larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next

March, 2010

Watching the Big Ships Go By

by Valerie

Big things are impressive. While natural features, such as the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and Old Faithful, far surpass manmade ones, the latter aren't too shabby either. It is easy to stand in awe while looking at the Sears Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Hoover Dam. But when something that humans have assembled also moves about, then it's all that much more grand.

Most kids can count their first glimpses of airplanes, ocean liners, and trains among their favorite memories. I recall being taken to an airport and looking through the large glass windows at those ENORMOUS planes landing and taking off. That they could also glide so carefully up to the gates was at least as astounding. Although trains aren't huge like planes and ships, they are long, and their tracks and stations complete an image of power and strength that almost belongs to another reality. The sense of scale is simply so different from our everyday encounters with bikes, cars, and pickup trucks.

I used to watch barges as they plowed along the I & M Canal. They didn't seem particularly large when viewed from above on a bridge. However, when I was quite young I was once riding on a motor boat owned by some relatives and they were water skiing on a wide river that also accommodated barge traffic. From my point of view, the motor boat on which we were riding was pretty darn big. At one point though, a barge went by while we were pulled up on a sandy beach. It seemed to tower over everything, looming big and dark with its cargo. The resulting wake from that vessel produced waves so massive that they almost capsized our motor boat as several adults tried to keep a grip on the ropes that held it.

Most of the time, planes and jets look like toys, so far away up in the sky that their sound reaches us long after their image does. But when they come in for a landing, it is suddenly strikingly obvious that they are BIG. The view from highways that surround major airports can be startling when a plane suddenly roars just overhead. I used to kayak in a swamp near the airport in Tallahassee, Florida, and I never did simply ignore the giant aircraft whizzing past. Even now, when I'm hiking at Hornsby Bend, I stop to watch planes that fly overhead as they approach the Austin airport. They are so close that I can see the landing gear being lowered. Even though the physics are easy to understand, the impression of such gigantic vehicles actually remaining airborne seems to defy reason.

There are few beaches on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts that do not provide a good view of huge ships as they pass by. From the relatively small shrimp and fishing trawlers to the massive vessels that haul cargo, provide repair services for other ships, dredge the ship channels, and entertain vacationers on cruises, the boats slowly moving back and forth on the horizon can be mesmerizing. Even our dog, Peri, takes notice of the ships as they cruise around Galveston Island when we vacation there.

Perhaps my favorite giant craft sightings are the submarines. I've seen them a couple of times as they pass from a Navy installation out to the Atlantic Ocean near Fort Clinch State Park in Florida. Their passage is never announced, for security reasons, so it is just by chance that a beach hiker will have the privilege of seeing one of these monsters sail by. The channel near the fort is not deep enough for the subs to remain underwater, so they cruise past partly exposed, like giant whales, accompanied by fast little guide boats. Miniscule men can be seen standing on the deck, but they would be almost invisible if it were not for their brightly colored clothing. One of the most impressive aspects of their passage is that afterwards there is no sign that they were there at all.

larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next