The people's voice of reason

Fair Winds and Following Seas

Sailors have often used this phrase as toast or a nautical blessing for many years. Some say it originated in the Hawaiian Islands as a wish for safe travels on the sea and still others say it came from a poem or literary work. Either way, we know it came from sailors or people very familiar with voyaging upon the oceans. I do know this nautical phrase is often used in the US Navy.

“Fair Winds” is a nautical blessing or a prayer for good weather with the winds blowing your sails in the directions you wish to go. It is a wish for soft but steady winds which will take you safely to your desired destination. The American Regional English Dictionary defines “Fair Winds” as “safe journey; good fortune.” Fair Winds can also mean “farewell, God speed.”

My wife and I love to sail and our favorite place to sail is in the US and British Virgin Islands with their amazing and world famous trade winds. We have chartered monohulls and catamarans there over the years, and we sail them ourselves. We are the captain and crew. Although, my wife and I often have discussions about who is the captain and who is the crew. LOL. But, it is exciting and beautiful, fun yet challenging, relaxing and quiet. There is nothing quite like the wind filling up a huge sail and carrying you across the water to some beautiful island destination. The phrase fair winds conjures up images and memories of the strong but steady trade winds of the Virgin Islands powering our yacht in a direction we want to travel to a place we want to be.

“Following Seas” refers to a wave direction that is similar to the heading of a ship or vessel that is underway. The word sea refers to the open waters of the ocean. In the strict seamen’s terms, a following sea has a direction of propagation between 15 degrees either side of the vessel and a wave speed that does not exceed the velocity of the vessel. In other words, the waves or sea currents are moving in the same direction as the vessel at just the right speed so that the ship or boat is moving steadily, comfortably and safely forward with the waves and wind. A following sea makes for smooth sailing as opposed to an “overtaking sea” or a “quartering sea” which can make for a very rough and bumpy rides.

The term “Following Seas” makes me think of the fun times we have had sailing with the waves which were moving in our desired direction. It is amazing how smooth and how fast you can run with the waves and currents flowing with you coupled with the wind at your back. You can sail great distances quickly and safely with fair winds and following seas.

But you cannot fully appreciate this nautical blessing of fair winds and following seas unless you have sailed in stormy or dangerous winds with large white capping waves coming at you from every direction. When that happens, it makes for a very uncomfortable and precarious sailing adventure. On our honeymoon 36 years ago, we chartered a 27 foot Catalina from the Bitterend Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. I remember us sailing all around the BVI and having such great fun on those sunny Summer days that week. But one afternoon a bad squall came upon us very quickly. The sky grew dark and the wind began to blow very hard. The wind upset the sea, and it began to roll and the waves swelled larger and larger until whitecaps appeared. It was all we could do to hold the rudder steady as we rode it out. I remember by sweet and trusting wife going below during the worst of the storm and then she reappeared wearing a big orange life jacket as she held one out for me too. I smiled as the rain hit my face and said “you aren’t thinking of abandoning ship are you?” I tried to play it cool so I didn’t tell her how scared I was and how relieved I was when the squall was over.

So, when I hear the nautical blessing, “Fair Winds and Following Seas”, as an amateur sailor, I have a deep appreciation for what it means. And I am thankful for the blessing. As you journey from this point forward into your next season in the voyage of life, I ask this blessing over you and your family: Fair Winds and Following Seas. May the Lord send the winds to blow gently in your direction and may the waves and currents of life carry you to your desired and best destination!


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