A harbormaster’s job is more than you think

Life can be a float on a pleasant day’s calmness, or it can be something rather different. It depends on how well you handle the ripples, how good you are at predicting their arrival and avoiding those that will grow larger. 

Either way, it’s not the spray that will harm you.

The first thing to know about our harbor is that its primary function is not to afford protection from water; getting wet is not the issue. In the best of harbors, you can still get caught in the rain.

A harbor protects from forces that move in waves through the sea and tides that pull it. The waves are not water. Water responds to a wave moving through it with an up-and-down circular motion – not forward movement.

This state of affairs is not apparent, so it’s best experienced. Since the initial impression is that water is the wave, not the power within it, it helps to have that inherent force become evident – as when its manifestation terrifies you.

Short of that, here’s a simpler, more convenient explanation.

“A wave transports energy, not water. An analogy is a crowd of people doing a Mexican wave in a stadium: they stay in the same location, but the wave they create travels around the arena.”

What Causes Waves in the Ocean

By Alison George.

What energy is moving through water or acting on it?

With tides, it’s the gravitational force of the moon and the sun – they move water; earthquakes and underwater landslides create tsunamis – they’re caused by effects related to earth’s gravitation; lastly, and most commonly, it’s the energy in the wind moving through the water in waves. 

Where does that energy come from? What causes the wind? Pressure differences. What causes pressure differences? Heat. Where does the heat come from? The energy of the sun.

This is the awesome force from which our harbor protects its occupants; the harbormaster’s job is more than meets the eye.

Shannon Smolinski is our new harbormaster. She comes to this position well prepared, for her family has a long tradition of working on the land, and she married into a family with years of farming tradition. 

I kept a boat at the harbor for 20 years, a 34′ steel trawler, a sea-worthy vessel that took my wife and me on many a Great Lakes adventure. I always kept an eye on the weather – having learned to do so down on the farm. 

Many sailors are farmers who went to sea.

A harbor is like a machine shed, a grain bin, and a silo – there, a sailor stores his equipment and makes needed repairs and collects what’s required to get through to another season.

Sometimes, a farmer has to repair his equipment in the middle of a field; he better know how. Sometimes, a sailor has to fix something in the middle of the lake; he best knows how.

If you have a steel boat, it helps to know how to weld. If, one of fiberglass, how to patch it, if of wood – too many skills are required.

As with a farmer, so too with a sailor – it helps to know a banker.

GPS guides a sailor on a course he’s set and tells him where he is in fog. Radar can show him who and what is in there with him. Likewise, GPS can guide a farmer across a dusty field, helping him keep his rows straight.

It used to be that both farmers and sailors never made a profit. Now, farmers occasionally do, but sailors still don’t.

Years ago, sailors thought it was turtles all the way down; now they know it’s more; farmers and sailors pray a lot.

A harbormaster’s job is to help sailors survive manifestations of the most formidable force – a substantial challenge in the best of weather.

Shannon will do just fine.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.


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