Daybreak, and we are shrouded in mist off the Gulf of Panama.
Overnight we had crossed the Equator but unfortunately we couldn’t keep our eyes open to celebrate! If we had been on schedule we would have done this in daylight and with the traditional ceremony. Crossing the Equator or “The Line” used to be a big thing on the liners of the 1930s to 1960s as the majority of people never had that opportunity. So if one had not done it before and word got out you were given special treatment.
Howard’s father, when returning in 1946 from serving in India had to navigate the Cape of Good Hope, because the Suez Canal was blocked, and crossed the Equator off Central Africa. The staff of the Arundel Castle, all in the best possible taste, tarred and feathered him, helped along by lashings of alcohol. Today’s crossing “The Line“ is a GPS affair. However, on a family holiday in 1996 on a Boeing 747 from Queensland to Hawaii, Howard asked if we could all go to the flight deck as we crossed the Equator at the International Date Line. The response was, “If you know where it is, then yes”. We made it with good old fashioned dead reckoning.
Late in the afternoon the Captain informed us that we were to rendezvous to take on supplies, medical equipment including testing kits and medical staff. In the darkness after 8:00 p.m. we saw the Rotterdam lit from stem to stern move alongside us. We had a ringside seat from our cabin window.
Late at night we left to rendezvous again in the reception area of the Gulf of Panama where ships wait for their slot to transit, like aeroplanes waiting to take off.
It was cloudy at sunrise and the sun was obscured by the thick cloud banks formed by the Humboldt. We are at 4° S at 07:15 but it will take the best part of the day to reach the Equator. At present we are off Ecuador.
The Humboldt dominates here but in some years there is a change to the weather known as the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation which brings weather changes to the Pacific as large belts of warm water develop west of our position. Its effects are first experienced here as the colder water is pushed deeper and more westward as the nutrient-poor warm water moves along the coast.
El Niño is associated by high pressure systems in the western Pacific and low pressure in the eastern Pacific. Remember, “winds do blow from high to low,” so over cycles of between 2 and 7 years there are temporary changes in temperature and rainfall patterns (this is still weather and not climate. El Niño is a change in the former and not a climate extreme.)
Countries bordering the Pacific are mostly affected but as the atmosphere is a connected system, what happens in the Pacific impacts upon other places. So weather changes can take place in Europe. None of this is new. Scientists have found fossils and fossilised chemical signatures of warmer and colder weather around 13,000 years ago.
In 1525 Pizarro noted, when he landed in Peru, that rain was falling in the bone dry deserts he had been informed of before his voyage. In the UK 1982-3, 1997-8 and 2014-16 have been amongst the strongest El Niño periods on record.
This afternoon the Captain introduced a walk and fresh air programme where deck by deck all passengers, unless ill, were allowed a supervised 30 minute walk on Deck 3. Social distancing was imperative along with no touching of handrails as one walked the deck.
As of now we are 58 guests and 88 crew with flu like symptoms but we will know more tomorrow when we rendezvous with the Rotterdam.
We moved to GMT -5 overnight. At daybreak we were at 12° S 79.° W off Peru and well within the Tropics.
Outside it was 24°C with 91% humidity. As of 07:40 we had travelled 4695 miles and Fort Lauderdale was 2304 miles away. We are still on course to meet the Rotterdam at 6:00 a.m. on 26th March off Panama.
As the sun rose we could clearly see the banks of cloud paralleling the Peruvian coast as the upwelling cold water of the Humboldt Current was exaggerated by the deep Peru-Chile Trench. It is the outer edge of the original South American continent. The trench at depths of more than 6,000 metres defines the fault line that forms part of the “Pacific Rim of Fire” that encompasses the Pacific Ocean. It is here that the Pacific crustal plate dives under South America. When at work the former melts at depths of many kilometres creating earthquakes and volcanoes.
We awoke at 8:15 a.m. and wondered why everything was so quiet. When we went to the ship’s navigator system we saw that we had crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and entered GMT – 4 during the night.
Breakfast in the room was delicious, in fact the coffee was better than in the restaurant!
