“The brigantine is gybing, again!” cried Ludlow. “He is determined to shoal his water!”
The master glanced an eye around the horizon and then pointed steadily towards the north. Ludlow observed the gesture, and, turning his head, he was at no loss to read its meaning.
“—I am gone,
And, anon, Sir,
I’ll be with you again.”
Clown in Twelfth Night.
Although it is contrary to the apparent evidence of our senses, there is no truth more certain than that the course of most gales of wind comes from the leeward. The effects of a tempest shall be felt, for hours, at a point that is seemingly near its termination, before they are witnessed at another, that appears to be nearer its source. Experience has also shown that a storm is more destructive, at or near its place of actual commencement, than at that whence it may seem to come. The easterly gales that so often visit the coasts of the republic, commit their ravages in the bays of Pennsylvania and Virginia, or along the sounds of the Carolinas, hours before their existence is known in the states further east; and the same wind, which is a tempest at Hatteras, becomes softened to a breeze, near the Penobscot. There is, however, little mystery in this apparent phenomenon. The vacuum which has been created in the air, and which is the origin of all winds, must be filled first from the nearest stores of the atmosphere; and as each region contributes to produce the equilibrium, it must, in return, receive other supplies from those which lie beyond. Were a given quantity of water to be suddenly abstracted from the sea, the empty space would be replenished by a torrent from the nearest surrounding fluid, whose level would be restored, in succession, by supplies that were less and less violently contributed. Were the abstraction made on a shoal, or near the land, the flow would be greatest from that quarter where the fluid had the greatest force, and with it would consequently come the current.
But while there is so close an affinity between the two fluids, the workings of the viewless winds are, in their nature, much less subject to the powers of human comprehension than those of the sister element. The latter are frequently subject to the direct and manifest influence of the former, while the effects produced by the ocean on the air are hid from our knowledge by the subtle character of the agency. Vague and erratic currents, it is true, are met in the waters of the ocean; but their origin is easily referred to the action of the winds, while we often remain in uncertainty as to the immediate causes which give birth to the breezes themselves. Thus the mariner, even while the victim of the irresistible waves, studies the heavens as the known source from whence the danger comes; and while he struggles fearfully, amid the strife of the elements, to preserve the balance of the delicate and fearful machine he governs, he well knows that the one which presents the most visible, and to a landsman much the most formidable object of apprehension, is but the instrument of the unseen and powerful agent that heaps the water on his path.