The sea of adventure
The role of the sea, from time immemorial, reveals how people were linked with one another through trade and culture 
Deepak Rikhye

Egypt in 2500 BC commenced with sea trade on the Mediterranean and Red Sea. By 2300 BC Sumer, Iraq, had connected with the Harappan civilisation. Zheng He, a famous sea explorer of China in the 15th century, wrote, “We beheld huge waves like mountains”. Piraeus, in Athens, was brimming with “goods and ships and human voices”, writes Lincoln Paine in his treatise, Sea and Civilization. Stories of pirates, whaling and hidden treasure, were narrated by writers who would leave their readers spellbound. This was possible with the influence of only one feature that has quietly stayed with mankind : The sea.

Like the land we live on, the sea has its own anthologies. A fish photographed in Kenya's Malindi highlights one of the wonders in the sea's “aquarium”; a word used by William Golding in his book, Lord of the Flies; his book is about children stranded on an island in the Pacific Ocean; it was awarded the Nobel Prize for a compelling story. The ocean in its entirety has not been fully explored. It covers 71 per cent of the globe. Its warmest waters are at the equator where temperatures average 28ºC. The coldest waters of -2º C are in the arctic region. The sea depends on oxygen too and this is derived from phytoplankton, made up from millions of microscopic plants; zooplankton that is a larger form of phytoplankton, is the other source of oxygen for the sea. The sea comprises of a multitude of fish, squid, crabs, lobsters, abalone, oysters, sea urchins, coral and sponges. Ocean currents transport some of them over incredible distances.

Baldeep Singh represents Williamson Magor's operations in Africa; the company is a flagship of the tea world. It was on one holiday when he boarded a boat, the Lady Nana, from Malindi, a Kenyan coastal town, visited by Zheng He in 1414 and Vasco De Gama in 1498. The Indian Ocean is close to Malindi. Billy and his crew caught a dorado fish; a species steeped in mystery beginning with its name. People often mistake the 25-kg dorado for a dolphin. In many locations this fish is known as mahi, a name that has originated from Hawaii, where mahi means strong. The matter does not end with its Hawaiian name. In Persian, mahi is fish.

Dorado was an identity given by English-speaking inhabitants of South Africa. Sea currents explain the diverse distribution of many sea creatures. The sea’s influence had a surreal impact on certain writers. Ernest Hemingway was dejected when his book, Across The River and Into The Trees was assailed by negative reviews. He wrote The Old Man and The Sea thereafter. The story was about an unhappy fisherman, who had not caught a fish for 84 days; he finally hooked onto a 750-kg marlin that entailed a struggle for four days, on the high seas. The book got Hemingway the coveted Nobel Prize. Herman Melville delighted his admirers with Omoo and Typee that were books about life at sea. This was followed by Moby Dick, an intense tale of Ahab's fatal hatred of a white whale.

He wrote his next book Pierre. But there was a difference. He wrote on a topic far away from the sea; Pierre was about life on a farm and human relationships. His fans asked him “to stick to the sea”, but Melville was confident of Pierre's success; the book failed to succeed. In Scotland, someone who was born in 1850 and in the decades ahead wrote fascinating books. He was Robert Louis Stevenson, the son of a lighthouse engineer. A writer who was to be among the 26 most-translated authors of the world. His fame began with Treasure Island and Kidnapped, that were stories with a background of the sea. His first book, however, was An Inland Voyage, that was about an amazing journey by Stevenson, in a canoe, through France and Belgium, along the river Oise The spirit of adventure reflected throughout Stevenson's life. He spent his last years at Samoa on the Pacific.

Ernest Hemingway explained why mankind's confidence will continue with the sea; “But man is not made for defeat…”