SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
October 21, 2014
36°08.7’ N, 7°30.1’ W
Into the Atlantic, West towards Madeira
“Not a single British ship sank – both the Spanish and French were devastated, and far worse than the battle was the storm that followed… but at least we got Admiral Nelson.”
Such was spoken candidly by an archeological specialist at the Instituto Andaluz del Patrimonio Historico Centro de Arqueologia Subacuatica, during our first day in Cádiz. On this date, 209 years ago, the royal British naval fleet sailed in a V-formation (a noted specialty of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s) to separate the two lines of ships constituted by the Spanish and French naval forces. The formation gave the British a broadside advantage – with cannons aimed out either side, and a hefty supply of cannonballs, the battle was brutal and short lived. Whereas the battle had claimed the lives of many Spanish and Frenchmen, the storm that awaited the battered vessels as they limped back towards the Bay of Cádiz was even more nefarious. Many ships sank to the watery depths, marking the location a shipwreck and graveyard, as well as the spot where Nelson would draw his last breath. (At the Instituto we saw a cannon from one of the French ships recovered from a wreck.)
Yet today, as we departed from Cádiz towards Madeira, we breathed life back to the site as we sailed overhead, singing the customary song “Spanish Ladies,” and honoring the location by reading segments of the novel “Trafalgar,” by the Spanish author Benito Perez Galdos.
Sailing towards Madeira, under the shadow of six set and eagerly awaited sails, I found myself already nostalgic of Cádiz despite my earlier eagerness to return to sea. Each day in Cádiz had been an adventure of exploring vestiges of history stretching far into the past of mankind, enjoying the natural beauty of seascape and architecture, and relaxing under the sun with a variety of local food and drink specialties. Phoenician and Roman relics had left me in awe – though I had studied the ancient city for projects in two classes, I was still shocked by the impressive remains of culture and technology. Remains of aqueducts, two intact sarcophagi, and detailed statuettes of ancient emperors displayed how important the city was during ancient times. What captivated me further was the smaller, and perhaps more common objects; keys and locks, small glass toy cicadas for Roman children, and intricately designed urns. Despite my research, it was these small intricacies and items that gave me a broadened appreciation for the impressive technology and culture of these ancient civilizations. I was often wondering, imagining, how would the world have changed had Roman intellectual progress continued into the Dark Ages; where would we be now?
It took us a thousand years to rediscover the methods to create concrete, yet as we walked through Baelo Claudia we saw it used commonly for the salted fish factories. The site was also a transporting experience; walking through the town and imagining the coastal livelihood of its past citizens was surreal. It was even more vivid as we walked through the newer dig sites. Ceramic pieces and brick cornerstones littered the ground around the bathhouse. Examining near a tree off the path I found a segment of what I imagined was once a ceramic urn with blue, oceanic designs similar to an urn in the Museum of Cádiz (as pictured) I had examined until told it was time to leave. After vividly imagining what possible heirlooms the segment could have been part of, I returned the piece back to the ground, and resumed the group tour.
As we enter the Atlantic, we start the second phase of leadership during our deck duties, taking on more responsibility with the handling and safety of the ship, as well as learning to lead watch groups (which is expected during the final phase of the voyage). With smooth conditions today, the science deployments also began once more: good news for those of us in the Directed and Practical Oceanographic Research courses. Devin and I are eager to start jellyfishing once more for Pelagia noctiluca (a beautiful pink jellyfish that’s despised by many citizens of coastal Spain), and measure the respiration rate of the jellyfish via controlled air-tight jelly jars (which have also proven advantageous for the production of jamfish or preserves). It is relaxing to be back at sea, the lack of the sea’s rhythm had made our stop on land a challenge to walk. Soon enough we will be in Madeira, though beforehand I plan to enjoy the increased responsibilities, my stint as assistant steward, and pristine nature around us in the Atlantic.