We are in the Caribbean Sea near Silver Bank, where so many ships have been broken apart by storms and reefs. In a Zodiac, I am heading for a recent shipwreck—a large cargo ship. The sea caught this vessel by surprise, as it did the galleons of the Spanish Armada in the 16th and 17th centuries. But this wreck didn’t really sink to the bottom; she ran into the shallows and was stranded. At high tide, a good part of her is still visible. At low tide (as in this photograph), she is almost entirely out of the water and resembles a pathetic castle of rusty metal plates, eaten away and full of holes like fine lace.
Each shipwreck has a story—that of an owner, a captain, a crew… One day, or one night, the drama took shape for the men on board. They felt safe on their ship. They had confidence in human technology. They told themselves that our intelligent species had created a ship that could withstand the great Nature. At the bottom of their heart perhaps they had a small bit of doubt but they could never admit to fear lest they be thought cowardly.
The image of shipwrecks comes irresistibly to mind whenever I find myself in the presence of other human works in which our species flaunts its arrogance. Then I dream of the dozens of vessels I have seen crushed by the sea. I tell myself that humans rarely hear the warnings that the elements give them. That we forget too fast. That we are not modest enough to deserve the term “sapiens” (wise) that we award ourselves.
What joy to cross the Atlantic on an experimental ship! What an honor to sail in the path of Christopher Columbus! This is just what is happening to Captain Cousteau and his colleagues, on board on Moulin à Vent for her first trans-Atlantic crossing. The ship certainly was not built for adventure. Her hull, salvaged from an old catamaran is quite fragile and the constantly lapping water is hard on her; it pounds the bottom of the boat between the two keels violently. The base of the Turbosail™, where it is anchored to the deck, is probably bearing too much stress. As long as there are no storms…
The crew stopped for a moment at the Salvage Islands, where they went diving. Then they continued on their way west. They have caught the famous trade winds that are pushing them toward America, just as the winds propelled Christopher Columbus and those who followed him to the New World. Moulin à Vent is moving at more than 10 knots. Her Turbosail has demonstrated brilliantly how reliable it is. Its efficiency, too, is a delight, to realize that it would take sail with five or six times more surface area to achieve the same productivity. The wind is strong. The voyage is showing how fast the ship can go. The electronic equipment is all functioning.
By satellite, the Cousteau staff team keeps up with how the experiment is unfolding day to day, even hour to hour. A pod of dolphins has come to greet the ship. A whale blows in the distant waves. Seabirds have taken up position at the top of the Turbosail.