In Which I Finally Understand the Fair-Weather Gale

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

In the Pacific off the coast of California, there’s an unusual weather phenomenon called a “fair-weather gale”. It happens periodically in the summer when California’s Central Valley and Mojave Desert heat up. To replace the rising warm air, the cool air starts to rush in from a broad expanse of Pacific Ocean off the coast. This leads to strong gale-force winds that arise without a storm, hence the name.

Figure 1. The genesis of the fair-weather gale. Winds blow off of a huge area of the Pacific, replacing heated air rising over the inland valleys and deserts.

In the spirit of my previous post, “It’s Not About Me” let me approach this weather phenomenon from a different direction, and tell you how I finally learned about the fair-weather gale.

In 1979 I was newly married to my wife Ellie. We hadn’t spent 24 hours together when we were married, with just us and the preacher there, standing outdoors in the pouring rain. But that’s another story. I don’t say much about Ellie despite her importance in my life, don’t want to break the spell, so let me be brief again. I think of myself as a good guy. But I’m a good guy because I learned to be, mostly from Ellie and the other women I lived with before I met her. Ellie, on the other hand, is good to the bone, inherently decent and caring. She is also a gifted Family Nurse Practioner, a category something between a Registered Nurse and a Doctor. I can only offer her the ultimate accolade … she’s put up with me for 32 years.

I had a grand year fishing that year. I was working on a boat gill-netting herring for their roe, in San Francisco Bay. The season is in the winter, January and February. Crystal clear nights with the Transamerica Pyramid glistening across the Bay, sunshine over the Golden Gate Bridge while setting nets off of Sausalito, it’s a gorgeous office for a man to work in. The season runs five days on and weekends off. I commuted to work, I was living in a canvas yurt in Sonoma County at the time. Weekends I spent hiding out in the yurt with Ellie.

So for five days at a time the boat crew (3 men) did nothing but fish, set nets, tie the boat off the end of the net and go to sleep for two hours, pull the nets and shake the herring out by hand (no shakers then), set them back out, go prospect for herring while the nets were fishing, and do it over again. Herring scales covered the boat, the nets, our foul weather gear, our faces, our ears.

Late Friday afternoon, after five days of straight fishing 24 hours a day, and very few hours of sleep, we’d park the boat at Pier 38. Pier 38 is an up-market bayside collection of tourist shops and boutiques and restaurants and the like, with slips for boats. We’d stagger off the boat, exhausted, wrung out, covered head to toe with fish scales, and stand there in the evening sun and watch the beautiful women walk by. They looked at us with vague amusement, they were perfectly dressed and coiffed with highlights in their hair, we were authentic San Francisco waterfront atmosphere with fish-scale highlights in ours. With gill nets, what you catch depends on the size of the mesh of the net. We watched the sunset ladies, and speculated about setting a gill net with a mesh size of 34DD across Pier 38 to scoop them up. We were beyond making sense, drunk on youth and fishing and the joy of the Bay and making good money, picking herring roe out of our teeth and eyebrows.

The season was two months. I made just over ten grand, including one glorious sunny morning where we landed $4,000 worth of fish (my crew share) in six hours.

So I retired again, and spent all week with Ellie again instead of just weekends. Soon, however, the wanderlust hit me. After a month or so at home with my gorgeous ex-fiancée, I took a job helping finish up the building of an aluminum boat in Bellingham, Washington. When the boat was finished, we took it for sea trials, and then put it on the barge for the Bering Sea. We flew to Dillingham, Alaska to meet it, put it in the water, and went fishing in Togiak. This was purse seining for roe herring, with a spotter plane to put us on the fish. I got to go up with the spotter plane once, I do love to fly. The view from up there, back across the coastal plain to the mountains that stretch thousands of miles with only an occasional human habitation, will stay with me always. It is one of the wild places of my mind, a place that scarcely knows the hand of man. Go to some huge wild untouched place at least once in your life, dear friends. It is important for us to have and keep true wilderness, not just on the planet, but in our minds and memories as well.

The Bering Sea herring season lasted a six weeks. I made $14,000. I retired again. I started back to see Ellie, she didn’t know I was coming. Through a series of misunderstandings and coincidences, I ended up having to go to Seattle first. While there, I saw a boat for sale. It was a sweet little 21 foot (six+ metre) sailboat. I’d done a lot of sailing at that point, including a Pacific crossing. I’d spent lots of time at sea by then, fishing, snorkeling, sailing. But always with other people. I’d never done any single-handing. I had a rush of blood to the head. I bought the boat. I didn’t tell Ellie. I decided to single-hand it to just north of San Francisco where I was living. I was an idiot. I named it the “Midnight Special”. I was a moron. I looked on it as my personal final test of my ocean-going skills. I was God’s own fool.

After spending a couple weeks fitting out the boat, one fine day I set out. The boat was on the lake in Seattle. I sailed it out through the locks and into the ocean. I stopped at Port Townsend for the night. I set out the next morning without checking the tides. I sailed for four hours in light winds. I didn’t seem to be moving much. I finally realized I wasn’t moving at all, the tide was carrying me backwards. Four knots of boat speed minus five knots of tide gives minus one knot. Duh. But when the tide changed, I fairly flew out the channel.

After a final stop at Neah Bay, at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, I blew out to sea. Winds fair, overcast sky. The first day was uneventful. I had a LORAN for navigation, a dinosaur system that could give you a pretty good fix … sometimes. But when it lied to you, there was no way to know, it could give you a fix that was ten miles away from your position. I checked it with horizontal sextant shots of the coast, plus occasional sun shots through breaks in the clouds. It seemed to be spot on, but that meant nothing. If it hit an area with skip, it could go wrong any time. I worked my way slowly south and offshore. The first day was uneventful. At night I set up the self-steering gear. By then I was offshore of the shipping lanes. I slept in fits and starts.

The next days I sailed southwards. I was becoming more comfortable with the boat. The miles rolled by, 200, 300, 400. I was on a 800 mile voyage. Deep green sea, chock full of life. The deep blue Pacific is dead, a desert, no life. The upwelling waters on the North Coast Pacific are full of nutrients, and blooming life keeps them green.

At some point in there, the radio started talking about increasing winds. And then at some point in there, I was in the area of increasing winds. I went to reef the mainsail, to reduce the sail area. To do that I needed to lower it down, gather up the bottom of the sail, and tie it up. Then I could continue to sail, with less sail area.

Murphy not having died, of course, the rope holding up the sail was jammed at the top of the mast. The wind was rising. I would have to climb up and release it. I tied a safety line to the base of the mast and the other end to my safety harness. I started to climb. It was a huge struggle on the slippery mast. I got up to the spreaders. My safety line jammed on the deck. I couldn’t loosen it. My weight, even halfway up the mast, was making the tiny boat swing widely from side to side. It would get worse as I went up. But I was half exhausted, if I went down I wasn’t sure if I could get back up. I untied my safety line with one hand and continued upward. At the top, my weight made the boat roll drunkenly. I looked out at the ocean. From up there the boat looked small, and the waves stretched forever, ocean and only ocean in all directions. What an eternal fool I was to be up there with no safety line on, but aaaaah, god what a view, the boat rolling like a drunken sailor on shore leave, me holding to the slender, whipping mast like a monkey clinging to a fly rod, looking forever across a storm-tossed sea, a view to die for … suddenly realizing I did not wish to do that, I loosed the jam and slid down the mast like a demented fireman, hungry for the safety of the deck. I found my safety harness rope and re-tied it.

