Here are ten reasons why I love coastal rowing in the winter in New England.
Big, stately, rolling swells that curl into booming breakers. As William Finnegan discussed in “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life”, wave chasing is all about winter storms. Strong, offshore storms that caravan along, one after another, sending barreling waves towards cold coasts. For boat-busting adrenaline rushes, my hands-down, #1 winter treat is big ol’ waves.
Wind-ripped, slappy whitecaps streaked with frothing gale fury. Unsettled winter weather that howls louder than a beatnik poet in raving New York streets. Yes, reasons #1 and #2 are both waves—so many kinds of winter waves.
It’s winter, it’s cold. People generally don’t row, or sail, or guzzle beer in powerboats, or flash around on jet-skis. No sunbathing, no tourists, no parking attendants, no lifeguards. The water is empty of traffic. The beaches are empty of people. The world becomes a wild place, free from the tame echoes of voices. In winter, the local becomes remote, and I become a solitary person amidst a vast Nature.
The low winter sun casts specular reflections from everything it touches. My northern skin, fair and freckly, rejoices in gratitude for a respite from the summer sun. The blues of sky and water set a streak of golden sand in splendid relief.
5: No racing
Don’t get me wrong, I love racing. But more than racing, I love the purity of playing in a boat. I love dropping all plans to chase a winter storm. I love sitting in my boat and letting my mind relax, expand, and reach for the sea’s horizon.
An ice sheet crackles along the boat deck while frozen sea spray lashes the civilization off my face. It’s an un-soft world on the winter ocean that speaks to the part of my soul that rumbles without words.
7. Monochromatic Beauty
Winter rowing is all about experiencing those coal-ash cloud days with ominously grey water lashing dark rocks on washed-out beaches. Harsh and beautiful.
8. Unexpected ease
Sometimes the winter cold suddenly eases, the sun turns gentle and warm, and human spirits can’t help but be happy. The variety of weather in winter is stunning. Even I, who revels in the stark winter ruggedness, rush into my boat to soak up the sun and take advantage of these rare and welcome warm days.
Snowy owls cruise the beaches in their arctic white mystery. Harlequin ducks in jazzy plumage play in the surf that I row through. Huge flocks of long-tailed ducks gather offshore, enveloping me in clouds of movement as they swirl around my boat. Razorbills swim in their penguin-like manner, making me feel just a little more remote. The sea birds of winter come here from wild Arctic places. They have had minimal human contact, making them more curious and a little less jaded about my own visitation into their world.
10. Liquid water
Plain and simple: rivers and lakes all freeze up, but the ocean stays awake, alive, a liquid.