Our journey northwards close to the coast of South America follows the route of the Humboldt (or Peru) Current. This is a cold mass of water that has its origins in the South Pacific where the waters from the Southern Ocean mix with the waters of the Pacific. It is named after the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt who identified the currents of cold water and its direction of travel. Along its journey there is a circular movement in the ocean which brings nutrients to the surface which provides food for fish. We have seen shoals of fish very near the surface some of which have been eaten by seabirds as they skim the surface. This mixing of the upward movement of the cold water is even greater around 4° S where the Humboldt mixes with the warmer waters of the Tropics. Here is a fishing ground that accounts for 20% of the total world wide catch of sea fish. The fish caught are mostly pelagic (close to the surface) and are mostly sardines, anchovies, mackerel, tuna and hake. Until the 1980s this fishing ground had a longstanding rival at the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, Canada. These fishing grounds were famous for their cod, originally caught by the Portuguese and British from the 17th century until its closure in the late 20th century to conserve stocks.
The cold current cools the marine air off the coast of Chile, Peru and Ecuador. This produces little rainfall and hence the arid lands of the three countries. The most notable of these is Chile and its Atacama Desert. The town of Calama was until the early 21st century the driest town on earth where for 150 years rain had never been recorded. The record was shattered by a few millimetres of rainfall but it is still a very dry place.
The world’s oceans have many currents both warm and cold which makes the air above them move in the same consistent direction. Because of this consistency sailing ships involved in international trade used these currents and moving air to navigate the world, hence the term ‘trade winds’. So leaving Europe captains would navigate their ships into the northeasterly trade winds which would take them to the Caribbean. After a period of light winds in the Tropics the northwesterly trade winds would get them to Australia. Similar winds would enable them to return to Europe. This is an example from the Atlantic, the other oceans have similar patterns.
The Captain has informed us that we are aiming to rendezvous with the sister ship Rotterdam during the early evening of the 26th off the Panama Canal. They will be able to top us up with supplies and anything virus related should it be needed as they have done with the Eurodam and Oosterdam off Mexico.
Negotiations are still taking place with the US State Department and other Foreign Offices.
To add to the excitement the first alert alarm sounded this afternoon. It turned out to be a small fire in the ironing section of the laundry on Deck A. We were on alert but no need for life vests. Another unexpected moment in this year’s Lisle tour.
Sunrise today was spectacular at 27° S. We are getting closer to the Tropics and its towering cumulonimbus clouds. We had a low layer of stratocumulus which appeared to trap the red of sunrise in the sky and ocean. By 09:00 the sun was back again in a clear blue sky.
We had taken a light lunch and done the one mile walk around the ship when the Captain announced that we had to return to our rooms immediately and that all public areas were closed.
A higher than normal number of respiratory problems had been identified amongst guests and crew and the medical teams were working to determine the problems. This meant all meals being delivered to your door and no contact with crew. Delivery took time but the two bottles of wine and two litres of water eased the hunger.
It was a cloudy start to the day as we began our next day in Valparaiso. Food tenders worked late into the night and during nothing seemed to happen. Near to noon as usual the Captain informed us that he had refuelled 800 tons that gave us a range of 7000 miles. When the last food tender has unloaded this afternoon we will have enough supplies for 3 weeks.
Two supply ships arrived 13:00 and when this stock is on board we will leave port.
At 5:00 p.m. the Captain announced we were heading north for a Panama transit to Fort Lauderdale, but if the worst happened we would be in Mexico or San Diego, California. He added, “the wine is on the house tonight and you will be pleased to know it is not Chilean”.
The sun has just set and we are overtaking a bulk carrier on our way to the Tropic of Capricorn.
We slipped into Valparaiso in the early morning light and from the cabin saw steep streets ascending the low mountains illuminated by street lights, reminiscent of San Francisco.
During breakfast we saw the fuel ship (bunker) approaching and by 11:00 fuel was being loaded.
This took until around 16:00. It was interesting to see that as the bunker became lighter the bulbous bow revealed a seal having a nap!
It was still there when the ship returned to dock but probably slipped off into the safety of the ocean.
During the morning two supply boats came alongside. Others were to follow during daylight and at night. The boats had cranes to lift the paletted loads onto deck 1. Even with a flat calm grappling hooks were needed to steady the swinging loads. We saw large quantities of the following on one of the boats: avocados by the hundreds, many dozens of boxes of bananas, fresh oranges, apples, carrots of a size we have never seen, melons, celery, hundreds of bottles of water, wine beyond measure, sacks of flour and Chinese food.
This evening we saw Australian lamb being loaded. The clue here was a map of Australia with sheep on it, but a member of a certain nation that doesn’t teach geography, did not understand that! There was also chicken, fish and a whole variety of other things.