Then I finished reefing the mainsail.

The wind continued to rise during the day. By now it was around 30 knots (about 15 m/sec, knots are conveniently about 2 times metres per second, actually 1.94 but close enough). I dropped all the sails at dusk, which was a mistake. I should have kept up enough to keep the nose of the boat into the wind. Bad sailor, no donuts.

I slept even more fitfully. Breaking waves were beginning to batter the boat. Around 2AM the boat was picked up and tossed sideways. I woke instantly. I swore I’d heard something crack. I searched with the flashlight. Nothing was visible. I was scared. I steered the boat by hand.

Dawn was ugly. The boat had a window in the side of the small cabin, about two feet long by 4″ wide (600 x 100 mm). It was cracked and crazed. It only held together because it was safety glass. I had nothing to repair it with. I knew if the boat went over like that again, the window could blow out entirely and the boat could fill quickly. I knew I was in serious danger.

The boat was continually being battered by waves. I put on my bright orange, covers your body and has claw hand gloves, one-piece survival suit. I’d prepared it beforehand by duct-taping a signal mirror to it. If the boat went down I’d swim to shore and signal boats and airplanes along the way. The ocean wasn’t going to get me without a big fight.

Figure 2. This is not me, but that’s just like my survival suit. Except that his suit lacks a signalling mirror. And duct tape. Check out the lobster claw hands.

Waves were steepening and growing. The weather report was ominous, full fair-weather gale. Breakers were smashing the boat. I realized I had to get the boat moving or the shattered window would blow out entirely.

The wind was howling. I took the jib, the smaller sail in the front of the boat. I started folding it. Half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth. I clipped it onto the forestay. It was a tiny triangle of sail, a couple feet wide in the front and  tapering back eight feet to the corner.

When I hoisted that scrap of sail and the wind hit it, it snapped tight as a steel bar. The boat started forwards as if it were startled. I was moving again. But where could I go? There are very few all-weather harbors on the north coast, the radio warned of the closures. I started downwind, heading for the coast.

The waves started breaking big. When they caught me, I’d swing the boat to take the pressure off the bad window. I’d crouch down in the tiny cockpit. The breaker would pound completely over me and the boat. The cockpit would fill to the brim. The boat would go over sideways until the mast almost touched the water. The water would pour back out of the cockpit. The boat would stagger up, the wind would catch the scrap of sail, and I was off on the hobby-horse again.

The waves grew steeper and steeper. I could feel the boat wanting to take off on the waves, and for a while I fought it. For most boats, surfing down a wave is terminal. With the speed the bow drives underwater at the foot of the wave, and the boat broaches (swings sideways) and rolls over. But a wave spun me sideways, and the boat surfed gracefully down the wave. I found I could surf the boat! All my surfer’s instincts came to the fore.

So for the next hours I was surfing my boat, in my survival suit with the duct-taped survival mirror, and also two small cans of juice duct-taped to each arm and leg, surfing in waves that were taller than the mast. Here I came to understand a crucial difference between a fair-weather gale and a storm. In a storm, the winds come from one point. As the storm moves the different waves interfere with each other, leading to a chaotic sea.

In a fairweather gale, the air moves steadily and strongly over a large area. After a couple days it creates huge waves that are perfectly straight from horizon to horizon. When I was between waves, it was like being in a long canyon. Looking down the canyon, at three or four places at any time, the wave was breaking. But not breaking and crumbling down the face. Breaking in huge overfalls, great mountains of water shooting out and dropping with a thunderous roar. When the waves picked me up I was standing up in the cockpit in my ludicrous bright orange survival suit with the duct-taped juice and the survival mirror, screaming with joy at the top of my voice as the boat plummeted down sheer cliffs and drove hard across the face of the wave to escape the oncoming breakers. I thought my heart would explode from the sheer rush, it was incredible to surf like that.

After while, it wasn’t so much fun.

By late afternoon, I was exhausted. I hadn’t seen a boat in three days. No land in sight, low clouds, poor visibility. I knew if I didn’t get out in 24 hours, sooner rather than later I’d make a lethal mistake, the window would blow out, and the boat would go down. So at that time I swore a big swear. Doing this at sea is generally a mistake. I swore that if a cargo boat or a fishing boat or even a puny motorboat came by I’d fire every single flare I had at the sucker until they got the message and rescued me.

Of course, as it goes with big swears at sea, right after I made the big swear, up pops a ship, a big cargo ship. It’s coming my way. The sun is setting. I get out all my flares. I had four regular flares and three pistol flares.  Not counting the smoke flare and the regular flare that I had duct-taped to my survival suit. Along with the cans of juice. And the survival mirror. Oh, and the whistle. I forgot, I had duct-taped an emergency whistle to the back of the wrist of my survival suit. I looked at the cargo ship. I looked at the sun. I looked at the whistle. Suddenly I could see the newspaper headlines. They said “Cargo Ship Rescues Idiot From His Own Stupidity”. With a picture of me hanging my head and wearing my survival suit with its ridiculously dangling cargo of whistles and mirrors and cans. I shuddered. I couldn’t face that.

I’d decided I’d rather swim to shore. If it took me a week, no worries. I was prepared. I could just eat the candy bars that I had duct-taped to the survival suit. Plus I had the duct-taped flares to signal a ship while I was swimming. And the cans of juice. And the mirror. And the whistle. I was good. I looked at the cargo boat. It was going away. I looked at the sun. It was going away. I looked at my survival suit. I looked at the cans of juice, and the pathetic candy bars. I looked at the horizon. The cargo ship went over it. The sun went down. The temperature was dropping. The wind continued rising, a cold, biting wind. I realized I likely had just thrown away my only chance of survival. I cursed myself out loud, I yelled that I didn’t care about the newspaper headlines, I said I took it all back, I really did want to be rescued. But the cargo boat didn’t reappear.

I had to have a plan. I remembered reading, maybe a decade before, that in olden times when there were strong winds offshore, sailboats would hide out just below Cape Mendocino, because the winds weren’t as strong there. At least I thought I remembered that, it had been years. I realized that this was likely my only chance. So in total darkness, without a sun sight or a sight of the coast in five days, steering by an unreliable LORAN, I turned and ran for Cape Mendocino.

At that point I was maybe thirty miles from the Cape. As I approached the south side of the Cape, or as I headed directly for the rocks if my LORAN was lying to me, there was no slackening of the wind. Instead, it blew harder and harder.

Figure 3. Battleship Rock, offshore from Cape Mendocino. What I feared to hit in the dark.

I was still steering the boat. I was so exhausted I started nodding off. I was hearing voices in the wind. At one point, I remember being very angry. I was angry that whoever was steering the boat wasn’t paying attention. They were letting the boat go sideways, and I knew it was a mistake. I was yelling at the helmsman to straighten out the boat or the wave would hit us. When the wave hit and the cockpit filled up with water I woke to realize I was screaming imprecations into the unhearing wind, as alone as ever … the night went on. I remember thinking “Soon the wind will get tired. It can’t blow like this forever. It must be exhausted by now.” It made perfect sense at the time. The voices in the wind continued to mumble and laugh and talk, but I couldn’t understand what they said most of the time.

