Hatteras and give this area the title of Graveyard of the Atlantic. So many ships, so many sailors have died here over the centuries, died battling the capricious zephyr and crashing surf that could change a voyage without warning into a nightmare.

Today, as our tanker crosses this region that has claimed so many we find no tempests, no squalls; only steam curling from wave-crests and pooling in troughs as warm current mixes quietly with cold beneath our keel.  This sea-smoke is one indicator of our arrival in these waters; there are others as well.  Water drawn from the sea to cool our diesel engines is suddenly much warmer; our engineers must adjust the cooling systems in order to avoid burning-out delicate controls and damaging condensers.  The helmsman reports that more rudder is required to keep the ship on-course; the powerful Gulf Stream is pushing us bodily northward.  And the sea-birds, only occasionally visible 'til now, fill the skies as they circle and dive after fish that swarm beneath the surface.

This is the North Wall.  At times a mystical realm of steaming seas and teeming wildlife, at others a screeching Hell of impossibly angular waves and tearing winds. Always different, beguiling or menacing depending on the sea's mood.

But always, always beautiful.

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