May 21, 2015

The most wonderful mystery

A PLEA FROM “Ariadne,” of Point Loma, San Diego, says:

“Dear John: I saw a reference in a magazine the other day to ‘the way of a ship in the midst of the sea.’

“Being rather quick on the uptake, I immediately recognized that this was a quote from somewhere . . . but hey, OK, I admit I know not where. Can you help?”

Well, sure, Ariadne. Several years ago I wrote the definitive article about it. But perhaps you were too young to read then. Or perhaps you were unaware of a book called The Bible.  No matter. Here it is again for your benefit. (And give my best regards to Dionysus.)


DEAR BRETHEREN AND SISTEREN. My text for today comes from Proverbs 30, Verse 19:

"There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:

"The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid."

Well, science has made great progress since those words were written. We can explain an eagle’s flight with aerodynamics. Herpetologists now know how a snake slithers across a rock. Dr. Phil understands all too well the wicked way of a man with a maid, and spares us no details. And that leaves the ship in the midst of the sea, the most wonderful of all the mysteries.

Little ships, and especially little sailing ships, conduct themselves in many different ways in the waves of the sea. You have probably experienced them all without giving any particular motion a name or a definition. But one man made a list for us to wonder at.

He is the well-known American naval architect and author, Francis S. Kinney. He held that there were eight motions of a sailboat at sea:

Broaching: Accidentally swinging broadside on to the wind and sea when running free.

Heaving: Rising and falling as a whole with the seas.

Pitching: Plunging and scending, so that the bow and stern rise and fall alternately.

Pitchpoling: Accidentally tumbling stern-over-bow in a half-forward somersault.

Rolling: Inclining rhythmically from side to side.

Surging: Being accelerated and decelerated by overtaking swells.

Swaying: Moving bodily sideways.

Yawing: Lurching and changing direction to either side of a proper course.
I note that the discreet Mr. Kinney refrained from mentioning wallowing and foundering, which has happened in boats I’ve sailed. The foundering in a small dinghy, luckily. Perhaps his designs never did those things. But he might well have included heeling, which is simply deliberately arrested rolling.

So next time you’re out there, take note of what your boat is doing, and at all costs avoid pitchpoling. That’s the most dangerous motion of all.

Today’s Thought I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.
— Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Mystery of Life,” in Riverside Sermons

A man rushed into the dining car of a train. “A lady just fainted next door,” he cried. “Anyone got any whiskey?”
Several flasks were offered. He grabbed the nearest one and drained it in one gulp.
“Thanks a lot,” he said, “it always upsets me to see a lady faint.”

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

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