Wind in the rigging of a boat is a funny thing. When the wind is light, the rigging sighs. At higher wind it kind of whistles. When the wind gets higher it starts to scream. At forty knots, it begins to howl.

But when the wind tops fifty knots or more, the rigging shrieks with a demon scream underlain by a strange humming sound, a combination that sets your fillings dancing and makes your ears ring and your eyes water. As I approached the Cape, the wind and the shrieking rigging kept going up and up the scale, it was inside my ears and grinding my thoughts. And for all I knew, I was driving my boat as hard as I could go directly onto the cruel gnashing rocks off of the Cape, home of lots of dead ships.

Eleven o’clock, the wind still rising. Midnight, the shrieking escalated. I was surfing down unseen mountains in total blackness, avoiding overfalls by sound and by luck, dropping with exhaustion, and trying to listen through it all in fear of hearing what I dreaded to hear, the sound of waves breaking on rocks ahead. Every hour on the hour I raced below, copied the numbers off of the LORAN, and plotted my position. I crept towards what I thought was the lee of the Cape.

One o’clock, and no change. One thirty, even more wind. Then at two, I took my hourly fix. I figured I was maybe five miles offshore. I had no choice but to keep steering for unknown dangers … and right then, in about fifteen minutes, the wind went dead flat calm. And I mean dead flat. Not a scrap of wind. Not a breath. I looked at my watch. 2:20 AM. I dropped the sail and listened. I could hear the wind moaning out to sea. I listened to the radio. Still blowing full gale offshore. I went below. Water was sloshing over the floorboards. I was too tired to bail it out. If the boat sank I was only five miles from shore, so close I could survive by eating the emergency dye pack I had duct-taped to one of the legs of my survival suit. A boat might run me over. The wind might eddy in behind the Cape and blow me on shore. I didn’t care. I laid down in my bunk, still in my survival suit, and dropped into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Not much else to tell. I woke up at about 11 am to the foghorn of a cargo ship. It sounded very near, very loud. I jumped out of the bunk, heart pounding. I was covered in sweat, drenched from fighting the ocean and from sleeping in the survival suit. The ship’s foghorn sounded again. I couldn’t tell which way it was coming from. There was only the ghost of a wind. In haste, I put up the full mainsail, the full jib, and the spinnaker, a sail used only in light airs. The foghorn sounded again, softer this time, moving away. I ghosted southwards along the coast to Fort Bragg, about sixty miles north of my original destination. The harbor mouth was open with just a slight swell over the bar. I went in and tied up. I untaped one of my candy bars from my survival suit and ate it. Never has a candy bar tasted so sweet, before or since. It was the sweet taste of still being alive. I walked ashore and took a motel room. I called Ellie and asked her to come get me. I told her what I’d done. She didn’t sound surprised. She said she’d dreamed I was coming back. I fell asleep. She came and gathered me up and dusted me off and gently brought me home.

Now, at that point in my life I’d been fishing commercially and sailing on the California coast for some years. I also was used to following the fair-weather gales by way of the weather maps, eyeing the isobars and watching the pressures. I would have said I understood the fair-weather gale pretty well.

But I didn’t understand about how the waves of a fair-weather gale differ from a regular storm. I didn’t realize the importance of orography (the shape of the land) in determining the coastal wind patterns. I didn’t know that it could be blowing 50 knots just offshore, and be dead flat calm two miles inside of that. I didn’t realize that the increasing wind after midnight meant that I was getting into the stream of air blowing off of the end of the Cape.

Now, please don’t get the idea that I am dismissing book knowledge. I love book knowledge, I wish I had more of it. Intellectual understanding is crucial to getting a handle on a situation.

But practical experience is also important. Knowing a change in the weather is coming, not from the TV or a weather map but from a subtle wind shift and few wisps of cloud, is valuable knowledge. And just as being able to understand the isobars and fronts on the weather map is important, seeing exactly what they mean from the deck of a ship is important as well.

So that’s how I met the fair-weather gale. And that’s another reason why the weather has always fascinated me, and I have always studied it. Because I knew my life might depend on my understanding of the weather.

I swore another big swear at the time, too, somewhere in that black starless night. I swore that if I got out alive, I wouldn’t claim the trip showed I was a master mariner. I wouldn’t claim that I had beat the ocean with the “Midnight Special”. I would be honest about what happened. As a man of my word, I am honor bound to tell you that I was a fool, a very lucky fool, but a fool nonetheless. I did not beat the ocean, it spared me.

The name “Midnight Special” comes from a prison song. It’s about a train, the “Midnight Special”, that runs near the prison. The jailhouse legend was that if the headlight of the Midnight Special shone on you, it meant you’d soon be free. Of course, being a train, the headlight always swept the same path, and never shone on the prison.

It seemed appropriate that the running lights of my very own Midnight Special should shine on me … and in the event, they did, and released me from the fair-weather gale and set me free once again.

w.

PS – After I got to shore and checked the boat, I found that the keel had been loosened by the waves, the hull was weakened, and the entire keel was very close to dropping out and leaving a huge hole in the bottom of the boat … I’m a lucky fool indeed.

[UPDATE] Ted Wagner in the comments below says:

Question about the general weather pattern you’re describing: if the offshore gale is caused by air coming in to fill the void of the heated air rising over the land because of convection, what happens to the air above the rising air? To where does it get displaced?

My understanding of the normal convection pattern is that the thermals (rising air) are surrounded by much larger areas of slower falling, cooler air. What conditions determine which “replacement pattern” prevails?

Dang, very good question, never considered that. You are right that around thunderstorms, and between squall lines, there are areas of descending cooler, drier air.

Off the top of my head, I’d say that in the case of the fair-weather gale, the rising air over the Mojave and the Central Valley would move poleward. Let me think about that.

Generally, the Mojave and the Central Valley are at about 35-40° North. The  great deserts of the northern hemisphere (Sahara/Gobi/Sonora) are in the descending part of the great Hadley Cell circulation, further south at around 30°N. Would it connect aloft with that? I don’t think so, doesn’t feel right.

Yeah, I think polewards. That’s supported by the fact that the replacement air is generally moving southwest off the Pacific before rising, and something has to replace it. Now, how about east and west?

Well, the air in the east over the valleys and deserts is warmed and rises. The air in the west over the Pacific is cooled by the cold upwelling currents along the entire coast, and it sinks. So aloft, my guess is that the rising air over the land would move generally north-east out over the Pacific in a contra-current to complete the circuit. While it is very wide-spread, it is still a local phenomenon.

But that’s just my gut response, I have absolutely no data on that at all. I welcome any facts from anyone.

Either way, is another natural example of the “chimney-effect” method of quickly moving heat from the surface aloft. When heat is removed quickly from the surface aloft, it spends less time in the high water vapor / high GHG lower atmosphere.

