Monday, December 1, 2008

Gulf Stream

Kind friend Dale Lincoln stops by the Skillin's Garden Log with yet another wonderful story that also makes us think...

A cold wind from the North pushed the warm moist air we enjoyed on Thanksgiving Day out to sea. The next morning I was cold. Grandson Alex, age five, heard me say “winter is coming.” as he skated on top of the puddles as we did our walk/run near Foreside Estates. A few hours later many parents and grandparents easily relate to my condition of feeling low as the children and grand children waved good by and started their return trip to their homes. People develop their own method of overcoming loneliness. Sometimes remembering when we survived worse situations can give us confidence we’ll survive the present emotions tugging on our heart. Yesterday I escaped from those doldrums by remembering the instant when I first met that wonderful “river” in the Atlantic Ocean. That day I was young, lonesome, and feeling very ill.
Conditions started going down hill the day my ship sailed from Maine Maritime Academy at Castine, Maine. While putting a lot of muscle in turning the crank, during a lifeboat drill off Rockland in a January snowstorm, my hands became cold and very painful. (Effects of Reynaud’s Disease.) By the time my hands warmed, the ship was sailing through heavy seas. A chill went up my spine, I burped; and, after several sessions of hanging my head over the ship’s railing, my shipmates noticed I was green with seasickness! I thought I was dying as I stood my first watches and performed work details aboard a ship at sea. I was unable to eat for two days as our ship headed for the Caribbean. Fresh air was the main reason I was on the main deck. It was after pumping my stomach as low as I could go when I saw the giant wave break above me. Instead of thoughts of being washed overboard I feared the wave would freeze me to death. A few seconds later I was drenched but life seemed better. The 70 degree sea water of the Gulf Stream gave me a warm feeling. Since that moment I’ve learned to love and respect the old Gulf Stream. On my first voyage, in the Gulf Stream I first noticed the schools of dolphins that effortlessly escorted our ship. The ocean changed color. Flying fish emerged from the waves and skimmed over the ocean for several yards. Their wings sparkled in the sunlight. A few years later, as engineer on coastal oil tankers, it was important to know the sea temperature. While near the Gulf Stream it often changed more than 25 degrees in one hour and affected the operation of the steam engines.
The Gulf Stream has its origin in the ocean south of Florida. It has a speed between 2.5 and 5 knots, flows northward along the Eastern Coast of the United States, crosses over the North Atlantic and flows into the Norwegian Sea. Because of its currents, early explorers with their sailing vessels could not take a direct route on their return trip to Europe. Hurricanes heading for the East Coast often increase a notch on the scale as they cross the Gulf Stream. Also, like conditions in Maine when the air temperature is about thirty degrees lower than the sea temperature, there is sea smoke. In earlier days sea smoke helped the sea captains become lost in the fog. Although many mariners found that the Gulf Stream gave them problems, for me it has created great memories. To avoid the northerly current, ships sailing south off the coast of Florida stay within two miles of Miami Beach. Heading north, ships take advantage of the current and stay a few extra miles off shore. In elementary school, when learning that the Earth is round, I remember an example: When approaching land people will first see the top of a mountain on the horizon. While heading north on the oil tankers it was fun to see just the tops of the tall hotels sticking out of the ocean.” Back in 1961,trying to avoid the Gulf Stream was the reason my ship, S.S.GULFOIL, was less than two miles from the sunbathers on Miami Beach when the steering engine stopped. I was the duty engineer when a crew member accidentally bumped a switch and shut the motor off. The problem was solved quickly but it received the attention of the Mate of the watch. At lunch he told me that our oil tanker turned 90 degrees and headed directly for the beach!

Returning to our hike in the cool morning air, when Alex was king of the hill on a Zamboni ice pile, then ran up and jumped from each rock outside the Falmouth Ice Arena, I realized that cold weather wasn’t causing all of my discomforts. Like the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, I needed to find the fountain of youth, and take a dip in it. Ponce de Leon didn’t find the fountain of youth but he is credited for being the first European to notice the Gulf Stream. He had crossed that “river in the ocean” before arriving at the place known today as St Augustine, Florida, on April 2, 1513. (Only thirteen days before he had to file his income tax.)

Dale C. Lincoln
Perry, Maine
In Zephyrhills FL
December 1, 2008

No comments: