Day 3

5 September, 2003

One cannot use the sun for time indication, as it changes everyday depending on where you are in the time zone. Our clock is one hour ahead of London, but we are many hours to the west, still pounding south past Portugal. Woke at 6:10 in the dark. After breakfast, which is really non talkative and today had a kind of eggs benedict but with a pineapple slice, went to my little outside spot with the radio. Although the sun is only rising, the air is warm and gentle. Saw my first tuna, a school dashing, and they do dash. In the last couple of days, I have watched hopefully, particularly as the Bay of Biscay is known for it’s whales and such, but all I saw were whitecaps. Whitecap formation is a really interesting phenomena, and I can see why it keeps mathematicians interested. A poor swallow came onboard in Felixstowe, and she dashes about the ship in great confusion. I see her make forays out over the water but then she has to come back when she realizes there is no land to go to. I hope there is enough food, there has been plenty of small white moths flitting about and maybe this is what she eats. These great big seabirds, like sea gulls on steroids fly in solitary pairs, male and female in some kind of marathon on their annual migration from who knows where north to who knows where south.

Around 11:00, I go up to catch Ernesto on bridge watch (the only one to invite me so far) to get a fix on where we are, and whether we were still on target for Gibraltar straits in the morning. He had been seated at the Filipino table at breakfast, but I never could catch his eye. I hardly entered the door to the bridge, and was about to ask permission when he instantly told me we were headed into Gibraltar at 1700 hours, today! He shows me on the big electronic (Russian) GPS and route computer chart. We are headed SE past the Algarve (I think, “all those girls in bikinis in that direction”). Ernesto is very talkative on this beautiful sunny day. He tells me those smelly containers are carrying leather! He also informs me (when I report my tuna sighting) that I will probably see a lot of dolphins in the Mediterranean. I am looking forward. After ten minutes, the captain comes up, feeling better. And he just wants to go on and on! Many interesting stories. But primarily he is ticked off at all the bureaucracy that attacks him during the twenty four hours he is home in Hamburg. Like cowboys of all sorts, he is happier out on the range, then when confronted with all the suits. Ulf Mahnke, is an old fashioned officer, a healthy looking sixty two (inspite of his cold), a west German from the company that took over the huge state owned east German shipping company that this ship is with. He is a big fan of the film Das Bootand is liable to quote from it. This he does in reference to all the traffic one can expect in Gibraltar, “we will dive” he says, making the motion with his hand showing we will just go under them all.

Apparently the captain’s relationship with his shipping line is not dissimilar to mine with Kingston University. He is a bit of a maverick thorn in the side, who feels the stodgy old east German suits do not appreciate that his criticism is meant to be constructive! He also seems a bit leery of his east German subordinates, and maybe that is why he prefers the Filipino. All I know, is the ship seems to run well, with a good balance of tautness to looseness. People seem happy and free to be themselves and to get on with their jobs. Although five Germans left the ship in Hamburg, replaced with Kiribase, the crew are always being rotated in and out. He says the Bay of Biscay was polite for me, or rather, for him as he wasn’t feeling well. Normally it is a bit rougher in character. One thing, this ship is helping me stay out of the future (like Ernesto’s prediction that we will transit the Suez canal at night, horrifying). If he was wrong about Gibraltar, he may be wrong about that as well.

Certainly, at this time the ocean is calmer then it has been since the English channel. I have just come back from a perfect hour on the forecastle. The perfect air, sun and vantage. The closest I could compare it to is the cloud conveyance described by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels(Gulliver's Travels). You leisurely sail “over” the most beautiful sea. For the stretch there was hardly any company, outside of a couple of fishing boats, flying fish, and in the distance some large car carrier, type vessels going the otherway. Car carriers are a development of the last twenty-five years. Gigantic floating parking lots that go around the world moving cars from manufacture to market. They look like giant mutated versions of the old “Islander” ferry to Martha’s Vineyard.

It is funny, the discrepancy between my position on this ship, and everyone else’s. It is hard and serious, steady work. I am lolling in amazed wonder and hope to crack into work mode shortly. Most of the Filipinos are of the opinion that it will rain for most of our far eastern stretch, so maybe I should enjoy this weather now......... ;-)

I am discovering that one can take only so much of magical perfect happenings. I find my limit is about 90 minutes. After this afternoons forecastle moment, I returned to my cabin in hopes of getting some work done. I didn’t, I watched Alienwith just Jerry Goldsmith’s score and no dialogue or sound fx, and really liked it. Then it was 1700, up on deck with binocs watching for Gibraltar. Only, dead ahead, a massive cloud bank. By 1730, our visibility had been greatly reduced. Dinner time, fried fish, broccoli with truly tasteless hollandaise, and rice. I gulped it down and got back up on deck by 1800. I watched in anticipation, would I be able to see anything? How many ships and people have approached this fabled spot in history and literature?

(map) (from space)

The first thing I saw was a pod of dolphins cavorting alongside, then a minute later, as the visibility increased with a strengthening headwind, the headlands and suburbs of Tangier appeared looking not unlike Malibu. The beautiful fabled city, the minarets of it’s mosques, the announcement of Africa! Then the spanish side, another lovely city clinging to the mountains. Wind farms on the side of the hills, almost looking like giant crosses announcing, “we are Europe, we are christian!”. A boiling sea betwixt, (also interesting)with an inexhaustible supply of leaping dolphins and arching pilot whales mixed in with dozens of fishing boats and ferries from both sides, somehow staying out of the way of an endless barrage of giant vessels, the white hillside towns glowing in the late afternoon light. The Mediterranean was swelling and rolling as we pushed, a couple of points north of east. The silly “rock” of Gibraltar appeared, the English should give it back. And Spain should give back the beautiful city of Cueta on the Moroccan side. We sailed on, the sun slowly setting behind us in the gap between the continents, the mist rose back up to once again obscure all but the tops of the mountains, Europe-Africa, Africa-Europe, the Mediterranean widened out, back into a sea.

There are many times I have been underwhelmed when finally seeing something I have only seen in pictures all my life. This was not one of them. It made me desirous to come back and spend some time in the area. It has also made me more curious about Istanbul. Great continental and cultural meeting points. I imagine I will wake up, somewhere off Algiers.