June 12, 2012

What's adrift? Far too much

FOR HUNDREDS OF SAILORS making their way around the world on small yachts, there could hardly be anything more distressing than the sight of a large concrete floating dock that was cast up recently on a beach in Oregon. It had apparently come loose in the earthquake/tsunami in Japan in March last year, and drifted 5,500 miles across the Pacific.

Can you imagine hitting that thing in stormy seas one dark night?  And how many other bits and pieces are out there, threatening small boats?  From time to time we hear of containers being washed off the decks of ships, huge floating steel boxes with sharp edges.  I know of at least one boat that struck a floating tree a couple of hundred miles off the mouth of the Amazon, and the inshore waters of the Pacific Northwest are often stuffed with almost invisible deadheads and logs that have escaped from rafts being towed to the sawmills. 

A friend of mine ran into a whale one night in the middle of the ocean — and we haven’t even started to think about other sailboats and big ships that for some reason seem attracted to one another on collision courses.  You’d think that the chances of running into another vessel on the wide-open oceans are almost nil, but in fact they seem to want to find and cling to each other as two matchsticks do when you put them in a saucer of water.

The appearance of the floating dock is bad news for anyone sailing in the North Pacific. It is a 66-foot long rectangular structure, 19 feet wide and 7 feet tall, made of hollow concrete and metal, and stuffed with styrofoam.  It is obviously driven by the current more than the wind, for it lies quite low in the water,  and it is amazing to me to that it covered 5,500 miles in little more than a year.  The scary thing is that is it probably just a precursor of much more tsunami junk on the way.  It was one of four similar docks washed away in Japan and nobody knows where the other three are.  But thousands of tons of debris of other kinds, including fishing boats, were washed into the sea and we’re likely to see a whole lot more of it on the west coast soon as the prevailing current makes its inexorable way from Japan to Alaska and south along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California.

This is not the best time to be out there in a small yacht at night. The sea is too full of man-made perils that could sink a yacht without warning.

Today’s Thought
No one can safely expose himself often to danger. The man who has often escaped is caught at last.
— Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucillum

“Howdy, cowboy. Can I hire this here horse?”
“Sure thing, ma’am. There’s a jack in his saddlebag.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Bruce Bateau said...

I think I'm more scared of the Japanese stuff in the water, that I can't see...


Belinda Del Pesco said...

Great post. When I saw photos of people standing next to the washed up dock, the impact of scale blew me away. I hope anything else that is spotted afloat - or washes up - is widely publicized, for the sake of every single vessel on the water.