Going Slow

by | Dec 20, 2016 | Venus & Mars Go Sailing | 19 comments

I feel like I’m going in three directions at once these busy holiday days, all at 75 miles per hour. It got me thinking about life on the boat, where 6 knots (that’s almost 7 mph) under sail feels fun and fast.

On an early July day last summer, Eric, his son John, and I were sailing south in Plumper Sound in the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia. We were on a beat, sailing upwind, making slow forward progress by tacking back and forth down the channel. In about 10 knots of wind, we moved along at 3 to 4 knots of boat speed. For context, 1 knot = 1.15 miles per hour. Boat speed is also called speed over water (which means that’s how fast the boat is moving through the water, not counting the current either pushing you along toward your destination or flowing against you keeping you from getting to your destination). Speed over ground, which is a way of saying how fast you’re getting from Point A to Point B, is the boat speed plus or minus (depending on which way the current is going) the speed of the current itself. That’s an oversimplification, but I hope you get the idea.

That day we wanted to sail (not motor) even if the wind was light, so we’d planned to haul anchor at a time in the tide cycle when we’d have the current with us, helping us along. Easing down Plumper Sound our speed over ground was 1 to 2 knots faster than our speed over water. Our plan for the day’s sail from Winter Cove to Bedwell Harbour was going well.

Maple Bay June2015

Kagán under sail

As we turned to starboard, to the southwest, into Boundary Pass, the wind eased. It was already pretty easy, then it dropped to 6 knots or less. We slowed. More. Boat speed fell to less than 2 knots. I’ve heard “under 3, turn the key” many times. The “3” meaning 3 knots and “turn the key” meaning furl your sails, turn your engine on, and motor to wherever you’re going. This applies to coastal cruising, which is what we do, not crossing oceans, which is another story altogether.

We considered motoring on to our marine park destination for an afternoon hike. But the quiet was so sweet, the sails were still full, and the current was still with us, so we kept ghosting along through the glassy water.

Then we heard it, pffft. I swung my head around. Where had the sound come from? Pffft. Again. And again. Harbour Porpoises! The smallest of the porpoises. Shy, unlike the more gregarious species that also frequent these waters, like Pacific White-Sided Dolphins who will swim right up to your boat and ride bow waves. Usually these graceful creatures don’t come this close to the boat. But usually we don’t go this slow, move this silently.

There were six of them – two off our port side, two swimming along with us in the tiny wake behind our dinghy, and two ahead.

I always thought they were deep black in color, as I’d only seen their silhouettes in the distance. But that day, I saw their skin is dappled and shaded, like the brindled coat of a dog, from brown to gray to black. Nuanced and beautiful.

And as I always seem to do when I see porpoises or dolphins or whales, near or far, I danced around the cockpit, I clapped my hands, I clasped them over my heart – delighted and reverent. I didn’t notice whether Eric and John joined in the thrill or thought I was crazy. It didn’t really matter.

Eventually, their blows grew fainter on the dying breeze, their sleek backs arched in and out of the water farther and farther from us. Becalmed, we furled our sails and motored on to the anchorage.

But what a gift we’d received – our slow passage a form of patience – an invitation to Kagán and her crew to ride the barely-there breeze escorted by a pod of porpoises. Recalling that feeling reminds me to tap into patience and go slow, even for a brief moment in a busy day.

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  1. Garry Maurath

    Great stuff!!! Keep it up.

    • Deborah Green

      Thanks, Garry, will do. Stay tuned!

      • Tony

        Can’t wait for the next one!!

  2. Sharon

    “…tap into patience and go slow, even for a brief moment in a busy day.” Wonderful advice. Another excellent post, Deb. And a photo of your dad from my earliest, warm memories of him. Thank you for sharing.

    • Deborah Green

      Thank you, Sharon. Now, if I could only remember to do that myself for a brief moment every day….

  3. Gerry

    Your well-crafted prose is so beautiful, My Dear Creative Friend. You truly write from the heart and soul! It is a wonderful facet of the beautiful person YOU are.
    GeoMan Gerry

    • Deborah Green

      Thank you!

  4. Doug Banks

    Beautiful. Being in the presence of that grace that is the natural world always fills me up. Reading your description I am reminded of the experience. Brought tears of joy to my eyes. Thanks.

    • Deborah Green

      Doug, You’ve given this writer the greatest of gifts with this comment! There is nothing more that I hope to accomplish with my words than to touch someone, to have them tap into their own memories, to feel. Thank you.

  5. Anne Frost

    So beautiful and wise—just like the author.
    Thank you for your blog–it is part of my “sanity” program

  6. Yvette Jordan

    Beautiful imagery! I envy your solace as you live half of the year in what seems to be paradise. I’m coming to visit….if you don’t mind ?☺

  7. Julia T.

    I love getting to see porpoises ? Nicely expressed joy of the moment. Best wishes for 2017 Deb!

  8. Jennifer Bauer

    Beautiful imagery. I felt like I was right there with you!

  9. Tom

    Nice story Deb! That must have been a pretty unforgettable experience.

    • Deborah Green

      Thanks everyone! Every time I see dolphins or porpoises or whales feels unforgettable to me. To share this planet with these graceful and intelligent creatures is amazing, and to have them interact with us is even more so.

  10. Ben Barlass

    It is nice to see you are writing. I know how important that was to you. Keep up the great work.
    I have a son who is an English tutor at UT. I will look forward to more writing in the new year!

    • Deborah Green

      Thanks. Cool about your son – hope he’s getting as much as he’s giving as a tutor. Teaching is such important work.

  11. Bill Flanigan

    Thanks Deb, it is nice to slow down to feel the life around us. Good Job. I still have to force myself to slow down, even when hiking… as the goal is not the destination, but rather the journey.

  12. Theodore Preskar

    Hello, Nice stuff. I am keen to see a lot more of your site. Fish on.


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Geologists study the earth and the processes that shape it. Writers study the human heart and the processes that shape it. The GeologistWriter builds a bridge between the two. Come across it with me!

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