Not Going Sailing


Shipping Forecast – Issued: 0405 UTC Thu 9 May

Wind: Southwest 5 to 7, increasing gale 8 or severe gale 9 for a time.
Sea state: Rough or very rough, becoming high for a time in west.
Weather: Rain or showers.
Visibility: Good, occasionally poor.

Today we intended to set out down the Channel bound for the Scillies and the west coast of Ireland. I was going to meet Steve—my crew for this leg of the voyage—on the Plymouth train at Westbury yesterday afternoon; we would settle into Coral overnight and set off this morning. But since early in the week the weather has deteriorated. The high pressure that brought such a lovely spring weekend has dropped south, a deepening area of low pressure is running along the top of it, so the westerly wind is intensified as it is squeezed between the high and the low. The map provided by Met Office with the Shipping Forecast shows two thirds of Great Britain surrounded by red shading, indicating gale force winds or more. The seas will not be just “rough” but “very rough, becoming high.” “High” is so unusual I have to look it up, and find it refers to wave heights of six to nine metres.  I remember Coral is only nine meters long.

Looking ahead, it seems that fresh to strong westerlies will persist into next week, which will make progress westwards hard work even when the gale passes. So rather than sailing down the Channel I am doing normal things at home: I went to my writing group last night; mended a bit of fence this morning until I got soaked in a heavy shower; and re-read parts of a book I have been asked to review.

In weather like this I can wind myself up, irritated at the interruption to my plans, wonder whether I really want to go to sea at all. I can make the interruption feel like a catastrophe. But there is something truly important about being stopped in one’s tracks by natural forces. It reminds us that we humans are not the masters of this planet, that while by working with the grain of the world we can accomplish wonders, forcing contrarily is not just uncomfortable but foolish and downright dangerous. I remember again Gary Snyder’s comment about things that take us out of our little selves into the wider whole as being sacred .

So rather that wind myself up I find a way to bow to the inevitable, even find a moment to appreciate the teaching the gales are bringing. I know from experience that I have to wait, that in time the weather will be more favourable. Patience is what is needed, patience, respect and careful judgement about when it is safe and sensible to sail.


  1. Phew. As the wind’s been blowing down here in Cornwall I’d been thinking of you and hoping you were tucked into some cosy cove somewhere. So I’m relieved. But I should have trusted that you’d know when to go. Thank you for your invite re Scotland next year. It’s tempting. I’ve decided not to put Waterbourne in the water this year. I’m giving her a makeover with a view to chartering her for some of the time. I wish you a safe passage and fair winds when they decide to behave themselves.

    • Thanks for your concern and thoughts, Jo. Next year and Scotland feel a long way off! At the moment I wonder if I will get past the Lizard with these persistent westerlies. We will see.


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