From the Editor:
Your editor first came to St. Barths in 1968, and has been a permanent resident for more than twenty years. He lives with his Franco-American family on a hillside overlooking Lorient from which he gazes fascinated by the unfolding panorama of a halcyon and unique way of life.
The superlative has become such an abused form of expression that it is now very difficult to simply and directly convey the matchless fury of a mature hurricane.
Sir Francis Beaufort was not so burdened with the echo of today's clamoring salesmen.
He was a nineteenth century English naval officer, who devised a scale of wind conditions, still used today, that was expressly meant to be useful to mariners. He divided the range of possibility into twelve parts, gave each a name, and included a few unexpectedly charming descriptive remarks.
A sample from his table:
"Force Six - Strong Breeze - wind speed 21 to 35 miles per hour - Large branches in motion; telegraph wires whistle; umbrellas used with difficulty."
Occasionally, he approaches the poetic: "Force Five - wind speed 19 to 24 miles per hour - Small trees in leaf begin to sway; wavelets form on inland waters."
When he reached the top of the scale, the charm and poetry are usurped by a blunt finality:
"Force Twelve - Hurricane - wind speed above 73 miles per hour - Devastation occurs."
Devastation occurs. Indeed it does. How long did Sir Francis linger over this choice of two words to summarize all that he knew of a wind that could flatten a forest, obliterate the separation between sea and sky, and hurl the remnants of Her Majestys finest fighting ships onto the High Street of a seaside village ? He was certainly aware of the pivotal event that launched his countrymen on their path to glory:
In 1588, the Spanish Armada sailed northward to humble the English by force of arms. One hundred and thirty one ships put to sea, crowded with twenty thousand disciplined halbediers, dragoons, cannoneers, and troops of the line.
South of the Channel entrance, their single formation was assaulted by a revolving storm of devastating force, scattering ships first in one direction, then in another. Dozens of ships were overwhelmed and sank, some were hurled onto rocky shores of France, and others were carried as far as the southern coast of Ireland. When the storm subsided, and the tattered remnants of the Armada regrouped, they were easy prey for an eager English fleet that had weathered the tempest in the snug shelter of Plymouth Harbor.
Thirty ships returned to Spain, soldiers and crew thanking God for their deliverance, kissing the crowded and dirty soil at the end of each gangplank. Their humiliation ended forever the Spanish domination of the seas, passing the chance to the English, who redirected the course of the exploration and exploitation of the New World, traveled to every corner of the earth, and proceeded to build the greatest Empire the world had ever known.
The Armada was beaten twice: first, by a hurricane, and, finally, by the agile ships and sailors of the Queen Victoria's Royal Fleet. The destiny of our ancestors and ourselves was given direction by an elderly cyclone, born in the tropics, twice traveled across the Atlantic: a whirling heat machine made of moistened air: 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and a 1% mixture of argon, carbon dioxide, helium, krypton, neon, xenon, wood smoke, cow farts, and baby burps, all set into motion by the irrepressible spinning of the earth.
More to come,