My ship was effortlessly steaming through the waters of the Caribbean Sea. It was a well deserved calm and our crew was fatigued from the intense shore based operations we underwent at New Orleans.
The waters of the Caribbean almost always kept surprising us but that night, it was something else that caught my attention.
The night sky, usually studded with a million stars, was veiled by a dense blanket of thunderclouds. And boy did they make for a visual treat!
It was just like in the movies, minus the background score. But that was no problem for my vivid imagination. As I stood out on the bridge wing to get a better look, the sudden onset of rain forced me back in.
What followed was the most extravagant show of lightning I’d ever seen.
Forks upon forks of atmospheric static being discharged in a dazzling display of light followed closely by the roar of the thunder. As we got closer to the clouds, the lightning bolts became more evident. There were streaks of light jumping within the sky itself, from one cloud to another..
There were others that dared to shoot toward the sea surface but failed half way down and then there were those that crashed straight into the sea. At times alone, sometimes in sync, these bolts set the night sky ablaze. The flashes were so bright that if captured correctly at the instant of lightning, a photo could easily have been mistaken for an evening click. My eyes lit up in awe as they screened the sky above for the next strike. I missed some flashes, saw some others. There were so many it was hard to keep pace with the firework-like display.
To a mariner who lives to marvel at the beauty of God’s creation this was nothing short of pure bliss for me. I stood there in awe for a while, my gaze continuously following the flashes of light, when it happened. A streak of lightning struck very close to our ship. The flash of light was so brilliant that it blinded me momentarily and the thunder that roared almost simultaneously, made our ship, a 30,000 tonne deadweight motor vessel, rattle, like a leaf in the wind!
How awesome is He that commands the seas where they should stop or tells the lightning where it should strike. I watched in wonder for a time longer……
The voyage though had many a surprise for us. In fact just the next evening I got to witness what was perhaps the birth of a storm.
It started off with a normal lightning display like the day before. And though not as grand as the one from the day before, lightning is hard to ignore. The intensity continued to which continued for about an hour with increasing intensity.
As I was sipping on my coffee, at 2 am I began to revise the science behind lightning that was taught to us in Meteorology. As I watched science manifest before my eyes, the lightning followed the pattern of the day before. The number of streaks intensified and so did the thunder. Sometimes the flashes got so brilliant that it was as if day had dawned for just about a second and then vanished. As a prudent watch-keeper, I surveyed the sky away from the fireworks as well, when I realized that it was rather calm. On observing it for a while the wind pattern had suddenly changed and the
clouds (there was sufficient moonlight to see them) began, in general, swirling toward the area of where the lightning came from.
I checked the barometer and confirmed by the slight change in pressure, that we were indeed witnessing the formation of what could develop into a depression (which is a storm in its infancy). Fortunately by the time it formed, if the phenomenon continued to persist, we would have been far, far away.
Interesting thing was that my lookout asked me how far away from Bermuda we were, because he thought that this anomaly might be one of the many reasons that made the Bermuda triangle so legendary. He said he was beginning to
feel afraid. I reassured him that it was still a day’s sail away.
Being out there in the middle of the ocean surely lets us see spectacular things that would otherwise be impossible to witness. Interestingly, it also nullifies the thrill that others may experience in watching a Hollywood flick because having encountered them firsthand at sea, a Mariner would know straightaway the difference between a real depiction and exaggeration. But every once in a while, you do have an exact account of phenomenon portrayed on the big screen that leaves me telling my movie buddy (my wife), “That’s exactly how it happens!”
It is also a very humbling experience to behold nature at its most violent and merciless. No matter the technology or the safety measures in place, nothing we have invented could ever withstand the full fury of Mother Nature. Even our massive ship (in our perspective) is nothing more than a mere matchbox floating amidst the tempestuous waves.
So whenever you see or hear of hurricanes and giant waves, do remember to say a small line of prayer for all sailors out there. It’s only in God’s hands that we are truly safe…..