08-Apr-2004 -- This confluence visit reaffirmed two life lessons. One, never underestimate the importance of local contacts. Two, next time you eat fish, thank a fisherman. Read on.
First, imagine the largest gathering of geography educators in the United Kingdom without one geographer visiting a confluence. Determined not to let this happen, I, Joseph Kerski, together with colleague Gordon Spence, successfully visited 51 North, 1 East, following the annual meeting of the Geographical Association . This three-day meeting in Canterbury attracted over 400 geography educators from academia,
government, nonprofit, and business. Gordon and I agreed to each submit a visit report so that readers can compare the same "point" through two different "viewpoints."
After visiting 51 degrees north latitude, 0 degrees longitude one spring morning, Gordon Spence and I trekked eastward through beautiful Sussex and Kent landscapes in southern England to Folkestone. I had only met Gordon for the first time that morning but we had been planning this visit for about 2 months. Gordon parked his rental vehicle near the town harbor and telephoned Dave Turner. Dave operated the Sarah Louisa, a commercial fishing boat in Folkestone, who directed us to walk along the dock until he could see us.
Lesson One: The reason we were on our way to see Dave is because of local contacts. We knew this visit to one of the last untagged confluences in England required a boat.
Beginning with calls that Gordon Spence made to BBC Radio, people called other people who called still other people, eventually connecting us with Dave, who agreed to meet us at 1130am local time and take us to the point. In short, the visit would have been impossible without Gordon tenacity and Dave's help.
After Dave spotted us on the dock, we disconnected the mobile telephone call and he sent Chris over to meet us with a rowboat. We rode a short distance to the 8-meter-long Sarah Louisa and met Dave. As they fired up the boat's powerful motor and voyaged out of Folkestone harbor, we quickly realized two things about Dave and Chris. First, they were professionals; they knew exactly what they were doing. We were soon to realize what an expert captain Dave was when we reached the confluence. We had to admire Chris for performing ship duties in his bare hands that required much strength, despite the fairly bitter wind. In contrast, I had on two shirts, two sweaters, a coat, hat, and gloves!
Second, these fishermen were no strangers to technology. The boat's bridge featured four digital displays: (1) Radar weather indicator of our surroundings; (2) oceanographic chart of the English Channel; (3) Sonar display of the depth to the bed of the English Channel, profile of the Channel bed, and even spots that Dave said were usually fish; and (4) latitude and longitude display from the boat's on-board GPS. Dave and Chris had been fishing for years, yet Chris seemed barely 30 years old and
Dave, perhaps 40. During the previous week, they had netted 2,000 kilograms of fish, mostly sole, which fetched £ 10,000 Great Britain Pounds (GBP). Before the readers think that fishing is a lucrative business, though, I hasten to add that Dave told me the fishing license alone costs £ 30,000. They recently lost a £ 2,000 net that another ship had mistakenly sliced through.
Lastly, as Gordon and I observed the heavy lifting and frigid conditions that is the everyday work of commercial fishermen such as Dave and Chris, it brought home the realization that fishing has to be one of the hardest lines of work there is. Dave and Chris had been out at 4am during the day of our confluence visit, and we were grateful that they agreed to make a special trip for a global research project. We were all the more thankful because the trip required two and a half hours of time on the boat.
After rounding the Folkestone pier, we struck out in a fairly straight line for the confluence to the southwest, about 16 kilometers distant. Although my shoes were still soaked from our hike to this morning's confluence which seemed to spread a chill through my entire body, I immensely enjoyed the view of the southern coast of England. Clouds to the south prevented us from seeing France, but the water was an interesting creamy green-gray color, lit up by intermittent patches of sunlight through a patchwork sky. We sighted other fishing boats in the near distance and freight ships in the far distance. I couldn't help but think about our debt to the people of Britain who defended this Channel against the Nazis during World War II, and how worrisome it must have been for them to see the enemy nearby in the hills of France. As the coastline near St Mary's Bay and the power station at Dungeness Point became closer and closer, our anticipation grew.
We were still incredulous that this voyage was even happening that we would have been happy to be within the confluence project requirements. However, Dave was determined to navigate the boat to the exact spot, and he did just that, several times. This was an amazing feat of piloting skill, as this was no small boat, and the waves were decent size. We reached the confluence at about 1:20pm local time. The temperature was approximately 10 degrees C; we took in long draughts of the sea breeze, blowing in at about 25 km/hour.
Feeling elated, especially for Gordon, who is on a quest to tag every confluence in England, Wales, and Scotland, I took a movie and photographs, including a self portrait of us at arm's length. The confluence lies less than 2 km east of the nearest shore. Houses and hills to the west and north are clearly visible from the confluence, as are a bit of the famous Chalk Cliffs that stretch to Dover to the northeast. The depth of water at the confluence is 12 meters. This was my second confluence adventure by boat; the first was a voyage on Devil's Lake, North Dakota, and my first on seawater. I had never been to 1 degree east before or upon the English Channel, so it was a special thrill for a person like me from landlocked Colorado.
After spending about 20 minutes at the confluence as Dave successfully revisited the exact spot several times, we struck a course to the northeast, proceding once again at a 16 kilometer-per-house clip. I was thankful for fairly calm seas and that the rain showers had bypassed us. When we arrived at the dock at 2:50pm, Dave asked us what the trip was worth to us. Gordon and I each paid him £ 60 GBP. This was not an inexpensive confluence (at the current exchange rate, this was $120 USD for me), but this unique experience was absolutely worth it.
As Gordon and I regained our land legs, we decided there was only one proper way to end our adventure. We ate fish and chips while overlooking the harbor, reflecting on the work that had gone into catching what we were now enjoying. Gordon then took me back to Canterbury and we bid each other farewell with the mutual feeling that we would embark on another joint expedition someday.