We don’t know when we will be leaving here, it all depends on how long it takes to load all the provisions.
Overnight we passed the fishing port of Puerto Mont, Chile which we would have visited. According to a Lonely Planet travel guide “the town can be smelled before it can be seen”. This is its major attraction however. By sunrise we had reached 39° S 74° W and an announcement from the Captain said we would refuel and restock from 08:00 at Valparaiso.
We are navigating the Pacific using GPS navigation systems which keep us on track and show within metres our exact location. But having witnessed the vastness of the Atlantic we should reflect upon the experience of those explorers who went before us who were always unsure of their exact location.
The primary purpose of missions, such as the one of the Beagle led by Fitzroy (with Darwin on board), was to update charts of Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego and the Pacific Ocean. Whaling vessels were down here regularly and came across new islands but they could not be or had not been accurately mapped. The problem was defining latitude and longitude. The former parallel the Equator and by using sextants to make celestial and solar observations captains could determine how far north or south of zero latitude (Equator) the vessel was. The lines of longitude were not measurable this way as they run north to south and converge at the poles, so degrees of longitude decrease as one travels north or south. At the time of these discovery missions there was no zero meridian i. e. no longitude equivalent to the Equator. The British, through the clockmaker John Harrison, had a clock on gimbals that would work on a ship. This solved the problem of longitude. In fact Captain Cook used one on his first voyage as a test.
Following meetings at very high levels, the zero meridian was set at Greenwich, London. Essentially, these clocks were set at 12 noon at Greenwich and for the whole of the voyage displayed London time. So a mariner had to use a sextant to find the maximum height of the sun (12 noon) and compare that noon to the clock. So you are either ahead (east) of London or behind (west) and also by how many hours (this is because the earth rotates eastwards). This position could then be converted to degrees of longitude.
The Earth takes 24 hours to rotate 360 degrees therefore one hour is equivalent to 15 degrees longitude. For example, plus 3 hours equals 45 degrees east: minus 5 hours equals 75 degrees west. Now mariners could determine where they were using latitude and longitude and with accurate speed measurements on their vessels could determine distances covered. Problems arise when one arrives at 180 degrees west or east because it is the same line of longitude, hence the International Dateline. But that is another chapter!!
At sunset we have 12 hours to go before docking.
Today broke as a foggy one at 48° S and 75° W and it didn’t improve much until sunset. At 08:40 we had 793 miles to go to San Antonio, if they let us in, and so far have travelled 2532 miles.
By late afternoon we sighted land and possibly whales off the Archipelago de Chonos in the distance. At 12 noon the Captain gave his daily update and said we were hoping to restock in Valparaiso and that the US, UK and EU were involved in the negotiations.
We both feel it is weird that we continue like a ghost but healthy ship with the virus around us but not here.
Because we have not been allowed to stop, fixing the Internet on the computer is impossible, but once we land we will insert pictures so keep reading and checking.
We awoke at 07:30 to a dark, almost black sea at 52° S 73° W heading towards the Chilean fjord coastline where the Andes Mountain Range reaches the sea.
Whilst eating breakfast we managed to cross the shallow strait at Manuel Rodriguez. This is where the sill of the fjord rises to the surface because here the glacier started to melt and lost its erosive power. This meant that at high tide there was only 2 metres of space between the ship and the bottom of the fjord.
We continued along mountain-lined fjords with lots of exposed granite, schists, evidence of folding, fracturing by tectonic movements and wind erosion. The latter is a constant here and small trees are bent to almost 90 degrees by it.
At Rennell we made a sharp turn into another fjord. Looking from the stern we saw only mountains to the left and right and a high mountain wall filling the gap. We put ourselves in the position of early mariners faced with this view. Which way would enable us to reach open sea? None of them knew which was a cul-de-sac. By midday we had reached an area of sedimentary rocks where the glaciers had been more erosive.
There were drumlin like hills, moraines and a clearly defined strandflat before the seawater. As we left the narrows we came across roche-moutonees which are rocks shaped by the moving ice and covered by shrubs and small trees. These are similar to the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, Canada, only they have houses on them.
We are now in the open ocean and expecting a Force 9 wind straight on to the bow, with 4 metre high waves and as the Captain announced, we will definitely feel it, but this is nothing for the South Pacific.
We have been on the move for more than 24 hours and the landscape has barely changed. The scale of this landscape is vast and it is difficult to imagine the forces that made this.