Spindrift

photograph and text by Jonathan Ives

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Standing at the bow I feel a weight slide off my shoulders as I put the final hitch in the mooring line. The last two days were a test of my seamanship skills. A gale passing through resulted in 13 foot seas with wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour. Yesterday morning we were the only boat to make the ten mile journey out to Monhegan Island to pick up all passengers who needed to get off that day. The waves were so big that they looked like ships on the radar as they crashed over the nearby ledges and shoals. Today the swells were spread out but still large. At times we would loose sight of the horizon when the boat was deep in the trough of a wave and surrounded by two walls of water.

Later that evening, with the boat safe on its mooring for the night, I take a deep breath and look around at the spindrift that covers the surface of the water. The locals say it means laundry day out on Monhegan, with the soap suds floating back into the harbor. Mariners see it as a symbol for the age old battle between man and the sea.

Spindrift or sea foam is produced by gale force winds and large waves in watersĀ  rich with phytoplankton. Known as the building blocks for ocean life, phytoplankton are food for a wide range of sea creatures like shrimp, snails, jellyfish and whales. Rough seas break apart the dead phytoplankton at the surface of the water, dispersing cytoplasm, the fat that holds them together. Much like soap bubbles that are created by changing the surface tension of water, air gets trapped in fatty layers of fluid to create large foamy bubbles. The rougher the waves the more spindrift is formed. When tropical cyclone Oswald hit Queensland, Australia in January of 2013, sea foam four feet thick blanketed the coastal towns.

Here on Muscongus Bay, the spindrift was not as thick but still served as a symbol for the rough seas we spent our last few days upon. Just as the air is mixed into the rich waters by heavy winds and seas, the salt from the same water has mixed into my skin and for just a second I feel as salty as all the captains who have gone before me.