It is also one of many of what are called “emergent phenomena”. These are phenomena that arise spontaneously, typically with the crossing of some threshold of temperature and other variables. They usually arise at a certain time, have a lifespan, and die away, although some are persistent features of a particular system. Typical examples of emergent climate phenomena are thunderstorms, hurricanes, squall lines, tornados, dust devils, El Niños, and at the largest scale, the globe-girdling Hadley Cells. And also, as I hadn’t previously considered, Pacific fair-weather gales. Here’s one thing those have in common.

Every one of them moves prodigious amounts of energy from the surface aloft, at a rate of knots.

These emergent phenomena, taken as a whole, are what regulate the temperature of the planet. They emerge at a certain threshold and remove local heat buildup. Whether it is a thunderstorm on a hot summer afternoon in Ohio or a fair-weather gale in California, those phenomena have emerged to deal with local hot-spots, places where there is an excess of heat. Unless this spontaneous emergence of hotspot-removing natural phenomena is a feature of the climate models, I don’t see how they can hope to model the climate. See my comments on the Tasmanian Dirt Devil. They are what keep the planet from overheating.

Thinking about it, that would be an interesting test of a computer climate model. You can’t see how well they simulate thunderstorms (except in the abstract) because they’re too small, sub-gridscale. But in their current form, do the climate models periodically cough up fair-weather summer gales off the coast of California such as peg the meter of a man’s pucker factor with fifty knot winds and twenty-five foot waves? I have no idea.

Anyhow, as I said, my thanks for the very interesting question. I’m adding this to the head post.

w.

 

…  from Willis’s autobiography, entitled “Retire Early … And Often” …

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58 Responses to In Which I Finally Understand the Fair-Weather Gale

  1. matthu says:

    Very good read! Did you miss your vocation as an author?

  2. Doc Tor says:

    As just another avid sailorman, I can feel what you went through. Have had some scary experiences in the Norwegian Sea in NA myself. When I navigate though – and speed always enters into that – I prefer to use 1 m/s = 1.94… knot. Not much of a difference, I’ll admit. But over longer stretches, it starts to count. I keep remembering that 380 ppm is less than 0.04 percent. And in some minds that is already half way to disaster.

  3. I’ve been in the outer winds and seas of a hurricane, but on the decks and bridge of a 100,000 ton tanker. You get some idea of the force of the sea when you are standing sixty feet above sea level and you are looking UP at the waves as they march by.

    You were indeed lucky, my friend!

  4. Brian H says:

    Crikey! An experience like that could leave a man superstitious, or religious, or something. Did you sight a big, bluish guy carrying a trident at any point?

  5. Baa Humbug says:

    “””Let the midnight special, shine a light on me”””

    Love that, here is the CCR youtube video

    Thanx for sharing the story Willis

  6. Tom in Florida says:

    For those who don’t remember:

  7. D0yle says:

    Your detractors will simply use this as more ammunition. I, on the other hand, see it as a bolstering of the generalist’s accreditation.

  8. Baa Humbug says:

    Now Willis, you had to have been a CCR fan. If only you had of listened to this song of theirs before venturing out on your little boat, you may have changed your mind. (and been all the poorer for it)

    Don’t go around tonight,
    well it’s bound to take your life,
    There’s a bad moon on the rise.

    I hear hurricanes are blowing,
    I know the end is coming soon,
    I fear rivers o’er flowing,
    I hear the voice of rage and ruin.

    You obviously didn’t hear the voice Willis.

  9. Creighton says:

    All those who put to sea alone in small boats are God’s own fools. That’s just the way of it. My old friend Allan Miller, now the master of Pepe’s Cafe on Caroline Street in Key West, once made what I take to be a definitive statement on the subject. He said, “There is nothing like boats for making you want your mommy.”

  10. Pearland Aggie says:

    Great story, Willis! Glad you were around to share it :)

  11. Theo Goodwin says:

    Great read. Thanks.

  12. RalphieGM says:

    I became weather-aware when I got my boat. It stays with you even after the boat is sold. Great yarn.

  13. Richard111 says:

    Seems like Steinbeck has a successor here! Lovely read.

  14. Pull My Finger says:

    Great yarn! Seriously, you should fill it out and have it published as a short story.

  15. Tamara says:

    Wonderful sea story! My husband is an ex-Coastie (one of our stations was Port Angeles, WA), so I’ve heard many similar yarns from him and his shipmates. Thankfully, yours ended well. Thank God for Gumby suits!

  16. Martin Brumby says:

    Willis

    Please, please consider publishing a good selection of your pieces in book form!

    It might not make you rich.

    But it would make a bunch of your admirers on here happy.

  17. Jose Suro says:

    What a great read Willis. Thank you! And yes, you missed your calling. You are a very good writer.

    I would call it less foolishness on your part, and more the “exuberance of youth”. I too grew up on the water, in the Caribbean, and the trade winds blow on those little islands uninterrupted for thousands of miles, all the way from the coast of Africa. When it gets rough, it gets really rough. Tropical waves, etc. tend to do that!

    When I was sixteen, my father thought that I knew more about the sea, the area and boats than most captains in the area and so, he gave me full use of his 37-foot diesel powered Egg Harbor sport fisherman. He was kind of right about all of the above but did not factor the “youthful exuberance” part into the equation.

    That summer I planned a 10-day trip to the BVI with some of my young friends. Most knew nothing about boats, navigation etc. By the way, navigation in those days was all analog, LORAN hadn’t even been invented. The morning of the first day we set out very early to make the BVI on that first day – 72-miles – not an issue on a 15-knot sport fisherman – a fast boat for the day.

    Right off the mouth of the bay I knew it was a “turn around and wait” day. Lots of rain, wind and high seas. But, the youth thing took over and I soldiered on thinking “this can’t last all day”, and having some incredible luck as when I had to thread a 1/2 mile wide pass between rocks and coastline and the rain parted at the last minute so I could see where I was going. Weather in those days was all pretty much analog as well, depending mainly on ship and aircraft reports traveling east of the islands.

    That first day we only made 40-miles in 12-hours. The seas and winds were high enough that the wave tops would sometimes clear the whole length of the boat and crash down directly on the stern of the boat by the fighting chair, sometimes floating the teak hatches over the rudders off their frames.

    And of course, I broke the boat. I cracked three ribs on the port side, where the waves were slamming on the hull. After that water came into the bilge constantly. Two hours away from a safe harbor the seas also tore off the port side 6×12 inch bronze porthole in the bow stateroom, shearing the 14 2-inch screws that held it in place right at the screw heads. With the equivalent of a couple of fire hoses worth of water then coming in through that 6×12 hole the only thing that kept us afloat was the guys taking turns holding a mattress up against the porthole for those two hours, and my Dad’s foresight. Early on he had installed a large 110-volt bilge pump that took 15,000 gallons an hour out of the bilge. Oh how I loved that 7.5kW Onan GenSet that day.

    Needless to say, not waiting a day or two for better weather made our trip end very abruptly, the final failure was the battery charger shorting out, and then we were done. It was not the lack of knowledge, it was the youthful exuberance and the corresponding “we’re bulletproof” attitude that almost killed us that day.

    Thanks again for reminding me of my own bad days!

