Spindrift

The Beaufort Wind Scale was first developed in 1805 by  Sir Francis Beaufort, of the U.K. Royal Navy. It describes a Force 8 gale as Moderately high (18-25 ft) waves of greater length, edges of crests begin to break into spindrift, foam blown in streaks.

Dutch Boats in a Gale (‘The Bridgewater Sea Piece’) by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1801. (National Gallery.) Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Ocean waves are driven by wind. When the wind becomes a gale, the wave crests break up and the foamy salt spray dashes across the heaving surface. That spray is called spindrift. The word spin apparently has Scottish origins, in the word spoon, when a sailing ship runs before the wind.

A Flagship before the Wind with other Vessels by Charles Brooking (1723–1759). Tate (from Wikimedia Commons)

That sea foam that blows off the crests, is also called spume. I don’t know if the poetry by John Masefield is anywhere in school curricula these days, but I imagine I first came across the word in his evocative poem, Sea Fever when I was a young chap in South Africa in the ’70s.

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking. 

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; 
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying. 

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gipsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

What is it about certain words that trigger our imaginations? Words that bring us almost tangibly into environments and landscapes that we have perhaps never even experienced? I will start collecting these magical words into my own little word-hoard, combined with art, to share on this blog.

What words or poems fascinate or inspire you?

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