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Sea Change

Lat = 26.5 N ;  Lon = 156.5 E ; Depth = 16,500 feet ; Dist to Kobe = 1206 km

Yesterday we crossed a sharp boundary between the easterly tropical Trade Winds and the westerly winds of the Earth’s mid-latitudes. After a glorious morning of tropical sunshine and smooth following seas, we suddenly encountered a rain squall. The air temperature dropped almost 20 F, and the sea very suddenly turned against us.

The English language uses the term “sea change” for a sudden profound change in the environment, mood, or political situation. Now I understand the term much better!

For days we’d been sailing with the wind at our stern, with the sea swell following us. Especially yesterday morning it was very restful and pleasant. Then quite suddenly the sea changed completely. As we crossed the boundary, the sea swells shifted dramatically from following to head on. The sea isn’t all that rough, but the ship is now butting bow-first into the swells. Both the following sea of our recent past and the head sea of our present result from thousands of miles of upwind fetch, yet we crossed in a very short distance from one regime to the other.

You can see the boundary between Trades and westerlies on the attached wave map.

During the night, the ship began pitching fore and aft. Dresser drawers in our cabin slammed open and shut over and over throughout the wee hours. As the bow climbs the oncoming swells, it feels as if I weigh twice my normal weight. Then as it drops down the far side, I feel nearly weightless!

So strange to teach like this – our big Global Studies classroom is in the bow. As I lecture, I feel myself rising into the air. The projection screen swings wildly back toward the students. Then the bow slaps down hard with a big THUMP that shakes my teeth. The students are alternatively amused and uncomfortable with the dramatic motions.

It’s clear again, with absolutely beautiful crystalline sunshine on the vast blue ocean. Yet now we fight through the wind and waves to make slow progress toward Japan.

Winter is coming.

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