    Best,

    Jose

  18. MalcolmR says:

    Wonderful story! Thank you very much.

  19. Pamela Gray says:

    My gawd, that was almost better than…

    Write…a…book.

  20. Cracking good tale, Thanks Willis

  21. wsbriggs says:

    matthu says:
    March 2, 2011 at 3:56 am

    “Very good read! Did you miss your vocation as an author?”

    All I can say, is clearly he hasn’t.

    Someone get a microphone in front of him and let him talk. He’s got enough experience to educate 4 generations easily, and they’ll grow up knowing practical things about our world while keeping a much needed sense of wonder at the power of nature.

    A fantastic read as usual. It really does make the white tower guys look like the lab rats they are.

  22. ldd says:

    Wozers Willis!
    Think the word resilience has your name beside it now.

    Agree that spending time (safely) in the wilderness makes one eternally humble.
    Nature rules. Murphy’s her side kick for those that ignore/forget that vital main rule.

    As for your dedicated wife, she obviously knew a diamond in the rough when she saw one – glad you stayed alive to enjoy life with her.
    Another great read again, thanks.

  23. Ted Wagner says:

    Wow, great story!

    Question about the general weather pattern you’re describing: if the offshore gale is caused by air coming in to fill the void of the heated air rising over the land because of convection, what happens to the air above the rising air? To where does it get displaced?

    My understanding of the normal convection pattern is that the thermals (rising air) are surrounded by much larger areas of slower falling, cooler air. What conditions determine which “replacement pattern” prevails?

  24. Scott Covert says:

    As stated above great read!

    I live in the Mojave Desert and we are on the recieving end of those winds. I have seen them break three or four telephone poles in a row and last year had a 2 to 3 hundred pound camper shell crush my awning (from above!).

  25. Stephen Skinner says:

    “Now, please don’t get the idea that I am dismissing book knowledge. I love book knowledge, I wish I had more of it. Intellectual understanding is crucial to getting a handle on a situation.

    But practical experience is also important.”

    Isn’t practical knowledge everything? What can knowledge in books be if it has no direct relationship to reality? When Captain Sullenberger lost all power on flight 1549 he switched the Auxiliary Power Unit on within seconds. It’s not on the checklist. Without it he would have lost electrics and subsequently control. Also, when the plane laned on the Hudson it took on water because the last item on the check list for ditching was to close vents. The flight wasn’t long enough to get to that part of the check list. I understand that the check list has now been modified based on this real world experience.

    A great read Willis and very glad you didn’t give in.

  26. Rick says:

    Providence. Karma. Dumb Luck. After reading your stories these past couple of days, I would say that somebody or something out there likes you Willis, and has determined to keep you a bit longer above the dirt or the waves. May that it continue.

  27. Annei says:

    What a story! I’ve never experienced anything like that…only a Mirror dinghy in a squall on Loch Long, and planing in a 16 foot dinghy in the Med. My other half experienced a hurricane in the Atlantic in a 55 footer. I thought that seemed hard enough!

  28. jorgekafkazar says:

    “…screaming with joy at the top of my voice as the boat plummeted down sheer cliffs and drove hard across the face of the wave to escape the oncoming breakers…”

    Yaaaaaaaaaaaaah-hooooo-hooooo-hoooooie!

    Sausalito. Yurts. Galilee Harbor. CCR. What trip to the past! Thanks, Willis.

  29. David Y says:

    That is one GREAT read–thank you Willis!

    I’ve spent countless hours windsurfing at Waddell, under the Golden Gate, in Tamales Bay, and around the SF Bay–but know that this is all child’s play compared to being at sea, alone, in a small boat, exposed to gales in the night.

    My brief ‘moment of terror’ was sailing a scow home after a canceled race in Wisconsin, 13 years old, while a tornado ripped up trees 1/2 mile away. The 60-70 mph breeze at our backs made us plane like crazy–taking our minds off the hail & lightning. So I’m also a fool–shouldn’t have risked it.

    Safe sailing!

  30. Murray Duffin says:

    I used to single hand an 11 meter Wauquiez rigged for ocean going sailing. Have never been in anything stronger than a near 40 Knot gale, and 20-25 ft. waves, but I can sure vouch that you have never been more alive than when single handing a good boat in a full gale. It’s a feeling that just can’t be described, it has to be experienced. Reducing sail in a rapidly growing wind can be pretty exciting too. I’ve been whipped clear of the deck while clinging to a jib I was lowering, but I sure never tried to climb a mast in such conditions. Yeah, I’d agree you were a fool, but what a total adventure!! My mother used to say that God takes care of drunks and fools, as long as they are good drunks and fools. I guess you you are pretty good Willis. Kudos to your lady. Murray

  31. Dr T G Watkins says:

    In awe of you as usual, Willis.
    Crossing the English Channel at night in a force 8/9 gale was the scariest experience of my life. I was crew on a 46ft sailing boat with an extremely experienced ’round the world’ skipper who said “this is just a bit of a blow” – right.
    17 hours later crawled ashore in Cherbourg – I nearly gave up agnosticism!

  32. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Tamara says:
    March 2, 2011 at 5:35 am

    Wonderful sea story! My husband is an ex-Coastie (one of our stations was Port Angeles, WA), so I’ve heard many similar yarns from him and his shipmates. Thankfully, yours ended well. Thank God for Gumby suits!

    “Gumby suits”. Hadn’t heard that in a while. Thanks for the reminder.

    w.

  33. Charlie A says:

    When you get tired of working with climate stuff, you should become a novelist for your next career.

  34. Barry Sheridan says:

    Umm! Not one for doing things the easy way then Willis.

  35. Interstellar Bill says:

    These winds are replacing warm air ascending over deserts.
    We need a fleet of humidifier stations anchored off the coast in these winds.
    Enough to cause the air to still be humid by the time it gets to the desert.
    Instead of whining about CO2, the warmistas could do something constructive and start humidifying air that is on its way to a drought-prone region.

  36. Stephen Skinner says:

    Perhaps I may be wrong but I am not sure the earnest young man in the BBC News item has been any where near the kind of real world experience described by Willis.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-12615599
    “Fate of the World games explores climate change”
    “Computer strategy game Fate of the World gives gamers the chance to save a virtual world from climate catastrophe.

    Using real climatic models, it gives gamers and environmentalists the chance to test policy ideas on a global scale. Its developers intend the game to be fun and to help increase awareness of the complex nature of fighting global warming.”

    This could be construed as OT but I would trust Willis’ view of the world based on the above experience over this young man, who perhaps should get out a bit more.

  37. Caleb says:

    You brought back a memory I have of climbing a mast on a tossing sailnoat.

    Chinconteague Inlet, engine failed. Had to depend on sails alone. Shoals all over the place, and then the tide conspired with the wind to get a crazy chop going, pitching the boat side to side so hard the boom slammed side to side and the steel halyard snapped and the mainsail came flopping down, followed by the jib’s halyard snapping moments later. The captain, who up until then had displayed nerves of steel, became a nervous wreak, muttering and fumbling and dropping tools overboard as his hands shook. Shoals drifted closer and closer. Suddenly I understood he was useless. It was up to the crew, and that was me.

