Monday, August 4, 2014

Traffic



The ocean is a big place, a very, very big place.  Although there are a lot of vessels out here at any given time, it is only slightly more likely for us to see one in our 15 mile radius of sight than it is to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.  That said, occasionally miracles do happen.  Or in our case not miracles but the intense fear of a tanker going 20 knots appearing on the horizon and headed right for our boat.  A tanker or cargo ship traveling at that speed can be right on top of us in 20-30 minutes and although they are 300 meters long their skeleton crew may not see Moments (we imagine them drinking beer and eating hamburgers in their heated pilot house).  This gets especially dicey the further north we travel because there is more rain and fog.  Without our radar system, the limited visability in rain and fog would mean very little time to react if we were to see or hear a large ship headed our way.

On our sail from Mexico, we saw three shipping vessels and two fishing boats.  All but one of the container ships was within 200 miles of the coast.  Then, one night out it the middle of the ocean, as we were changing shifts, we spotted a green light in the distance.  Sometimes we can get fooled and think that stars rising on the horizon (especially Venus) are the lights of ships, but they are rarely green.  This ship passed within 3 miles of us.  An amazing feet when you consider the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. 



This trip seemed to be similar, we passed by only one ship the first week out, but then, in the last 24 hours, we saw four container ships.  We could even see two at one time!  Most of these ships travel great circle routes, which are routes designed to travel the least amount of distance over the surface of the earth.  Because the earth is a sphere, a rhumb line on a map (straight line between two points) is actually curved and one of these great circle routes is essentially straight.  If you have ever flown on a long flight with one of those airplane trackers, you have seen this.  On a flat map Greenland seems a little out of the way but on a flight traveling a great circle route from the US to Europe you see its icy landscape out the window for much of the trip.  After so many large shipping vessels in a row we figured that we must be crossing a great circle route to some large port.  The last ship in the train looked as if it would pass within two tenths of a mile from us so we hailed the captain to make sure he knew that we were there and were hoping not to get hit or swamped by his enormous wake.


This captain might win an award for jolliest mariner and asked (in good English with a thick Russian accent) where we were headed and how long it would take us to get there.  There was a little pause and a chuckle when we told him our expected arrival time.  When we said that they should maintain course and that we would shut off our engines and wait for wind, he became concerned and asked if everything was all right on board.  We assured him that this was just the nature of sailing.  We also learned from him where all of these ships were headed: the Panama Canal.

We are now closer to Washington than we are to Hawaii and the weather is following suit.  Now it is my turn to be on watch and freeze in the fog and rain...

Less than 1000 nm to go!