The Wind Can Make a Journey Easy, and Hard

Fran Phillips braves cold winds in the open ocean off Halifax, Nova Scotia, last week. The trip included a couple of unexpected visitors -- small birds blown out to sea.
Fran Phillips braves cold winds in the open ocean off Halifax, Nova Scotia, last week. The trip included a couple of unexpected visitors -- small birds blown out to sea. (By Angus Phillips For The Washington Post)
By Angus Phillips
Sunday, October 28, 2007

His eye is on the sparrow

And I know he watches me . . .

-- Traditional sacred song

The sea route from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Newport, R.I., is 450 miles, more or less southwest into the prevailing breeze. This time of year, a sailor making the three-day voyage waits for a cold front to sweep down from the Arctic, then seizes on the brisk northwest winds that follow. The bigger the front, the stronger the wind and the longer it lasts.

The northwester puts a sailboat bound for New England on a beam reach, the wind coming from the starboard (right-hand) side at about 90 degrees. It's a fast point of sail, chilly but exhilarating.

Fronts roar through Nova Scotia in the fall like boxcars on a freight train. The one that arrived early last week was unusually strong. It blew squirrels out of the trees and oysters off the rocks, as sailors say. Dogs were unsafe on their chains.

Tom Vesey, skipper of the 44-foot ketch Jackrabbit, sniffed the frigid air at the dock and furrowed his brow. "Too much wind," he said, as halyards clanged against masts. Marine weather droned on about 30-knot gusts, small craft advisories and gale warnings offshore. The only pleasure boats out on the harbor were ones being readied for winter hauling. A pot of tea seemed in order.

In the age of sail, no one thought twice about waiting for a breeze, but we don't live in the age of sail. We live in the age of planes and trains and automobiles, and as my dad used to say, "Trains don't wait."

Vesey was on the spot. He needed to get the boat to Newport for winter storage after a summer exploring the Canadian Maritimes. Prudent seamanship dictated he wait, but his crew members were on short leashes. My wife, Fran, and I had flown in from Baltimore, Charlie Polnazek came from Minneapolis. We all had flights to catch, schedules to keep.

"We'll wait," said Vesey, choosing the seaman's option.


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