They say that Eskimos have at least a hundred words for snow. I don't know any Eskimos so I can't confirm or deny it. Although I do wonder why a language needs separate words for "snow mixed with Husky shit" and "snow mixed with the shit of a lead dog." I mean, dogshit is dogshit isn't it? And I have to admit I am a little intrigued by ertla which apparently means "snow used by Eskimo teenagers for exquisite erotic rituals." I must remember to ask about ertla if I am ever in Eskimo country.
Anyway this got me thinking about how many words there are in the English language for waves, the waves on water that sailors experience. Ripples. Chop. Waves. Swells. Rollers. Breakers....
I would be hard pressed to think of a hundred.
And yet waves are even more variable in their nature than snow, it seems to me. Every place I go sailing it feels as if the waves are different. And even in the same place they are different on different days depending on the wind conditions, both the wind now and the wind over the last few days.
For example I described the waves at Hayling Island on the first day of the Laser Master Worlds last year as "nasty, unpredictable, monster, cockpit-filling, boat-bashing, short wavelength, square waves." The Eskimos (if they were sailors) would have a word for that. The Germans of course would probably describe those Hayling Island waves with a word such as böseunberechenbarriesigepilotkanzelfüllungbootschlagenkurzewellenlängequadratischewellen. There are some advantages to a language that can invent compound nouns.
On Thursday a couple of weeks ago I took my Laser down to Little Compton for a sail. There is a nice sheltered beach in a harbor for launching, and after a few minutes sailing you are out in the mouth of the Sakonnet River across from Third Beach Newport, site of the fabled New England Laser Masters and also of the US Olympic Trials for Lasers and Laser Radials back in the good old days when the US Olympic Trials were actually held in the USA, rather than Europe or Australia or both like they are now. But I digress.
When the wind is in the right direction, i.e. south or south-west, the waves in the mouth of the Sakonnet are as good as you will find at any dinghy sailing location on the east coast. Add in the iconic Sakonnet Lighthouse and the natural amphitheater of the Sakonnet River shoreline and I really don't understand why they aren't holding the America's Cup here. But I digress. Again.
That Thursday the wind was in the right direction. The waves weren't exactly böseunberechenbarriesigepilotkanzelfüllungbootschlagenkurzewellenlängequadratischewellen to the extreme extent that they were at Hayling Island, but they were a pretty good approximation. There were nice rolling swells coming in from Rhode Island Sound with confused waves from various directions on top of them with some breaking crests. Let me tell you it was an interesting experience poking the bow of a Laser into one of those breaking waves going upwind. Going downwind was a total blast.
I don't really understand waves. Yes, I know all the theory from college physics, but I don't understand waves as a sailor and how to deal with them when sailing in a little 14 foot dinghy. I have a lot of learning about waves to do. Probably more learning than I have Laser sailing years left to learn. But it's fun trying. If I were going to San Francisco for the Masters Worlds next month I would go to Little Compton and practice every day. But I'm not. So I won't.
However, I am determined to sail in Little Compton some more times this summer. And then in winter I will go looking for ertla.