written 5th January 2010

It’s the first proper day of my voyage across the Atlantic and according to “Captain’s Log” – the only onboard TV channel on offer that I’ve much interest in – we’re passing underneath Ireland. It’s blowing a “fresh gale” outside: 47 miles per hour, hitting the ship abeam, but it’s only causing a slight judder as I lay typing in bed. If this were an ordinary hotel one would think the couple next door were engaged in some particularly energetic love-making, but alas it’s just the sea, and besides I suspect my neighbours are well past it in advanced years.

It was like Christmas Day this morning to wake up knowing I was feet from the ocean. With long coat hanging down to meet some very long socks I was covered enough to open the curtains and simultaneously turn the lock of my balcony door, stepping outside in one motion as if opening a Christmas present.

I wasn’t disappointed. If the new Doctor Who’s catchphrase is going to be “Geronimo!”, mine on these travels is obviously going to be “wow”, which is what I said to myself out loud when I saw the Atlantic ocean stretching out in front of me. No land now, no chance of the mobile signal I was desperately trying to hang on to last night, just sea – ocean, everywhere. The day is pretty – equal amounts of blue, white and grey in the sky; the clouds fluffy. When I change TV channels to the “Bridge Cam”, more ocean, the same as the perpendicular view from my windows. I kept saying “wow” in fact as I realised that this wasn’t just being close to the Atlantic ocean… being on the beach in Cornwall is being close to the Atlantic ocean. This was being IN the Atlantic ocean, on the Atlantic ocean… completely surrounded by the Atlantic ocean. Five hundred feet below us and at least 100 miles in any direction. Interestingly the Captain has just made a ship-wide announcement – obviously a daily thing: we have sailed 324 nautical miles so far and we’re equidistant from the tip of Ireland and the tip of England…100 miles from both and soon to be leaving both behind on our way to Newfoundland. Tomorrow we’ll have also left behind the continental shelf of Europe, and will be in even deeper water: two miles deep.

But wow. That ocean. I just have to keep going outside to the balcony and looking at it. I’ve seen the Atlantic ocean before. Its edges. But now I’m going to get all of it. Its whole breadth. For seven days solid we’re going to be crossing this vast expanse of ocean and it’s now, now we’re out of port, that the sheer majesty and size of it hits me. There’s also the thought in the back of my mind that we are imposters here, interlopers. If it really wanted to the sea could swallow us up, and why would they ever find us? The ship is big, but the sea is so so much bigger, and that’s apparent once you’re on it. Respect is healthy.

This adds a different dimension to my travels: most trans-Atlantic travellers – by airplane – scarcely have any commerce with the Atlantic itself (let alone the history of traveling this ocean and its consequences for the world). But here I can hear it, smell it and feel its spray on my face, spit in its spume if I wanted and add an infinitesimal amount of my own life-giving water to be assimilated into its own ample and unimpressed massiveness. To me this further illustrates what small creatures we – me and the boat – are compared to the huge sea.

For all the Cunard line’s laudable but politically-correct talk about environmental stewardship of the sea, it is not dependent on us. We are dependent on and beholden to the sea. And this has implications for how we think of ourselves on this planet mainly covered in oceans. Even my brief time spent regarding the ocean has warned me off – and nothing untoward has even happened yet. But I am innately cautious of such a big and unruly creature. I think we should all be, for the oceans are so powerful that if there were to give us any trouble – including in the case of catastrophic sea levels rises brought on by runaway climate change – we would certainly come off the worse.

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Flickr video: Braving the Atlantic Ocean in winter.

This video shows a particularly dramatic and exciting day on the ocean!