Sir Francis Beaufort was quite a guy. Self-educated, by the end of his life he had been made head of observatory at Greenwich and the one at the Cape of Good Hope, and when asked by a former colleague in search of a gentleman naturalist to go along on a big sea voyage, it was beaufort who suggested the Beagle take along Charles Darwin. He’s also got a sea named after him.
But today, he’s best remembered, in name at least, for the scale he popularized to measure just how freaked out you should get by the storm that’s blowing out your porthole.
0 - Dead calm. Smoke rises vertically, and you can leave your negroni unattended on the deck rail while you go inside to get more almonds.
1 - There’s wind, but you’d have to concentrate to notice. The sea ripples, but there are no whitecaps.
2 - Those ripples turn into cute little wavelets. You might feel them if you were in a kayak.
3 - The little wavelets turn into bigger wavelets, and you start to sea whitecaps.
4 - You’d want to get out of that kayak now, but the one-metre waves are not the sort of thing you're going to feel on any sort of ship that sails around Antarctica. If you were on land, you might see a leaf blow by from time to time at Beaufort 4.
5 - Seas get to about two metres, and you start to see spray, which makes it tougher to spot whales by their blow, but it’s nothing that’ll reach you on deck.
6 - This is the first measurement you’re going to want to quote to anybody. Seas are up to about four metres, you sea foam streaming off the tops of waves.
7 - On land, this is when you see full-grown trees being blown side to side. It's about this point that you start to notice the dinner crowds thinning out, and you’ll want to hold onto that negroni pretty tight. You get to call this a “near gale.”
8 - Congratulations! You’re officially in a gale. No one’s going to look down on you for staying in bed. Many ships start putting up guidelines along the walls for those less steady on their feet.
9 - This is a strong gale. Sailors don’t get worried about it, but you might. The spray may now be reducing visibility, and you may or may not be having a good time, depending on how much you enjoy roller coasters. On land, this is when bits start flying off barns.
10 - This is the sort of storm that, while not actually worrisome, many crews will try to speed through to avoid putting you through too much stress and discomfort, and to avoid what may come next. The waves you see out your porthole will be impressive - as high as 12 metres - and unless you’ve really got your sea-legs on you, even the thought of a negroni will be enough to do you in. This is the point at which some staff members will start tapping out.
11 - This is where things start getting tied down, and the things that aren’t start to smash. You’ll be worried, and you could actually get hurt if you’re walking around, but the ship itself is not in any danger. Seas can get as high as 13 or 14 metres. Crews will try to avoid being out in what you can now call a violent storm.
12 - You won’t see this one unless something has gone quite wrong. This is a hurricane. Seas are 12 metres and more, the sea is completely white, and with winds at more than 64 knots (or 120kph), and if you see any of it, you’ll be seeing it from port, sipping your negroni and concocting your stormy stories for the folks back home.
Now you know how to measure the weather and prepare for anything Mother Nature sends your way. Do your research, check the winds before you set sail, and stay away off the water when reaching those higher numbers.
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Enjoy your travels!
From the GLP team