There is something about sailing that lets you engage with time. When the sea is angry, the here and now is compelling – but at times like this with a modest breeze and a slighter swell, the mind is at liberty to roam the past. My mind’s eye currently is turned a long way beyond 1863 – south to the huge Western Interior Seaway that 80 million years ago stretched all the way to New Orleans. The newly-emerging Rockies (they were still rising then) were separated from the ancient Appalachians by an ocean some 600 miles wide.
The Western Interior Seaway was only one of three bodies of water that dissected North America into four lumps of dry ground. To north-east, the Hudson Seaway separated Canada from the Appalachians – and at the end of the Hudson Seaway, a turn to the left would put you in the Labrador Seaway, formed when Greenland drifted eastwards to become Danish.
If you enjoy contemplating continental drift, then try Pangaea, the super-continent that began to break into pieces some 250 million years ago. By 20 million years ago, the pieces of Pangaea had made a world that looked much as it does now. The contemplative focus, though, is that in another 250 million years time, Pangaea will have restored itself as a supercontinent: Cardiff and Manhattan will be joined at the hip and New England and old England will be close friends.
If we were to time travel and sail on the ancient Western Interior Seaway, the when would be crucial. If we had been trying to reach New Orleans 66 million years ago, for example, we would have needed to cross a land bridge that had emerged from the sea to connect Appalachians and Rockies – and worse, we would have faced an onslaught that perhaps not even our sturdy Heraclitus could have seen us through.
Around a 100 million years earlier, a large rock out in the Asteroid Belt beyond Mars was smashed by some other rock. Millions of years of converging travel later a huge fragment roughly four times the size of Uluru (which is 1,200 feet high with a circumference of 6 miles) hit the Earth at fifty-six thousand miles an hour, generating an energy release equivalent to five times the combined power of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.
The impact caused a crater 112 miles in diameter and presented life on Earth – and North America in particular – with catastrophe. The bad luck was that the asteroid hit at a shallow angle in the seas off the Yucatan Peninsula. If you watched the recent Masters golf from Augusta, you will have seen the players throwing forward clumps of earth as they flailed away on the fairways. If you think of the asteroid as a 9-iron throwing a divot from Mexico towards Texas then you can visualise why the destruction was so incredible. The energy of this asteroid roared north in the form of ejecta, tsunami and incredible heat energy that together devastated the biota of the fledgling United States.
Over the weeks and months that followed, the whole globe suffered. Skies darkened as dust and debris circled the Earth; sulphur from the impact site rained as acid on the seas; all over the world temperatures dropped; the food chain fractured and a huge swathe of plants and animals died. The age of the dinosaurs was over. The world had been hit on the reset button: those animals, insects, marine life and plants that did manage to survive evolved to make our world today – and from the surviving mammals, came us.
Just as continental drift has not stopped, nor has evolution. Take, for example, the mosquitoes on the different lines of the underground railway system in London. They haven’t been down there for long but because mosquitoes don’t know how to change from one tube line to another, the mosquitoes on the Piccadilly Line are genetically different to their Central Line cousins.
There is a tiny sprinkling of rain on my face driven in by breeze enough to fill our sails and make the Race Marshal cheerful. My turn to make lunch today – aglio olio: pasta that I shall make, boiled al dente and tossed in garlic gently fried in olive oil with just a little chilli – absolutely no parmesan. For pudding, we shall have quince poached in red wine: it is the season after all.
An excellent account of how the asteroid theory was proven and its effects – https://youtu.be/tRPu5u_Pizk
A hypnotic film showing the movement of the world’s tectonic plates from joined up past to joined up future.- https://youtu.be/uLahVJNnoZ4
Music from Pangaea – https://youtu.be/v0y58FRNZVI
A traditional recipe from Turkey for quince pudding – https://youtu.be/j5GQ0UHn3TU – though you might want to hold back on the sugar
And how to make Dulce de Membrillo – https://youtu.be/UWVwLjU5CkE