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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 77: 10 December

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysToday we should have our first sight of England. Make a big effort to fight ship lag and get up for breakfast. At 7.30 it's pitch dark outside, and the temperature indicator on the refrigerated container outside my window glows red '-0006F'. By nine o'clock it's still dark, with a faint yellowing of the Eastern sky over a flat featureless sea. The terrors of December on the Atlantic have not materialised yet. Roger says he's now absolutely convinced someone is augmenting his whisky.

The captain doesn't come down for lunch today as he's promised his wife he'll lose a pound or two. Equally concerned crew members, including Lillian, gather in the engine room for a weekly weight-watcher's meeting, whilst outside we can see porpoises unconcerned with weight problems rise gracefully out of the sea, marking, along with wheeling sea-birds, our arrival in shallower waters. We're now on the Celtic Sea, in the evocatively named Western Approaches, familiar territory for all brought up on Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea. On the bridge Bente takes out Admiralty Chart 2649 on which is the tip of Cornwall.

The richest detail on the chart is reserved not for land but for the sea, whose bed is annotated and named as thoroughly and richly as any corner of the countryside. We are sliding in over King Arthur Canyon, whose sides drop 3430 fathoms and rise to 840. There's Haddock Bank and Melville Knoll and Porcupine Sea Bight and Nymphe Bank and Shamrock Knoll. Inviting places one hopes never to see.

The charts have to be continually updated. A correction manual is issued each week. It's not that Newfoundland may have moved two inches to the right, but that things like oil rigs, traffic separation lanes, militarily restricted areas are changing all the time. Bente says that the big tankers will carry up to 3000 charts on board at one time, because they rarely have fixed routes, being sent off to wherever the oil is available and most needed.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 77
  • Date: 10 December
  • Country/sea: Atlantic Ocean
  • Place: Celtic Sea
  • Book page no: 244

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