Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In Old Iraq

Sindbad the Sailor and me

On various maps I’ve drawn of Iraq’s extreme southern extremities I have indicated that a mixture of local coffee-house legendary storey-telling and hydrographic-geography has it that though in 1950 the fabled Mesopotamian city of Basra was 70 miles upriver from the blue headwaters of the Persian Gulf, that back in the legendary time of Sindbad the Sailor, Basra was actually on the coast.
Such a legend is not too far fetched on consideration.  The confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are so greatly augmented by the mighty Karun sweeping down from the snow-capped mountains of Iran, that when the silt-laden spring waters of these three rivers combine to form the Shatt-al-Arab, they have, over the centuries, deposited enough suspended silt material to move the coastline 70 miles southward.  This is easy to believe by the fact that in the spring flood season, as the snows in the distant Iranian mountains melt,, 18 inches of soft mud can be laid down in the shipping channels during the course of just one single tidal cycle.
So if Sindbad the Sailor was dissolutely spending his night-time hours amid the pleasures of the Al Faribi, or even perhaps Abdullah’s place, in Basra about 1600 years ago, as has been reported, that should mean that since I left Iraq in 1952 the coastline should have migrated about (70/1600 x 58) — or around about a 2.5 miles southward. 
Looking at Google Earth and the latest Admiralty chart of the area I don’t see any really hard evidence of this.  
To verify it I’d need to somehow return to the area, find my old survey vessel, El Ghar (not too promising a search — she was built in Bombay in 1914) poke around and try to access  my old hydrographic work sheets, and then and make some updating survey observations.  
Unfortunately, I do not think I’ll have the opportunity to do so just now.  Nor, for obvious reasons, in the foreseeable future.
Anyway, after all the wars and political turmoil of the past sixty years all my twenty crew members are probably dead.  Sadly, the good old days of Iraq are over.  For now at least. 

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