23-Dec-2003 -- After passing Madeira we are approaching continental
Europe again. During winter usually the Bay of Biscay/Baie de Gascogne is
notorious for stormy weather, but we catched our first storm already a day
earlier, off the Portuguese cost. A powerful high pressure of 1040 hPa (!!!)
is sitting over the Bay of Biscay, causing a strong flow of air towards SSW.
This winds from ahead cause the ship to move around her transversal axis,
the seaman calls it "pitching".
Pitching is even more disapproved than the movement around the longitudinal
axis ("rolling"), as it hampers the speed and causes bothersome pounding at
times, stressing the hull far heavier than rolling.
Pitching begins with the bow is lifted up by a huge wave. The wave is
passing below the ship's bottom and subsequently she falls with her nose
into the following "valley", which first causes an enormous balloon of water. No seaman is allowed to stay on the forecastle under such conditions.
Everybody would be swept away in no time. The water balloon developes a lot
of spray which
finally spreads all over the ship and the visibility remains
restricted for several seconds.
As before told, nobody is allowed to stay or even work outside when such
conditions prevail. That's annoying, because we have a lot of maintenance
jobs to do. Later, when the ship arrives in her European home port, a
superintendent from the Owners will board and complain again, why we did not
work properly and nothing had happened regarding maintenance during the
voyage. But no problem, - every experienced and smart captain has such
pictures in his bag to show the superintendent upon any eventual complaints,
"why the crew did not work .. why the ship is still in such a nasty
condition ... we delivered expensive paint and nothing had happened ... ".
Well, when approaching Cabe Finisterre and Cabo Toriñana, the
Nortwesternmost tips of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), the weather improved,
and when I glared out of my bulleye after my afternoon nap, surprisingly I
clearly saw the coastline. This is very unusual, and I even had not had
scheduled that visit, but due to the high pressure we are in now, the
visibility is exceptionally good.
So I could bag 43N 10W, well 30 nautical miles off the
coast, being very
rocky, rugged and
backed by high land which rises to a height of over 300 m.
The main promontories in the area are Cabo Villano, Cabo Toriñana and Cabo
Finisterre ("Cape of the End of the World").
For all ships rounding the Nortwestern tip of Spain a traffic separation and
radio reporting scheme has been established, being strictly enforced
especially since the casualty of the tanker "Erika" in winter 2001. The
tanker was coming from Russia, fully laden with oil for Gibraltar. During a
storm in the vicinity of Cabo Finisterre she broke in two and subsequently
sank, causing a major environmental disaster for the fishermen and the
tourism in the area.
The traffic lanes, intended to separate the traffic bound from the
Mediterranian to Northern Europe and vice versa, lie East of the 10°W
meridian, but we, coming from the SW, were anyway not supposed to use them,
but to stay outside, thus farther in the West. This gave us the opportunity
to visit this point.
For the above explained reasons we were not allowed to go closer to the
coast, and so I took a picture of Cabo Finisterre from a photo in the Pilot Book of the British Admiralty.
As we are a poor ship and do not have a scanner, I had to make a photo with
my digicam, and so the picture taken from a distance of 1 foot does not
differ much in quality from those taken more than 30 nautical miles off the
This time the visit fell into the watch of my deputy, Chief Officer
Volodymyr Meshcheryakov from Odessa (Ukraine).
Tomorrow is Christmas, and as it is proper for a good Christian ship, the
trees have to be prepared. This requires a longer operation:
The trees I purchased a four years ago in Argentina, and they are still
okay. I knew there should be around somewhere some silver tinsels, but then
I recalled that we have once used them as a decoration for a beach party in
Nigeria nine months ago, and of course nobody brought them back on board.
Chirstmas tree balls are definitely none around, no need to search for them.
Since five years these balls give reason to discussions. I am repeatedly
ordering them every year and so far they were always rejected by our
purchasing department, for "Christmas balls are not essential for the
operation of the ship".
The illumination surprisingly was around, but no longer operative. I
remember very well it having worked perfectly last Christmas, and nobody was
using it since then.
So I went with it to the Chief Engineer to get it repaired. First he
grumbled this not to be his responsibility and that he is not an
"But you are a Catholic!" I told him, "that's enough. And now take the
trouble and fix this bloody illumination!"
Finally all was arranged, and seamen are known to be inventive. Instead of
the lacking Christmas balls I hang up the incoming telexes, where the
shipowner, the charterer and the agent are wishing us "Merry Christmas".
Well, this was my Christmas Confluence, and I am wishing a successful New
Confluence Year to all visitors around the World!