    I grabbed a rope and shinnied up the mast, to replace the halyard so we could pull up some sort of sail. If I thought the boat was pitching down on the deck, I didn’t know what pitching was. The further up I climbed the further I was slammed left and right. I had the same sort of halfway-up experience you describe, but could see the shoals to the side, now so close they seemed just down below me, so I kept going. I had the strong sense I was up against a power that wouldn’t listen to my whimpering; it wouldn’t relent. It was up to me, but the final feet of shinnying was murder, with the steel mast ripping my skin. Then I had to let go with one hand and thread the rope through the pully. I remember screaming aloud through gritting teeth as I did it. Then I practically fell down the mast. Pulled up a pathetic jib, but it was enough to sail us away to a safer spot to drop an anchor.

    I was eighteen and the captain was twenty-three, and we were hundreds of miles from home on a boat we had “borrowed.” I really felt some High Power was watching over us: Though It didn’t help all that much up the mast beyond supplying extra adrenaline, It kept us from that extra bit of bad luck that eraces even good sailors.

    Ever since that day I’ve read things written by University Intellectuals about how primitive men couldn’t have done this and couldn’t have done that, and I just laugh at them. How could they know? They have never budged their speculations from their comphy armchairs. They have no idea of what man is capable of doing. They are only experts on what man is capable of not doing.

  38. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Ted Wagner says:
    March 2, 2011 at 6:51 am

    Wow, great story!

    Question about the general weather pattern you’re describing: if the offshore gale is caused by air coming in to fill the void of the heated air rising over the land because of convection, what happens to the air above the rising air? To where does it get displaced?

    My understanding of the normal convection pattern is that the thermals (rising air) are surrounded by much larger areas of slower falling, cooler air. What conditions determine which “replacement pattern” prevails?

    Dang, very good question, never considered that. You are right that around thunderstorms, and between squall lines, there are areas of descending cooler, drier air.

    Off the top of my head, I’d say that in the case of the fair-weather gale, the rising air over the Mojave and the Central Valley would move poleward. Let me think about that.

    Generally, the Mojave and the Central Valley are at about 35-40° North. The great deserts of the northern hemisphere (Sahara/Gobi/Sonora) are in the descending part of the great Hadley Cell circulation, further south at around 30°N. Would it connect aloft with that? I don’t think so.

    Yeah, I think polewards. That’s supported by the fact that the replacement air is generally moving southwest off the Pacific before rising, and something has to replace it. Now, how about east and west?

    Well, the air in the east over the valleys and deserts is warmed and rises. The air in the west over the Pacific is cooled by the cold upwelling currents along the entire coast, and it sinks. So aloft, my guess is that the rising air over the land would move generally north-east out over the Pacific in a contra-current to complete the circuit. While it is very wide-spread, it is still a local phenomenon.

    But that’s just my gut response, I have absolutely no data on that at all. I welcome any facts from anyone.

    Either way, is another natural example of the “chimney-effect” method of quickly moving heat from the surface aloft. When heat is removed quickly from the surface aloft, it spends less time in the high water vapor / high GHG lower atmosphere.

    It is also one of many of what are called “emergent phenomena”. These are phenomena that arise spontaneously, typically with the crossing of some threshold of temperature and other variables. They usually arise at a certain time, have a lifespan, and die away. Typical examples of emergent climate phenomena are thunderstorms, hurricanes, squall lines, tornados, dust devils, El Niños, and at the largest scale, the globe-girdling Hadley Cells. And also, as I hadn’t previously considered, Pacific fair-weather gales. Here’s one thing they have in common.

    Every one of them moves prodigious amounts of energy from the surface aloft, at a rate of knots.

    These emergent phenomena, taken as a whole, are what regulate the temperature of the planet. They emerge at a certain threshold and remove local heat buildup. Whether it is a thunderstorm on a hot summer afternoon in Ohio or a fair-weather gale in California, those phenomena have emerged to deal with local hot-spots, places where there is an excess of heat. Unless this spontaneous emergence of hotspot-removing natural phenomena is a feature of the climate models, I don’t see how they can hope to model the climate. See my comments on the Tasmanian Dirt Devil. They are what keep the planet from overheating.

    Thinking about it, that would be an interesting test of a computer climate model. You can’t see how well they simulate thunderstorms (except in the abstract) because they’re too small, sub-gridscale. But in their current form, do the climate models periodically cough up fair-weather summer gales off the coast of California such as peg the meter of a man’s pucker factor with fifty knot winds and twenty-five foot waves? I have no idea.

    Anyhow, as I said, my thanks for the very interesting question. I’m adding this to the head post.

    w.

  39. You sound like the kind of man Jimmy Buffett would write a song about.

  40. Kev-in-Uk says:

    Good read – reminding me of younger and foolish days on the water. In particular one when in a 14ft sailing dinghy, we were literally caught by surprise by a tidal wave not far offshore at Southend (I was told at the time that it was probably ‘ship induced’ from too many ships leaving the estuary in a line). We wouldn’t have even noticed but some bloke on the pier as we sailed in was shout at us and gesticulating wildly ! We turned round to see something like a 25foot wave behind us when the rest of the sea was pretty flat! Light winds, and we figured we were far enough out to run before it and it wouldn’t break over our stern….which amazingly it didn’t – but on looking ahead not many metres and watching it crashing and barrelling over we were thankful…

  41. Stephen Richards says:

    In the UK off the east coast they have summer sea breezes which are formed by the heat inland but they always die at night. Here in France, we have summer squals which can touch gales force within seconds but also die within seconds. These are formed by the volcanos inland forcing the warm air to=ise very quickly, I think. On one occasion last year I grabbed a 10′ dia sunshade, stuck it in it’s concrete foot and went indoors to empty a bottle of wine into my glass. The weather was fine and sunny, little or no wind. Five minutes later, after a sip of vin rouge I asked my wife if she had taken down the sunshade to which she said no (plus a few expletives). We both went outside to look it. Search around the garden but found nothing until something told me to look up. Low and behold there it was, on the roof totally broken. Couold have been real dangerous that. What would have happened if the wine had been out there, on the table, disaster!! Greta tale Wilis, thanks.
    But if there is one thing that can be said about you Willis it is that you live life to the full and face it down on a regular basis. I hope you continue to win the battles.

  42. BarryW says:

    Enough about you, you survived. What happened to the “Midnight Special”?

  43. Göran Jartin says:

    For god’s sake, Willis, write a book, or at least write down your stories in a way that they could be put together in a reasonable way!
    This is spellbinding stuff – I don’t care about the climate stuff any longer, I just keep waiting for the next part :)
    It’s so exciting, you could make anyone understand, and care about weather and climate!

    Just one thing:
    “knots are conveniently 2 times metres per second”
    Not really; it’s 1.85, as I’m sure you know. (and thank you for using both scales – also when it comes to temperatures!)

  44. Willis Eschenbach says:

    BarryW says:
    March 2, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Enough about you, you survived. What happened to the “Midnight Special”?

    Fixed it up, replaced the window, strengthened the keel, sailed it a while, sold it.

    w.

