The glow of slow

buckman-161001Moores Head, the spruce-crowned jolt of Isle au Haut, was doubled on the water as the Leight’s bow cleaved satin seas, a faint chuckle coming from under the bow. We’d waited out three days of easterly weather in Seal Trap and were itching to sail, but only a few errant southwesterly zephyrs scrolled the sweep of East Penobscot Bay.

We wanted to revel in the magic of sailing and let the promised sunshine render the sloop fresh as a Vermont meadow. The choice between powering noisily northward at five knots, or swanning silently along at half that velocity, was not difficult, and Leigh went on deck to ease the outhaul, while I slacked the jib sheet till the sail described a pregnant arc.

After all these years, patience is still among the most difficult of cruising assets to summon up, but when the GPS flashed “1.8” knots, though decidedly slow, it brought a smile, for there was a certain magic to wafting quietly northward with a fair tide under us.

The mainsheet occasionally went slack, its fiddle block collapsing against the traveler, and reporting its annoyance at having no noble ship-driving work to do. There was an expectant hush to the scene that made it all the more dramatic, as clouds coiled, and streaks of pale-blue sky promised a mellow day in the offing.

A mere whisper of fitful drafts ruffled the waters a hundred yards off the bow, tempting us sorely, but when we finally made the distance they had all but evaporated. Still, it was a pleasure to drift along at a snail’s pace, making towards the Isle au Haut Thorofare. There was not much to be said. Time passed quietly. We slowly came unburdened of our need for speed, and were inhabited by a quiet civility.

At length, the lighthouse on Robinson Point revealed itself and the tidy village of Isle au Haut came into view, off which a trio of cruising boats waited for a sailing breeze. We were glad we hadn’t. The thorofare narrowed to a mere sluiceway as it passed the village, compressing what little air circulation there was, and smoothing a few wrinkles out of the mainsail.

We were pleased to see “2.7” flash on the GPS. A woman walking to the island store waved to us. We waved back. There was a hypnotic quality to our levitation across the sky-dappled waters, red and green buoys nodding lazily, and the tide hissing quietly as it advanced on the muddy shore.

A squadron of terns wheeling past seemed to be herding a shoal of sardines as they pirouetted just above the water, chattering while carving the air on scimitar wings. Cat’s paws, advanced across the tarnished silver sea, and the sloop put her shoulder gently to the task, ripples fanning out as we made a glorious three knots of it. Threading our way through the Pell Island Passage, soundings declining to 10 feet, we skirted close aboard a lovely little sand beach on Wheat Island, which we studied in detail and vowed to land upon one day.

The glow of slow is worth cultivating, and often more enjoyable than the tension of a blustery blow. Speed in cruising terms is almost irrelevant – except when it isn’t – considering that our steeds of the sea infrequently average much more than five knots to the good. Like many of life’s notable pleasures, some of sailing’s most memorable moments are best savored deliberately.

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