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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stormy Weather

22:00UTC 18/11/08 Beaufort, NC.

So here we are anchored in a nice little corner, tucked up close to the shore and sheltered from the waves, if not the wind. Beaufort is a rather flat place, and the little island we have chosen gives almost no protection from the wind, but that doesn't really matter as long as the water is flat. Our anchor is very firmly dug in, we have plenty of space behind us in case it drags, and the anchor alarm is on just in case.

We had flurries of snow earlier. Uch.

Herb reckons we can leave tomorrow afternoon, although if the wind moderates a bit sooner we can go whenever because it will continue to ease up all evening. We are fifty miles from the gulf stream so that's less than half a day sailing, then another fifty miles and we are across and on our way south. We took the opportunity of a brief lull in the wind to rig our second headsail so that we can run in front of the wind with the 'twins', two similar sails rolled up together and then supported by a pole each side. It's very effective, safe and easy to adjust for strengthening wind.

The wind generator is whirring wildly while wild winds whistle past, so we have power to spare and the crew are watching a movie as I make use of the come-and-go internet connection - each time a gust rocks the boat we lose the signal.

I've even been able to tick a couple more jobs off the list, adjusting the wind generator bearings to let it run more freely and running a new power cable to the instrument panel to combat a voltage drop problem we had. Nice to get those done, neither was urgent but time in port shouldn't be time wasted. I also sewed a patch and a couple of new fasteners onto the mainsail cover, since that needs to be secure in tonight's expected gale.

Yan and Karla have been helping me with the jobs, writing up their blog, doing email and relaxing a bit. Karla is struggling to keep warm sometimes so she's curled up under the duvet now watching the movie. It won't be long before we are in warmer weather.

Yan was strumming on the guitar earlier, and at one point played a Neil Young song, 'Long may you run' and there is a line in there saying 'we found things to do in stormy weather.' It's funny how often stormy weather and other such concepts are used as metaphors in songs and literature, yet I have to wonder just how many writers have actually experienced stormy weather in any meaningful, threatening way. Having to struggle with your umbrella on the way to the bus stop hardly compares to running from a fifty mile an hour gale and twenty foot seas in a small boat. Now Neil Young may just mean we got busy indoors when it was too unpleasant to go out for a walk, but the concept turns up often enough to beg the question. And so it also begs the question of what a reader or listener takes from these references. Since they are successful metaphors - they communicate the desired emotion within the song or poem, it means that writer and reader have a common understanding but is it commonly flawed?

Now being the type of sailor who doesn't try to find gale force winds, I've been lucky enough to only see a couple of big storms in my career, and none so far in Ty Dewi. Long may it remain so. Being at sea in a storm is usually a long, drawn out process preceded by rising anticipation and fear, which usually mounts as the storm hits but passes into exhausted acceptance after the first few hours when an uneasy truce is reached between boat and ocean and those aboard have become too tired and mentally ground down to continue to feel fear. Fear is driven by adrenaline, and the body can rarely produce it for hours on end so unless some new worsening happens, like a breakage or a big change in the sea state, then fear ebbs away to be replaced by a longing for the wind to ease and the seas to subside. Which they eventually do, and relief arrives with the chance to rest and recover. Then the experience can be talked about, the moments of fear relived and the terrific beauty of a storm appreciated in hindsight. This is the process of preparing ones story for the next gathering, to be shared with other sailors in a self-deprecating story, or told to friends and family as the drama of the storm.

I think perhaps what is missing from the cultural references to storms is that strange juxtaposition of threat and beauty. Big, wind driven seas are awesome in character and serve well to remind us of our place in this world. I vividly remember being in the midst of a sixty mile an hour storm in the North Sea when I was fifteen years old and thinking 'everyone should see this once, just to know how small we are'. Although once you've seen it and appreciated it, you are not always keen to go though it again.

All of which is really to say that I'm glad we're not out there, having to do it, and can just sing about in some vaguely related way. By this point in our sailing career, I think 'we ran to Beaufort and sat it out' is a more satisfying barroom story than 'we were hit by forty knots of wind off Cape Hattaras' even though the drama is somewhat lacking. As we have previously observed, the prudent sailor rarely writes the most exciting stories, there is usually a disappointing lack of disaster.

Well, hopefully we can set off tomorrow and ride the tail end of this one south to warmer climes. The seas may still be pretty big, so we might get some of the majesty without the violence of the gale, which would be nice. Tonight is meant to be darn cold so that's another good reason to be curled up in bed instead of standing a night watch.

All's well.


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Blogger Claudette said...

Hi Nick,
What a deep reflection inspired by a few words in Yan's song. I agree that facing anything big in our life leaves a sense of strength and accomplishment afterward but there is plenty of opportunity to do so without running after it. As a mother, I do greatly appreciate your decision to stop at Beaufort. Keep warm all of you.

1:40 am  

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