Cape Sea Route
By Roon Lewald
Today, bulk carriers hog the route around the Cape:
a trunk-to-tail procession of robotic mammoths,
shambling blindly by along their migratory trail.
Their polluted wakes despoil the silver tracks
etched in history by wooden ships
erratically tacking through these seas.
First came the great discoverers –
Diaz, Da Gama, Magelhao, Drake.
On their heels, the merchants, priests
and colonizers of Europe
pursued the treasure and the souls
of Marco Polo’s fabled Indies
and the island groves
of costly herbs and spices.
In the heyday of the age of sail,
rakish clippers raced around the Cape
to seek a hefty market bonus
for the season’s first to unload China tea
or to rush Australian wool
to booming markets.
All too oft, their fortunes were decided
by the two-faced Cape.
Proving fair on landfall,
the Cape of Good Hope augured well
for their safe arrival home.
Of ships which saw her other face,
many foundered off the Cape of Storms.
Riding high in ballast
to the Gulf or Richards Bay,
or hunkered down
to lug home crude or coal,
the metal mammoths of today evoke
only cost-and-profit calculations.
To the tiny crews who serve
their automated systems
snugly sheltered high above the waves,
the ancient perils of the sea
are often more remote
than their daily struggle to keep fit
and conquer boredom
with videos, ping-pong, jogging
or a bike-ride on the mile-long deck.
And yet, these waters still command respect
when winter hurricanos whip the Polar Sea
into ice-fanged rollers, marching northwards
league on league in serried ranks.
They gain impetus and size
as they approach the Cape, where
howling gales may lash them
into all-devouring monsters.
Of fishing boats caught out at sea,
broken timbers or a lobster-gnawed cadaver
may be all that ever drifts ashore.
Often skimpily designed with thin walls,
a single engine and an over-lengthy spine,
huge freighters and bulk carriers are frequent prey.
Human error, rudder failure
or a loose container on the deck
can pound such vessels into pieces,
bit by bit.
Two giant waves may rear up fore and aft,
lift both ends high and leave
a yawning trough beneath the middle section.
The unsupported weight can snap
a tanker’s back like chalk.
Horrific tales abound of ships
with every manjack on ’em
sent to Davy Jones’s locker
by a Seventh Wave –
a freakish alp of doom,
higher than the biggest ship afloat.
Then, all seamen know the fear
of Bartoloméu Diaz and his men
as their cockleshell,
though bereft of every shred of sail,
hurtled far off course for days and days
pursued by all the shrieking fiends of hell.
They snatched his prayers from his lips,
but we can guess its burden:
“Blessed Virgin, Empress of the Seven Seas!
As to our mortal flesh, God’s Will be done;
but of His boundless grace we beg Thee:
intercede to save our souls
from the raging Evil here
off Cabo Tormentoso –
the fearful Cape of Storms!”