Thoughts from the Frontline
Forecast 2014: The CAPEs of Hope
By John Mauldin
January 25, 2014
"Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences."
– Robert Louis Stevenson
South Africa's Cape of Good Hope is one of the most dangerous stretches of coastline anywhere in the world, where the warm Agulhas Current (also called the Mozambique Current), rushing down from the Indian Ocean, meets the cold Benguela Current, pushing up from Antarctica. The difference in water temperatures alone is a recipe for legendary storms, but the two opposing ocean currents just so happen to converge where the African Continental Shelf drops off into a deep abyss.
So not only do warm and cold pressure systems converge to create raging tempests, but the underwater topography – together with surging waves from the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and fierce winds from the west – frequently gives rise to rogue waves over 80 feet tall, capable of sinking even the largest supertankers and container ships.
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Just imagine how terrifying it must have been for the first maritime explorers to brave such dark and dangerous waters. The mind truly boggles at the courage and daring it took.
In a day and age when superstition abounded, unknown and unmapped places were often said to hide the most terrifying beasts of myth and legend; but rounding the Cape must have been a particularly terrifying experience for any uneducated crew. Portuguese legend warned that the long-imprisoned Titan Adamaster, who was said to have been cast into the stone of Capetown's Table Mountain, would never allow a captain and crew to pass the Cape without a fight.
Bartholomew Dias is the first European known to have braved the Cape, in 1488 (four years before Columbus stumbled on the Americas in 1492). Sent by Portuguese King John II to find an ocean route to India, Dias was more than 1,000 miles south of the edge of any known map when a storm blew his ship away from the coastline and out to sea. Little is known of his actual voyage, since the records were later destroyed in a fire, but historians believe Dias must somehow have had knowledge of the southeasterly winds that could blow him around the Cape and against the powerful Agulhas Current (the second fastest ocean current in the world) without crashing him against the rocky coastline. Although Dias survived the storm, successfully rounded the Cape, and unequivocally proved the Indian Ocean could be reached by sailing around the southern tip of Africa, he had not planned for such a long and treacherous journey. With supplies running low and the threat of mutiny in the air, Dias was forced to turn back to Portugal – braving the "Cape of Storms" once more on the way home.
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