September 29, 2015
We had a successful crossing of the Tyrrhenian Sea from Cagliari, Sardinia to Trapani, Sicily– a couple hundred miles of open ocean – one of the places where humans first practiced navigating the seas. We were on a route that has been traversed by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans, headed for Trapani – a harbor mentioned in the Odyssey – on the west coast of Sicily.
The ocean looked just like it did to them, as far as I can tell. Deep, deep blue, shading to very dark blue as the sun set. Homer’s controversial remark about the “wine dark sea” seemed, finally, completely justified. It may not have been the purple of wine, but it was every bit as dark.
All the modern satellite-based weather services promised mild weather for the crossing. Mostly it was. Some great sailing. Then the huge thunderstorms started to show up, and caught my attention when one of them began to generate waterspouts in front of us. Waterspouts are just tornados at sea. So twice we hove-to to let things settle down a little before continuing on. “Heaving-to,” for the non-sailors, is a maneuver where you backwind the headsail, keep some pressure on the mainsail, and lash the tiller to the lee side. Even in stormy conditions a good boat (and ours is) will sit quietly, barely moving, just bobbing along with a gentle motion over the waves.
Sarah said she enjoyed the trip, “except for the part about thinking how we might die tonight.” As it turned out, we ducked all the storms, to be returned to the normal human concerns about being run over by a bus, or whatever…
While the sea, and the clouds and the eclipsed moon didn’t look different from the view offered to a slave rowing a trireme, one thing was definitely different. We didn’t see a single bird, or a fish, or a dolphin during the crossing. Really unthinkable after our experiences in the Pacific. For the time being, at least, the Pacific seems too big for people to totally exterminate sea life, but the Mediterranean has been intensively fished for a few thousand years, most recently with mechanized, computer-guided, unregulated factory boats, in addition to the charming little subsistence-fishing craft we see around us in this harbor here.
We humans are going to pay for our inability to stop the destruction at sea, and in more obvious places…