Gale force winds churn the seas and slap the coast. Force 8s, as they are called, fashion steep waves and deadly rip currents. The wave crests are sprayed skyward in a form called spindrift. The agitated seas have a deep gray hue trimmed with dull white strips of foam streaming along the wind direction. It’s as if Nature herself is blowing off steam.
Nature’s tantrums make for interesting times. Summer storms are generally short and robust. Last week one hit the coast of southern Rhode Island right at the moon tide – a tide that generates the highest highs and lowest lows of the month. The Narrow River was bloated by an overdose of rain and tides shoved upstream by blustery easterly winds. I was giddy to be a part of the “inclement weather.” I yanked an old yellow slicker out of the closet, donned a cap and dragged my kids and grandkids out for a day of adventures.
We were the first ones to be seated at a local fish ‘n chips tavern for lunch – where adventures begin – quite the opposite end of the “blue haired dinner specials” crowd. We had hungry kids, a pocket full of quarters for the arcade and a dollar off coupon for the local Biome Aquarium. Winds blew, rains fell, tides raged. We went off in search of local tourist traps selling sweatshirts in a nearby fishing village. It smelled of salt and dead fish and since the sweatshirts are sold in a store on a dock – eventually we all smelled tidal.
We visited a lighthouse and gaped at the 10 to 12’ waves crashing against the steep rocky shore. We marveled at the size of waves breaking over the seawall and the enthusiasm of the surfers riding the angry surf. Sea spray coated the windshield, potholes filled with a mix of sea and rain made for slow travel. Yet the winds were balmy and the air felt more humid than drenched.
Seemingly, every tourist in the state with a kid under 14 felt it was the perfect day to visit URI’s aquarium, the Biome. Young and old petted young sharks and learned that quahogs can live for over 500 years. The second lesson was somewhat confusing for young grandkids who can barely comprehend a 15-minute car ride but are familiar with the “catch and release” protocol of clamming at Camp Mimi.
For people who play in boats and live by water the notion of getting wet is commonplace if not the point of recreation. Making sure the bilge pump is on Auto, the dock lines are secure, and the fridge is stocked are standard precautions when heavy weather is forecasted. Gales at sea aren’t a great venue for play. Stormy summer days alongshore make for great memories. Jigsaw puzzles are splayed across kitchen tables, crayons and markers clutched in tiny hands work magic on blank sheets of paper, and good books are read.
Spindrift is harmless but the forces that create it are not. I think there is something to be learned from it whenever we fail to control the urge to blow off steam. It’s not the spindrift that hurts – it’s the underlying forces that unleash chaos. Heed your internal barometer. When you’re in a social situation where the pressure is falling, the winds blow cold and skies darken – take to the harbor. It’s the safe thing to do.