February 18, 2001
At 0800 Eastern Standard Time, the Training Ship Empire State was located at 24 degrees and 48 minutes N Latitude, 082 degrees and 50 minutes W Longitude. She was anchored 11 nautical miles East Northeast of the Dry Tortugas National Park. The air temperature was 67 degrees and water temperature 70 degrees Fahrenheit; skies were partly cloudy with 67 percent relative humidity; winds were from the north at 12 knots; barometric pressure was 1021 millibars and rising. Seas were gently rolling. Depth of water beneath the keel was 101 feet.
When I'm on stage, I'm trying to do one thing: bring people joy. Just like church does. People don't go to church to find trouble, they go there to lose it. --James Brown, 1986
Yesterday, Captain Brady wrote briefly about the Dry Tortugas National Park and we are there today, riding comfortably on six shots of chain in 101 feet of clear blue water.
For the landlubbers, a shot is equal to 15 fathoms or 90 feet. That descriptive measure originally had practical meaning. It was the length of chain loaded into a cannon and fired into the rigging of the enemy's ship. Like many terms nautical, the colorful expression stuck, and to say six shots still sounds better than 90 feet. Don't you think?
No sooner had the anchor touched bottom than cadets flooded my office with requests for "swim call". I hate to be the bad guy or to dampen youthful enthusiasm but I can barely remember the last time when I had swim call aboard the training ship. It was a long time ago, maybe 1982, off the coast of Spain.
No is the easy answer so then I wondered, why not? Is it because our people can't swim? No, they are trained and several are certified lifeguards, and why would a non-swimmer dive off the ship? That makes no sense. Is it the sharks? They could be and probably are lurking down here. They are known to be active near beaches, and they feed near coral shoals. Maybe I don't want to find out. Is it because we don't have a proper diving platform, one that ensures that the swimmer lands cleanly in the water without bouncing off the rigid steel hull enroute.
Then I thought, if one is uncomfortably hot then a short, safe walk leads to air-conditioned comfort. If one must have a refreshing torrent of saltwater square in the face then a bucket and line will fetch it nicely. There are myriad reasons why swim call has fallen from grace, but all I need is one. The obvious benefits simply do not outweigh the significant risks. Simply working, living, and learning in this dynamic environment presents ample opportunities for pain, so why temp the gods? Who knows the mind of Neptune? Ergo, no swim call!
The well-documented, mechanical problems have kept Empire State pier side every weekend and consequently, we have been unable to enjoy our traditional Sunday at sea, until now. So we decided to pull over, park, and see the sights.
This location is perfect for it and by going to anchor; we can safely relax the watch sections, take full advantage of the sunscreen weather, and enjoy our last full Sea Term Sunday.
First, let me better acquaint you with the locale. This is a National Park but don't let the word park, fool you. Oh, it is wonderful in the natural sense and day-trippers love it, but this part of the world is also renown for maritime treachery and the nearby reefs and shoals are serious hazards to navigation and the sites of hundreds of shipwrecks. Modern sailors, with instant communications and state of the art navigation systems, have fallen victim with almost the regularity of ancient mariners equipped with only rudimentary timepieces and compasses. Strong currents, weather, and shallow waters here, are more than a match for the inexperienced or unwary.
The Park sits at the edge of one of the world's busiest shipping channels too, and merchant traffic volumes have been relatively intense since the days of the Spaniards. Nearly everything traveling into the Caribbean passes through this sensitive ecosystem. I am quite sure that environmentalists, divers, and bird lovers everywhere wish that were not so. I can only imagine the lasting damage that an oil spill would do to rare coral, birds, and tropical fish that live here.
We promise to leave the creatures in peace and I hope that the fragrant aromas floating skyward from the fantail, do not attract the gangly pelicans and voracious sea gulls. I have it on good authority that the resident populations are descendents of birds tamed by La Fitte the pirate. Therefore, our food is just too bland for their tastes, anyway. We shall see.
Sunday at sea is, as one might expect, a day of rest. Many of the Cadets will attend church services before venturing into the sunshine. Others will snooze at their leisure or read, but everyone will participate in our fantail party. Cadets in the maintenance section happily moved the table length barbeque grills from storage and toted them aft to the fantail, where they prepared them for the feast. The student government association planned this event, too. They brought sound equipment enough to host a Beatles concert and a replicated Wolfman Jack, disguised as a mild mannered cadet, always steps up to DJ the event. I am continually amazed at the sheer numbers of CD's that cadets bring to sea. We used to travel the world with no more than sixty pounds of luggage and now they carry that much music. So, unless some long ago buccaneer stirs from the dead to demand quiet, the racket...oops music, will continue until long after we sail.
The fragrance of warm coconut will also permeate the picnic atmosphere. Many Cadets departed Buzzards Bay sporting the pallor of fresh bread dough and most have succeeded at changing that. They want to return to winter the deeply tanned subjects of envy, and this is the season finale at "steel beach". Real sleet and snow will likely replace dreams of sun and sand come mid week. Consequently, the fore deck will be packed with beach goers as dozens lather up for the last time until June.
Regardless of one's leisure interests, food is the center focus of the day and Chartwells Food Service people were preparing picnic dishes late into last evening. Hot dogs and hamburgers with colorful pasta dishes, potato salad, and garden greens are perennial favorites but chicken and ribs, marinated in spicy sauces and slowly cooked over the hot coals, will tempt even the hardened weight watchers among us. The festivities promise to be a wonderful way to quietly reminisce, celebrate our good fortune, and prepare for the impending journey home.
Well folks, I hate to run and eat...but it is a tough job and someone has to do it. I will submit a full report on the continuing adventures of the Regiment of Cadets, at anchor. A quick teaser, Las Vegas Night was a huge success. Rumor has it that nearly a quarter-million Buc Dollars were placed on the line!
See you tomorrow, near Ft Lauderdale.