CHAPTER 11: The Sargasso Sea
THE NAUTILUS didn't change direction. For the time being, then,
we had to set aside any hope of returning to European seas.
Captain Nemo kept his prow pointing south. Where was he taking us?
I was afraid to guess.
That day the Nautilus crossed an odd part of the Atlantic Ocean. No one
is unaware of the existence of that great warm-water current known
by name as the Gulf Stream. After emerging from channels off Florida,
it heads toward Spitzbergen. But before entering the Gulf of Mexico
near latitude 44 degrees north, this current divides into two arms;
its chief arm makes for the shores of Ireland and Norway
while the second flexes southward at the level of the Azores;
then it hits the coast of Africa, sweeps in a long oval, and returns
to the Caribbean Sea.
Now then, this second arm--more accurately, a collar--forms a ring
of warm water around a section of cool, tranquil, motionless ocean
called the Sargasso Sea. This is an actual lake in the open Atlantic,
and the great current's waters take at least three years to circle it.
Properly speaking, the Sargasso Sea covers every submerged part
of Atlantis. Certain authors have even held that the many weeds
strewn over this sea were torn loose from the prairies of that
ancient continent. But it's more likely that these grasses, algae,
and fucus plants were carried off from the beaches of Europe and America,
then taken as far as this zone by the Gulf Stream. This is one
of the reasons why Christopher Columbus assumed the existence
of a New World. When the ships of that bold investigator arrived
in the Sargasso Sea, they had great difficulty navigating in the midst
of these weeds, which, much to their crews' dismay, slowed them down
to a halt; and they wasted three long weeks crossing this sector.
Such was the region our Nautilus was visiting just then:
a genuine prairie, a tightly woven carpet of algae, gulfweed,
and bladder wrack so dense and compact a craft's stempost couldn't
tear through it without difficulty. Accordingly, not wanting
to entangle his propeller in this weed-choked mass, Captain Nemo
stayed at a depth some meters below the surface of the waves.