What I’ve learned about the ocean

We’re talking North Atlantic, though I had earlier exposure to the North Pacific in Washington state as well as the Atlantic in Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, and Long Island.

New England really is different. Here’s why.

  1. The water’s always restless, don’t be fooled. Those slow swells can get you seasick, too.
  2. The current in the water can push you one direction while the wind twists you toward the other. As I learned the first time I took the helm of a sailboat and tried to steer by the compass.
  3. Tidepooling presents an amazing crystalline world of miniature color in its unique range of flora and fauna. It’s well worth exploring in the rockweed at low tide.
  4. At night, the ocean can be terrifying. It’s utterly dark, surrounded by swirling and slapping sounds in unseen places. The stars – and distant beacons – are icy comfort.
  5. As for those romantic walks along the beach in moonlight? Most nights of the year are too cloudy and too cold. Maybe you need to book a flight to a Caribbean island.
  6. It’s dangerous. You think you’re standing sufficiently far back on a rock outcropping overlooking the water, but don’t be surprised if a big wave somehow crashes up behind you, threatening to sweep you out to sea. January and March add their own complications.
  7. I love bodysurfing in some big waves, come summer, meaning after the Fourth of July. Here we go! Whee!
  8. Whales! The tour captains know where to find them. But their blow spray stinks. Meaning the big leviathans, not the skippers, as far as I know.
  9. And seals! (And sharks, which go after them at Chatham, down on the Cape.) And lighthouses!
  10. The tides themselves are heightened here because of a fluke in the global streaming. They’re really impressive up in Fundy Bay and the easternmost flank of Maine. (Twenty-five feet change every six hours at Eastport, Maine, for example. It’s like draining and quickly refilling a lake.) Less than half of that where I live in New Hampshire, but still impressive.
Me at the helm of a 32-foot sailboat back in the late ’80s. It didn’t want to go where we were supposed to be headed, and I was worried the wind might tip us over.   

As a footnote, there are only a few places you can swim in Chesapeake Bay without being stung by jellyfish.

And I love the way you really can see the curvature of the earth when you get an open panorama.

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