  45. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Göran Jartin says:
    March 2, 2011 at 12:12 pm (Edit)

    For god’s sake, Willis, write a book, or at least write down your stories in a way that they could be put together in a reasonable way!
    This is spellbinding stuff – I don’t care about the climate stuff any longer, I just keep waiting for the next part :)
    It’s so exciting, you could make anyone understand, and care about weather and climate!

    Just one thing:
    “knots are conveniently 2 times metres per second”
    Not really; it’s 1.85, as I’m sure you know. (and thank you for using both scales – also when it comes to temperatures!)

    Thanks for the kind words. I figure the numbers like this:

    1 metre/second =
    3600 metres/hour =
    11,811 feet/hour

    1 nautical mile =
    6,076 feet

    That gives me 1 metre/sec = 1.94 nautical miles per hour (knots). I use a lot of rules of thumb for quick calculation, knots = 2 * metres/sec is one of them, I’ll change the text to read “approximately”.

  46. Mike Borgelt says:

    This sounds like a large scale sea breeze. It is a circulation which is modified by Coriolis effect.
    I grew up in Perth, Western Australia. Perth gets extremely strong sea breezes from the south west even though the coast runs pretty much north – south. The conditions for a strong sea breeze are cool ocean (a cool current runs north along the Western Australian coast), warm land (lots of insolation on summer’s days in Perth with clear skies and very dry land onshore) and a slack pressure gradient opposing the sea breeze (north easterly component of the generally easterly synoptic scale winds in summer). I used to be a foreccaster at the BoM in Perth and just north at RAAF Pearce. There’s lots of coastline too so the phenomenon can be large scale.
    These sea breezes can penetrate far inland at least 100km maybe more from the west coast and even further from the south coast when the conditions are favorable. I know because I’ve been shot down a number of times in my glider by these sea breezes cutting off convection late in the day. The vertical extent of the onshore winds in the sea breeze may be quite small. I’ve seen maybe 100-200 feet. Sometimes the sea breezes from the south and west coasts will converge. I remember one occasion at Beverley, Western Australia where we had all landed after our cross countries for the day when we noticed this large convective cloud just to the north east of the airstrip. . The penny dropped and we scrambled and spent the next two hours flying around at 6000 feet without having to circle at all.
    Similar conditions occur in South Australia around Adelaide and the Murray river irrigation regions with sea breezes penetrating inland although the maximum wind speeds are generally not a high as in Perth.

    As usual, Willis is right. For many practical purposes 2 knots = 1 meter per second. Most glider pilots know this as variometers generally nowadays come in two calibrations – knots or meters per second. The ones I make do too although internally we do it right in the electronics when selecting the scale calibration and use 1 meter per second = 1.944 knots.

  47. Scott Covert says:

    Mike Borgelt says:
    March 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Since you mentioned sail planes, This article (very short) is related to your comment and the Fair Gale phenomenon.

    http://www.inyokernairport.com/world_altitude_records_article/world_altitude_records.html

    This story is posted at the Inyokern Airport which is where I first saw it.

  48. Stephen Brown says:

    Willis, you have GOT to write either a book or a series of short stories. What you have written here resonates so vividly. You have captured the invincibility of adventurous youth, a sensation so sadly lacking in the lives of our cosseted young today.
    My own WTF moment came when I was 16 years old. I’d grown up in a relatively wild area of Northern Rhodesia, the bundu was all around our small mining township of Luanshya. I’d been out hunting impala, driving my Dad’s Mk11A Landrover for over fifty miles into the bundu (you had to be 17 to have a driving licence). I had two decent carcasses in the back of the Landie and was well pleased with myself. We only ever shot for the pot, never for trophies.
    I was on the way back home, driving on a bush road, two dirt strips with grass and young shrubs in between and the undergrowth of the bundu crowding in on the sides. On a relatively straight bit of the track I saw a beautiful big tom leopard suddenly appear in the middle of the track, not twenty feet in front of me. How he got there without my seeing him I’ll never know, but there he was. He paused, looked directly at me as I braked the Landie to a stop, he curled his lip and gave a snarl that I couldn’t hear and didn’t heed.
    What a fantastic sight he was. All gold and black, his whiskers glistening in the setting sun. His eyes were the epitome of malevolence and a challenge to supremacy.
    I killed the engine, grabbed my rifle (.375 Winchester, four in the mag and always one up the spout), offed the safety and got out of the Landrover. With the arrogance and sureness of youth I’d decided in an instant that this cat was going to be mine.
    The leopard disappeared into the undergrowth as soon as my feet hit the dirt. I sprinted forward, found his pug marks and noted that he’d actually leapt into the tall grass (high ridges at the rear of his pugs). I followed him into the grass. The grass was 8-10 feet high elephant grass; the stems are half an inch thick and it grows like bamboo, with nodes every foot or so.
    At the nodes the grass is dark brown; higher up before the next node, the stem fades to blond. Now ask yourself, “What colour is a leopard?”
    I was no more than fifteen or twenty feet into this dense stand of elephant grass when the same question popped into my mind. I then noted that as I was carrying my rifle in the ‘port arms’ manner, I was at somewhat of a disadvantage when trying to present at a big cat. So i put the butt of the stock against my shoulder and then noticed that the muzzle of my rifle was hidden from my view by the grass which also prevented my sweeping the muzzle into aim.
    I paused and suddenly became aware of the fact that there was no background noise at all. The birds had gone quiet, even the cicadas had ceased their trilling. Then came that awful feeling.
    Who was hunting and who was the hunted?
    I started backing out of the situation, seeking the refuge of my vehicle, but with every retreating step the tension grew. I could not have been more than six feet from the road when I became aware of a presence. We’ve all experienced it: you are being looked at in a public place and suddenly you look straight at the stranger who is looking at you.
    I looked to my left and down a bit and stared straight into the eyes of the big tom leopard I’d gone after. There was no way I could ever have brought my rifle round onto him.
    He simply went “Hough!” (I felt his breath on my left leg) and, again, he simply disappeared. It was at this moment that it happened.
    Confirmation came when I’d fled, panic-stricken and sweating, back to the safety of the Landrover, dived into the cab and sat on the canvas-covered squab of the driver’s seat.
    I’d soiled my britches upon confronting the cat.
    Driving fifty-odd miles in that state teaches you an awful about your own limitations.

    This has nothing to do with gales, climate, temperatures etc. but it does have a great deal to do with asking how many of those who are today in positions of power have ever experienced the realisation that Nature is bigger than they will ever be?
    Willis has captured that in his missive and has, at the same time, emphasised how puny we, homo sapiens really are.

  49. Ben Hillicoss says:

    Willis,
    I drive a Passenger ferry off the coast of maine, in the summer we get fair weather Gales on a regular basis. As the inland heats to 80F 90F or even 100F the water off of the coast stays at a relativley cool 40F to 50F. On an incoming tide (they can exceed 14 feet) the winds will blow off of the ocean at 40 to 50 knots with clear blue skys to fill the void of lifting warm air keeps us on the island cool and …well ventilated.

