Monday, June 13, 2016

Rocket Gibraltar

We have transited the Strait of Gibraltar eastbound,
passing between the Pillars of Hercules into the
Mediterranean Sea. The Pillars, of course, represent
the high peaks of the Spanish coast on the northern
side of the Strait and the amazing, rugged highlands
on the Moroccan coast to the South. Gibraltar itself
dominates the transit, becoming visible as you
complete a long turn northeast and head into the
Alboran. Always an impressive sight.

Geography lesson aside, let me venture a few personal
observations and perhaps pedantic thoughts. To me
this waterway has long been symbolic of my travels
and adventures over the past thirty years, and of the
thousands of years of sea-faring history that made
Europe what it is. The Minoans, Phoenicians,
Egyptians, Greeks, etc…all made voyages of trade and
exploration on these waters, and empires rose and
fell on the outcomes of the many naval battles that
shattered ships and men. Trafalgar, Cape St. Vincent,
the Malta Convoys, Operation Torch, all echo across
time as we cruise into the Strait. I hear the crash
of broadsides, imagine the "feathers" of U-Boat
periscopes in the dark waters of the Approaches, and
feel the trepidation and fear of Columbus' crews as
his small fleet began it's momentous, world-altering

I first made this passage in late 1981 as a fresh
Seaman Apprentice aboard a small, under-armed
frigate; I remember standing my station as lookout
and wondering what the big deal was, why this
particular piece of water was any more significant
than any other. Over the years and cruises that
followed I became familiar with names like Nelson and
Cunningham, places such as Casablanca and Rota, and
my appreciation for this busy waterway increased. By
the time I actually visited Gibraltar in 1988 (on my
fourth deployment) and climbed the famous Rock, the
arrival at the Bay of Cadiz and the Strait had become
an important personal event. Today I cannot even
count the number of times I've transited the safety
fairway, east- and west-bound, but the total must be
in the hundreds.

So, after a bit of nattering-on, a few hours of
close-quarters sailing amongst the many merchantmen
steaming through with us, and the thrill, once more,
of seeing the stark beauty of the peaks of Morocco,
the lofty heights of Fortress Gibraltar, moving from
the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and all the
adventures that lie ahead, I close this entry with an
image in my mind of a tremendous fleet of phantom
ships manned by ghostly mariners from across the
millennia. Not a Flying Dutchman, not mariners
condemned for sins real or imagined, but the souls of
thousands upon thousands of Sailors whose joy in the
doing, and dreams of the voyage ahead, match mine as
we sail together into the future as kindred spirits
of the sea.

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