From Steeple Point – the music of a gale

Following my last post,  let’s up the tempo and orchestrate a gale:

First, change the season to winter;

Then darken the light with heavy cloud;

Now add two, perhaps three major storms over the Atlantic, each in a different area, each several days previously;

Let’s have an onshore gale blowing – (the cameraman can barely stand upright);

And the first ebb of a high spring tide, the full flood just beginning to flow out of the river;

Add backwash to develop an undertow – the water has to go somewhere once it reaches the beach;

With cross-currents from a tide now heading down the coast;

And sound – the wind hammering in ears, the sea thundering and crashing, the snatched cry of seagulls.

Now we have music – a climactic moment in a symphony without a beginning or an end, composed by Nature and performed by The Elements.


But how to describe it for those who sail in small boats.

There is probably a scientific explanation, with each molecule of water predicted to a particular position with regard to every other molecule and the surrounding conditions.

Perhaps there is, but it is far too confusing, too complex for we mere mortals, so we rely on words.

And finding words is an art.

These days, we might try “Awesome“, but it is short-hand and doesn’t really express a storm  properly.

Some have described storms with first-hand reportage . . .

“The Spray neared Cap Pillar rapidly and, nothing loath, plunged into the Pacific Ocean at once, taking her first bath of it in the gathering storm. There was no turning back even had I wished to do so. for the land was now shut out by the darkness of light. The wind freshened and I took in a third reef. The sea was confused and treacherous. In such a time as this the old fisherman prayed, “Remember, Lord, my ship is small and thy sea is so wide.”  Joshua Slocum

Some with extreme drama . . .

“Poor naked wretches, where so’er are you / That hide the pelting of this pitiless storm.” William Shakespeare (King Lear).

Some with more rhythm . . .

“And large blue seas each other chased, / Cascading over down the waist.  / At every pitch he held his breath; / As if he saw the face of death. / “She’s pitched away a topmast, smash!” / All hands to clear away the wreck, / Were in an instant turned on deck; / From hammock starting out alert, / Up flew each seaman in his shirt! / And up the straining shrouds they swarm, / Growling and swearing at the storm.  / The wreck secured or cut away, / She snug beneath a trysail lay.” Capt J. Mitford RN, from Adventures of Johnny Newsome.

Of course, there are always those who see it in an entirely different way . . .

“At night came on a hurricane, the sea was mountains rolling / As Barney Buntline chewed his quid and spake to Billy Bowline: / “A strong nor’wester’s blowing, Bill, can’t ye hear it roar now? / Lor’ love me how I pities them unhappy folks ashore now. / As comfortably you and I upon the deck are lying, / Lord knows what tiles and chimney pots about their ears are flying.” Dibdin


And if poetry doesn’t work for you, then Adlard Coles’  “Heavy Weather Sailing” , now in its 30th edition, is the definitive work.

With acknowledgement to John Irving for the poetry, quoted by him in a Yachtsman’s Week-end Book, 1938.

One thought on “From Steeple Point – the music of a gale

  1. Stunning, beautiful, forceful, substantial, magestic, unsettling, upseting, a spectacle as threatening as charming…

    Perhaps, i have described this before here…When we get to go out of the breakwater and there’s a little bit of wind we get to experience those long period, gentle, big waves that come crushing on the breakwater wall like “dummy giants”, ignorant of their power. We might be sitting there, in the boat, one moment looking down at the water and the next, the crest of the wave reaching up almost at eye level…It’s like you are in the palm of a huge being that has the ability to obliterate you at any time, but instead, it prefers to play with you a bit 😀

    You don’t really get to realise the energy those waves carry until they approach the breakwater, briefly roll up and then explode in white foam tongues several meters high.

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