A Mix of Pattern and Chaos

There can be no doubt the Earth’s atmosphere is a living thing. It is an organism of such astonishing complexity that the human mind always finds itself humbled, vilified and persistently brought to its knees when trying to make sense of it. Our Western and very reason-bound mind of most probably Greek or Egyptian origin, when faced with the impossibility of predicting the weather accurately more than a couple days into the future, makes all kinds of nifty contortions, the first of which is typically a quite preemptive effort of distancing itself as much as it possible can from the object to be studied. With the help of our sophisticated machines we extend and elevate our visual perception up into the sky and stare down at the chaotic whirls and boils of moisture-saturated air on the surface of our planet from the coldness of interplanetary space. A veritable army of weather sensing satellites circles the globe on precisely calculated orbits and beams down to the surface a primordial flood of information, much too vast for the naked mind to comprehend and once more we built machines to help us digest the disconnect. Supercomputers that fill entire buildings churn through the data streaming in like homing swarms of pollen-dusted honeybees from all around the globe and four times a day those calculated thinking apparatus spit out forecasting models that proudly pretend to reach seven and even ten days into mankind’s so intrinsically uncertain future. Each economic power agglomeration must have, of course, its own version of such clever machinery, and so, with the marvel of the internet’s global reach, you can consult with a quick and lazy keystroke the US, Australian and European model of what’s to come over the horizon on the weather front. There must be a Russian model too I’m sure, and certainly a Chinese one not far behind, but those are not as blatantly publicized.


When heading out into the blue you do check your deck of cards with as much mental audacity as possible. After all it’s like you’re transforming yourself into a tiny toy, resigned to being tossed about by the various moods of weather’s plethora of phenomena. A little more pressure there, a bit faster jet streams aloft, just a tad more moisture in the air, and your existence flips from being one of peaceful contemplation and smooth progress to a freaking freefall into chaos and despair. The three different models pretty much guaranteed us four to five days of light to moderate Southwesterlies to ride away from New Zealand’s North Island in stride. Then they all agreed that there would be a low-pressure system forming off Australia’s Northeast in the Coral Sea, head out into the Pacific on a standard easterly course, slowly fill in and then eventually cross our path by day six or seven as a minor disturbance with up to 30kt winds. It wasn’t a perfect forecast for heading out and there was talk amongst the other sailors in the marina that were waiting for a chance to jump off, that this very low was going to merge with two others spawned by the South Pacific Convergence Zone, which always does its mischief further up North. Our only alternative, however, was to wait at least another seven to ten days for all this to pass, with a good chance of finding ourselves with something of the same uncertain nature or even worse.

I was determined to make a run for it and deal with whatever came towards us. After all, winter was closing in fast down under and my bones were tired of the cold! Plus, the feeling of having my decision-making tied up and led astray by computer models always makes me itch and twist and jerk about. But just to be able to say that I did the most I could, more so since I carried the burden of responsibility for another man’s life on my bony shoulders, I called up the self-declared weather guru, our friend Bob McDavitt, whom we had met at the white haired boys yacht club in Auckland while giving a talk there about Aluna’s travels. He is the one who coined the phrase “Weather is a mix of pattern and chaos” as part of his disclaimer on every forecast he issues. “Well, you might have to go through a front”, was his very matter-of-fact response to my inquiry about the rumors of a three folded low forming viciously on our intended path. “And what exactly does a front look like, on the ground, when you’re actually going through it?” was my prominent question when the skies had started to cloud up on day six and heavy greys accumulated overhead. I had seen the low-pressure system to our East on the weather map and it looked like a whirling spider with a handful of fronts lashing out in our direction. Well, as it turned out we weren’t allowed to get a good visual on any of them. Those fronts had the nasty habit of always knocking at our doors at nightfall. The first night we spent close-hauled in howling winds that came pretty darn close to what I estimate that our smaller main sail can bear, and driving rain, but in the morning it was back to very calm winds dead on the nose. All day long we tacked back and forth in accordance with the moods of the wind under dark grey clouds of all shapes and forms, without making any significant progress towards our destination. About three hours into the following night the wind once again cranked up, just as if yesterday had only been a rehearsal for tonight’s stellar opening night performance. I was on watch alone and the sail’s spars started bending like overcooked spaghetti. That sail needed to come down and fast. Taking the sail down is usually a two person job, one pulls in the brailing lines while the other let’s out the sheets in a controlled way, so that the sail does not flap about. I gave Nephi a shout down the companionway, but could not wait for him. I uncleated both sheets, made a dash for the brailing lines at the foot of the sail and pulled in as hard as I could. The sail was now violently swaging from one side of the deck to the other and the lose sheet lines drawing angry doodles into the air. One of them managed to snag my bonnet with the headlight clean off my head and that light was now shining at me, illuminating the chaos above from a nook between the deckpod and the starboard hull’s tumblehome, where it had luckily come to rest. Little by little I was able to pull in the brailing lines, each time reducing the violence overhead. Finally and with the help of a good bit of swearing the sail was brailed and by now Nephi was at hand to wrestle it down on deck in the howling wind.

The time was now ripe to deploy certain pieces of our arsenal of heavy weather gear. For the first time in Aluna’s short but exciting life! After having answered many curious questions about what those black tires do on our white decks, I tied one to a piece of anchor rode, then connected that to the chain and rode of our secondary anchor. Over the bows this went into the dark and churned up waters and I tied it up to the two bow pieces with the elastic bridle I always put our anchors on. With a “Now get a good night’s rest!” I sent Nephi back below and stretched out my worn down self on the watch bunk in the pod.

The next morning we were back to feeble winds. The low-pressure system just sat there, day after day, about six longitudinal degrees to our West, blocked from its customary trod East by a strong high-pressure system, the same one that had kindly provided us with a good lift for the first couple days of our trip. While our good buddy to the East had left and abandoned us, the new bully on the block to our West started to look like our blood-sworn enemy, just sitting there with arms crossed and tapping foot, staring us down, lashing front after front at us and… intensifying! Every time I looked at a new weather map, it had one more isobar wrapped around it and the number indicating its central pressure went through the floor. 993, 986, 985, then 983! I started sending mental notes to our good buddy to the East, urging him desperately to let this bully pass and its fury fade, with mounting suspicion that there might be a conspiracy brewing, a secret plot of pattern and chaos custom-built to bring us to our knees! Even the well-seasoned forecasters at New Zealand’s Metservice seemed to be baffled by the situation. Their prognosis every day anew indicated that the bully would start to move the following day and shoot off towards the rising sun. Some days they had it pass to the North of our present position, some days to the South of it. Well, it never did. Until…

2 Responses to “A Mix of Pattern and Chaos”

  1. Angela Zawadzki Says:

    Beatito: voy a compartir tu blog con Giovanni quien ya conoció a tu beatita y te va a escribir porque le interesan tus composiciones.



  2. Beatriz Restrepo Says:

    Pretty good!!!! Amazing experience.

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