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The Silent Landscape

Chapter 5. Climate Triggers and Bermudan Secrets

St Thomas, Danish West Indies, 16 March 1873, 18o22'N, 64o 56'W to Hamilton, Bermuda, 32o18'N, 64o 48'W


The voyagers arrived in Bermuda on the evening of April 4, 1873, sliding to anchor at Grassy Bay with the aid of a local pilot standing at the foretop and directing the four men at the wheel. The narrows through the reefs were treacherous and a knowledgeable pilot was a requirement. There were dozens of barely submerged corals all around them and Joe Matkin could see on many of them the impaled remains of less fortunate ships. The islands of Bermuda were strategically important to Victoria's navy and the whole of the British North American Fleet was stationed there under the command of Governor Major General Lefroy. Because Bermuda was so important to Her Majesty's navy, the main town of Hamilton had the most elaborate docking facilities in the North Atlantic. These facilities included an enormous floating iron dock that had been recently towed all the way from Britain by four men o' war, among them H.M.S. Warrior.

The River of Heat

H.M.S. Challenger left Hamilton on April 21 and soundings confirmed almost immediately that Bermuda was indeed a vast seamount, towering 4 kilometers high from its base on the seafloor. She then shaped a course north and west toward the Canadian coastline under Admiralty orders to investigate the strange anomaly in the thermal structure of the North Atlantic known as the Gulf Stream. This narrow band of surface water, originating near the Gulf of Mexico and flowing northeast toward the Newfoundland Grand Banks, was known to be much warmer than the surrounding waters. As Challenger traversed it, the crew dredged and sounded in the manner to which they had become accustomed, finding that the bottom here was more than 1,500 fathoms (2 kilometers) deep. With their marvelously intricate thermometers and water samplers, they discovered that the width of the stream in that area was fully 60 miles and at least 8oF (4oC) warmer than the waters on either side.

Now click here to enter Chapter 6. Kelp and Cold Light...



Richard Corfield 2003 in association with pedalo.co.uk