Homeward bound: Making it through the gate at Gibraltar

Spice of Life: After a long passage from Montreal port in Canada across the vast stretch of the Atlantic Ocean, braving one storm after another, we were finally in sight of Gibraltar, the gateway to the East
Gibraltar is the gateway to the East and Mediterranean Sea and further on to Suez Canal. The entry through Gibraltar, when returning from the West, is always a relief as it gives the feeling of being almost on land with Europe on the North and Africa in the South.
Gibraltar is the gateway to the East and Mediterranean Sea and further on to Suez Canal. The entry through Gibraltar, when returning from the West, is always a relief as it gives the feeling of being almost on land with Europe on the North and Africa in the South.
Published on Nov 15, 2021 06:57 PM IST
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ByLal Singh

Join the sea and see the world, an old adage luring the landlubber doesn’t hold much water these days as naval ships rarely venture out of coastal waters that too to some of our own ports or a couple of nearby countries, such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. But service in Merchant Navy ships does afford many chances to see the wonderful world, not only to the serving crew but also to the families of officers on board.

Life on ship no doubt is a monotonous one but there are still moments of adventure now and then. The sea passage from India to the east coast of the US through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea is an enjoyable experience. On one of these ships where I was the chief engineer, my wife joined me for a voyage, leaving behind our children with my parents. We made a much sought after voyage to the Great Lakes which covers North American ports of the US and Canada near the lakes of Ontario, Erie, Michigan and fresh water lake Superior. By the time the ship reached this last named lake, we were 600 feet higher than the sea. This is an engineering marvel when a ship is lifted in steps through different level locks; where water levels are maintained by gravity from the next higher level for raising the ship and by pumps while lowering the ships returning to sea level.

The enthusiasm witnessed when a wife joins her husband on board before the onset of the voyage to see foreign places gradually wanes and gives way to boredom, nostalgia, and longing to return home. For my wife too, reaching back home to our children at the earliest became an obsession and our ship’s agonising slow progress towards India across the hostile Atlantic came under her criticism. Even the reading material at her disposal was not helpful in curbing her longing to be home. In one of the old National Geographic magazines on our ship, my wife read an article in which geologists postulate that due to the continuous though imperceptible drift of the African continent towards Eurasia, the passage at Gibraltar between these two continents is getting narrower, imperceptibly, of course. And this would, one day, result in making our present day Mediterranean Sea land-locked and a dry valley once the passage at Gibraltar closes completely, as has happened many times in the past billion years or so.

So, after a long passage from Montreal port in Canada across the vast stretch of the Atlantic Ocean, braving one storm after another, we were finally in sight of Gibraltar, the gateway to the East and Mediterranean Sea and further on to Suez Canal. The entry through Gibraltar, when returning from the West is always a relief as it gives the feeling of being almost on land. You see land on both sides, Europe on the North and Africa in the South, when your ship is transiting through Mediterranean Sea.

When our ship was approaching the passage to Gibraltar on one sunny afternoon, my wife came on the deck where I was having my usual stroll, and without any preamble, asked, rather told, me to increase the speed of our ship. A request for increasing the ship’s speed is not unusual, but coming from my wife left me puzzled, till she added with a mock concern, “Let’s get through faster before the gate at Gibraltar closes in our face and delays us for many days in case we have to go via the Cape of Good Hope, a longer and stormy passage to India.” It was quite a compliment to the chief engineer of the ship on the performance and speed of his ship, coming, especially as it did from his wife. lalsingh1936@gmail.com

The writer is an Amritsar-based retired merchant navy chief engineer

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Saturday, December 04, 2021