Wherever the Winds Blow
Flying|May 2017

Through the Sky and Across the Sea

Sam Weigel

Tonight I am nestled in a cozy corner of Windbird’s enclosed cockpit, feet propped on her helm and a rum drink in my hands as I watch her dance to and fro across the anchor chain in the faint light of a milky half-moon. We are in the Bahamas’ Berry Islands and have tucked into a serene sandy cove for the evening — but the mood is hardly tropical, for at sunset the wind picked up to nearly 30 knots from the southwest and transformed the turquoise water of the anchorage into an inky froth. A cold front is approaching in the darkness; a falling barometer and a towering line of squalls to the west foretell its arrival. Both the storms and the abrupt wind shift upon frontal passage present a potential threat to my little 42-foot world, and so I am staying up late to ensure that my boat (and wife, dog and most of our earthly possessions) stays securely anchored through the night. To pass the time, I open a notebook to scribble my thoughts of the day — but it is hard to write when you cannot think, and in sailboats as in airplanes it is sometimes hard to hear yourself think above the howling of the wind through the rigging.

Sailors and pilots share a keen appreciation of — and healthy respect for — the weather that impacts our endeavors to a far greater extent than it does the workaday activities of our fellow modern citizens. In each of our respective pursuits, the weather can greatly assist us or it can threaten our very lives, according to its mood and our own preparedness for it. Accordingly, both mariners and aviators spend a significant amount of time gathering weather reports and forecasts from various sources, comparing them to the actual conditions we encounter and tweaking our coping strategies as needed along the way. Of course, we tend to experience those conditions in rather different ways. Sea voyages allow for continuous observation of incremental weather changes over lengthy periods, but only within a small area at any given time, and only close to the surface. Pilots spend their time immersed in the very bowels of the atmosphere, but only for a few hours at a time, and the variations we experience are measured across geography rather than timelines.

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