    Ben

  50. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Ben Hillicoss says:
    March 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Willis,
    I drive a Passenger ferry off the coast of maine, in the summer we get fair weather Gales on a regular basis. As the inland heats to 80F 90F or even 100F the water off of the coast stays at a relativley cool 40F to 50F. On an incoming tide (they can exceed 14 feet) the winds will blow off of the ocean at 40 to 50 knots with clear blue skys to fill the void of lifting warm air keeps us on the island cool and …well ventilated.

    Ben

    Sweet as, Ben, I didn’t know that. Never spent much time in the Atlantic except off of Florida. The ocean in Maine always sounded picturesque, on account of Homer Winslow, cold as a lobster’s toes, and treacherous as the river to Hades.

    Was I wrong?

    Stay safe on the ocean.

    w.

  51. W. W. Wygart says:

    Willis, we’re all glad you made it safely to port, and I’m glad you’ve decided to open up a bit.

    In retrospect you might appreciate the discussion of heavy-weather sailing tactics in C.A. Marchaj’s excellent, ‘Seaworthiness, the forgotten factor’ which contains a chapter that gives a good theoretical as well as practical answer to that age old question of the blue water mariner, “to drogue or not to drogue?” [or when and why]. Great reading reading for a salt who knows how to use a slide rule.

    Since you ARE that guy I’ll also have to recommend another of ‘Tony’s’ classic texts, ‘The Aero-hydrodynamics of Sailing” which if you haven’t encountered it yet and are interested in the subject is the best discussion on the subject in print.

    I can’t tell you where you’ll find the time, both volumes weigh in at over 600 rather dense page, but there are lots of lovely charts and graphs, you’ll appreciate it probably even more than I did [If you are interested you can borrow my copies, they're a bit spendy new or used]

    Maybe if you retire again…

    your friend,

    w^3

  52. Mike Borgelt says:

    Scott Covert says:
    March 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks Scott. We had our variometers on Steve Fossett’s altitude record flight. I’m not aware of any connection between mountain wave and sea breezes.

  53. Gary Hladik says:

    I feel a great kinship with Willis when he posts these stories, probably because he has lived his life almost exactly the same way I haven’t. :-)

  54. Lonnie E. Schubert says:

    That was fun to read!

    Thanks Willis, and thanks for helping Anthony.

  55. E.M.Smith says:

    Caleb says: Ever since that day I’ve read things written by University Intellectuals about how primitive men couldn’t have done this and couldn’t have done that, and I just laugh at them. How could they know? They have never budged their speculations from their comphy armchairs. They have no idea of what man is capable of doing. They are only experts on what man is capable of not doing.

    Very well put… Remember the guy who went ‘sky sailing’ in a lawn chair?

    While my experience was nowhere near as intense as the one Willis recounts, I lived on a 27 footer in the San Francisco Bay / San Pablo Bay for a bit under two years. During that time, you get to learn some things. The short form?

    1) Putting a reef in a mainsail in mid-bay in a traffic lane just inside the Golden Gate Bridge is a Very Bad Thing. Not putting it in is worse, though. It is worse when doing it single handed in a pitching boat with a crappy shoal draft keel that wallows in a 4 foot wave, and the waves are more than 4 foot. It’s much worse when a large, very large, very very large container ship appears out of the mist / drizzle / wind blown whatever about 2 minutes from turning you into splinters of fiberglass, especially when you know that it is physically impossible for it to stop or even turn in that time even if it DID know you were there. That it then blows a Very Loud horn does not improve things. At that point you dearly love the auxiliary Diesel… Even if it is uncomfortable to pilot the boat while holding the main boom and sail with your other arm…

    2) Depending on your Auxiliary Diesel can become habit forming. This is a very bad habit. A dumpy wide boat with 27 inch shoal draft keel is great for living aboard, not so good for “V made good” up wind. I had about 3 to 4 knots on a good day of velocity I could use. One day, headed toward Angel Island, I was tacking back and forth and going nowhere (as tides were headed out and I was headed in and the net was about zero). But it was a nice way to spend the day “playing sailor” while not going anywhere.

    All well and good, and I was enjoying the day, until the tide turned and the winds shifted. Making -0.5 knots away from the rocky shore of Angel Island for about an hour then having the winds pick up a bit and the tide strengthen and seeing that the rocks are about 20 minutes away from turning you into fish bait causes one to really feel smug about their Auxiliary Diesel that has saved them from giant freighters and other sundry things. Then you just hit the key and… grind grind grind grind … nothing…

    After 4 or 5 (out of 20 …) minutes of trying various sorts of settings of glow plugs and fuel valve check and… went below and tore the cover open. Discovered the fuel control linkage was disconnected from anything that mattered. It’s amazing what repairs you can make in less than 10 minutes using not much more than a crappy screw driver, pliers, and “common kitchen items”… Though it did take 2 or 3 trips ‘topside’ seeing the rocks ever closer as I’d try to see if “this time for sure!” was really going to work…

    With a good 5 minutes to spare I got the engine started (and with about 3/4 power available) and avoided the rocks. All the time asking myself “What if it had been something I could not easily repair with a screwdriver and wire? What if the valve linkage was shot?” And “Why did I sail into a position where I could not sail out under mainsail alone?”

    Back at the dock I got a decent tool kit for the boat and rebuilt the fuel linkage properly (and found where the ‘missing bits’ had got off to). And swore to never EXPECT to depend on the engine again…

    I also resolved that any future boat would have better max speed available. Speed is not just for show, it’s for saving your tush from the rocks…

    Eventually I became a decent sailor and learned to pay attention to when the tide was going where and how fast, what the winds were, and were expected to be. I even learned to think about what would be “nice to have” if everything else was broken or missing. On one occasion I even learned how to sail without a winch handle (after it headed to the bottom…) and why one ought to exhibit great care with small things…

    Eventually you even learn that you don’t know squat about what can come at you nor about what you can really do when it happens.

    And that is why all the “doom and gloomsters” impress me as armchair generals. They’ve no clue what they don’t know; and less clue what those around them can really do if anything DID happen.

    (On another day I had a VW, air cooled, bend a valve push rod. I was “20 miles from nowhere” on a sunday evening as the sun was setting. On a road nobody used much. Before cell phones. With a screwdriver, pliers, and 2 wrenches [ 13 mm and 10 mm ] I removed the valve cover, removed the rocker arms and pushrod on one side, and put the valve cover back on. That turned one half of the engine into ‘air springs’ and I drove home on the other half… I’d never even thought of such a thing before I desperately needed it. Armchair Generals have a plastic triangle in their trunk and a flashlight with dead batteries, so they know nothing can be done…)

  56. Beth Cooper says:

    There have some powerful sea stories written and Willis’ story is up there with them.

  57. Alchemy says:

    We can get “fair gales” on the Great Lakes as well.

    A great story, well told, that resonates strongly with my own younger days as a cocky, ignorant of my own ignorance, sailor.

  58. Verity Jones says:

    Willis,

    “Misadventures in Weather and Climate” or somesuch – my name’ll be on the pre-order list. I don’t care if it is a collection of short stories or a full novel, or an autobiography, it’ll be worth waiting for.

    Must be thirty years ago, but I will never forget ‘falling down’ the notorious Raz de Sein overfalls having misjudged slack tide. At least it was a calmer day than this:
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2LeNBY_5gk&fs=1&hl=en_GB&rel=0%5D

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