November 12, 2013

Winter is Icumin In

THE CENTER OF U. S. BOATING ACTIVITY has shifted south recently, in this month of November. On the West Coast, it’s south of the Oregon-California border, or perhaps even a little south of that.

In theory, it’s possible to sail all year round in Seattle and San Francisco, and people do, of course. But most sensible people don’t. The days are mostly short, cold, and gray now, and rain is plentiful. Coastal winds in the Pacific Northwest sometimes reach 90 knots in November.

On the East Coast, most boating is centered south of Cape Hatteras, with its average minimum November temperature of 48°F. Hatteras is where the warm Gulf Stream slices away from the coast and changes its character.

South of Cape Hatteras, this warm-blooded “river in the ocean,” as Benjamin Franklin called it, is cohesive and clings fairly close to the coastline. Predominant onshore winds transfer vast amounts of its energy to the land, maintaining sub-tropical temperatures that are only occasionally, and briefly, interrupted by cooler blasts from the north.

But up north, in New England, where they suffer a long hard winter, boats are already hauled out on dry land and sheltered under canvas or shrink-wrap plastic. The spoiled ones languish in boathouses of their own, where healthy air is free to circulate in and around them, but most stand cheek-by-jowl in the boatyard and wait patiently for spring.

Up north on the Pacific side, and south of the Canadian border, where the salt sea doesn’t freeze, most boats spend the winter in the water, tugging impatiently at their mooring lines while moss grows on deck and hoar frost does its best to separate the varnish from the teak.

And this is the time when sensible gray whales start their long trek down the West Coast from the Arctic, where they have spent the summer months building up a thick layer of blubber, to warm and sunny Mexico, where they will breed. Clever whales. No winter shrink-wrap for them.

Today’s Thought
The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.
— Bryant, The Death of the Flowers

The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust steals the just's umbrella.

— Lord Bowen

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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