Feb 192012

Live Like the Wind

For those that don’t know, in addition to being a sailor, I’m also a musician. I arranged and recorded “Live like the wind” in 2010. The lyrics are from an obscure poem by a man named Countee Cullen, written in the late 1800′s, but the music is mine.

Me practicing my claw-hammer skills on the banjo!I originally found the poem published in “Loving and Leaving the Good Life” by Helen Nearing, a woman who moved from NYC to Vermont with her husband Scott in the 1920′s to establish a homestead. She and Scott are often described as “the original back-to-the-landers”. She wrote about a dozen books describing their lifestyle in detail, and she was a lover and collector of quotes.

From the moment I first read it, the sentiment of this poem resonated for me. It speaks of two people in love, each firmly independent, but joined together by the invisible bonds of mutual respect and freedom.

Six years later I re-discovered it, and just as easily as reading it, it fell into a song. I remember walking down the streets of Worcester humming the melody to myself, reworking the words in slight ways, and refining the harmony. I have no idea if descendents of Countee Cullen exist, but I give credit to him and thank him for producing such a simple and poignant tribute to partnership without ownership.

“Live like the wind,” he said, “unfettered
And love me while you can,
And when you will and can be bettered,
Go to the better man.

“For you may grow weary sleeping
So long a time with me
Like this, there’ll be no cause for weeping.
The wind is always free.”

“Go when you please” he would be saying,
His mouth hard on her own.
That’s why she stayed and loved the staying
Contented to the bone.

If you liked this, you can find more of my music here:

Feb 032012

Windeward Bound has at least 13 sails that could potentially be flown, but most of the time we fly four or five at most. People ask when and why we would ever put up the rest, or why we don’t, and I tell them it all depends on the wind.

Most sailboats have at least three possible combinations of sails they could use. The most common rig, the sloop, which has just a mainsail and jib, can fly with just the jib, just the main, or both main and jib. Choosing which depends on both wind strength and direction. In lighter winds, you’d want to have as much sail area up as possible to make the most out of it. In stronger winds, you’d want to reduce sail area to keep the boat at a safe speed and heel. Sailing close-hauled (into the wind) in strong winds, you’d probably fly just your jib, which is a smaller sail with better ability to sail into the wind.

Yesterday, we were in light enough airs that we put out all of our square sails for the first time since I’ve been there. That’s (from the bottom up) the course, lower topsail, upper topsail, and top-gallant (pronounced “t’gallant”). It was exciting to see so much canvas out, so I decided to bring my camera up aloft for the first time to see what kind of shots I could get!

Square-sails from deck

Square-sails from deck

Dead-eye aloft

Dead-eye aloft

Lower topsail from aloft

Lower topsail from aloft

Main cross-trees, view from aloft

Main cross-trees, view from aloft

Jan 312012

The other day out on the water, my crew-mate Alex and I were standing bow-watch together. We were looking out at the waves, and Alex asked what wind force I guessed it was. “I think seventeen knots. Twenty at most,” I said. He ran back to the helm where we have an anemometer, a wind gauge. “The anemometer says twenty-three but our speed downwind is 5. That makes it eighteen knots!”

When I was First Mate on the Bill of Rights, I used to quiz my crew (and myself) on wind force. There’s a guide called the Beaufort Scale which allows you to estimate wind speed based on sea-state. Zero knots is “surface like a mirror”. Force one, or 1-3 knots, shows ripples. Force two, or 4-6 knots, ripples begin to form crests. Force three, or 7-10 knots, crests begin to break…you get the picture.


A scale that relates wind speed to psychological stateI remember one time we found a “Psychological Beaufort Scale” which I thought at first was a joke. It’s not a joke, but I think it may be better for judging your own sanity than the wind speed.

It’s important to be able to estimate wind speed by observing the state of the ocean. We decide how much sail area is safe to carry based on wind speed, and being able to judge that without running over to the anemometer could help you out someday. GPS isn’t the only bit of technology one which the modern sailor has become too reliant. Here’s a clip of the full Beaufort Scale. Note that sea state is also affected by any nearby landmasses, and the length of the storm.

A scale that relates wind speed with sea state


Jan 292012

Well, it’s finally my weekend! We had a really full week on the Derwent River. On Wednesday, we took a group of about 50 ten year olds out for a two hour sail. We were really lucky with wind that day…we didn’t have any. No need to worry about kids dropping off the lee rail. So we spent the whole day raising and lowering sails and answering questions: “Can I pull on this? What about this? What does this do? I’m finished pulling on that, what should I do now?” I love kids. :)

Thursday was Australia Day, Australia’s national holiday. Interestingly, they seem to celebrate it much as we celebrate ours: with beer and barbeques! We put out a really excellent spread and I’m sorry I didn’t take any photos of the beautiful pavlovas that my crew-mates made (think soft, gooey meringue topped with fresh whipped cream and fruit). I wandered about in an apron printed with the Australian flag, serving little hot-dogs called “cheerios” and crackers spread with Vegemite to passengers, telling them that it was authentic, traditional Australian food. (I’ll explain Vegemite some other time…)

The wind was incredible that day, with gusts into the 30′s. I continue to feel grateful for the opportunity to rebuild my confidence and joy at being out in strong weather. I got a pretty nice shot showing what the seas felt like. It’s always so tough to get photos that reflect the real/perceived size of waves out on the water…they always look so disappointingly small in photos! These weren’t big compared to what you experience in the open ocean, but for enclosed waters they were decent, and definitely big enough to be fun! I love sitting in the stern and watching the white-caps emerge and fade again beneath the surface, rhythmically. You can almost imagine the wind as a big hand plowing them up and then pushing them over again.

Anemometer (wind-gauge) registering 29.6 knots!

Now I’m off to get brunch with Grandma, and then with a friend to the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) where I hear they offer NUDE TOURS, where museum-goers can “become” a part of the museum! Will NOT be participating in that today, and kinda hoping nobody else does too. Readers, please belay inappropriate comments (you know who you are). Remember, my mom reads this.