Come Along

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 7:30pm

“We're going out to the wind farm, come along,” the late Norris Pike cajoled me one day in the Town Hall.

I did not go. I was up against a hard deadline for this column, which I would miss if I went on a sea cruise.

“Come on, what are they gonna do, fire you?” he chuckled.

I always regretted not going, for a multitude of reasons, not only because I could never go out there with Norris who was, before many of us, a believer that the power company should not be in private hands. Exactly how we'd get there wasn't clear, but details like that did not stop him from declaring “Gosh darn it, we're gonna do it.” Then the planets aligned and enough of the rest of us were convinced to take the leap.

So, I kept putting off that excursion, instead making that occasional land-bound trip to the bluffs so many of us who live here do only with a visitor. I was there last August, on one of those glorious days when the sun on the calm ocean is almost blinding, and the feel of it on fair skin is less a warm caress and more a hot iron moving closer. But it was beautiful, people milling about seemed interested, and impressed, and I love, as I have from the start, that these two in-their-time modern technologies, the great fresnel lens of the lighthouse and the turbines, live in sight of each other.

Over the construction of the wind farm I had watched a variety of vessels passing by on the east side of the island, the first lift boat that looked so big until the huge one, come from Europe, arrived, and the barge from which the cable was buried. Those and others rose about the pastures of my neighbor's fields, looking little different than I imagine them to have looked when the whole of the island was farmed.

Another opportunity to go see the wind farm presented itself and I was delighted, then I hesitated, last night going to bed with a scratchy throat, another sign the cold I have been fighting for a month might be winning, and a windy forecast for the morning.

Light came before the first of my staggered alarms went off, and I could hear — and see — the wind in the leafless tree outside my window. I felt only a little better, but with that “come along” echoing in my memory I convinced myself to give it a few more minutes, then to get up and get dressed, then find my hat, and head for the dock.

It was breezy but bright when we set sail, rounding the breakwater, allowing the first full view of the easternmost turbine.  It was a fast trip up the southeast side of the island, with white water flying up to the decking outside the windows and I wondered that anyone had even suggested going outside, a consideration quickly dismissed, during this leg of the trip. Between splashes the shutters on the old Capt Potter house, the white “silo” of the WWII “barn,” and the lighthouse, always grand on its precipice of a bluff, all distinct landmarks, shone in the morning sun.

As we moved south and the land fell away, the five turbines had appeared, one by one, the definition of the shapes against the sky becoming sharper, the yellow bases distinguishing themselves from the bright white monopiles rising from them.

Then we were there and the boat slowed, creating an illusion of the sea calming beneath us, and outside we went, into the windy sunshine. The deck moved underfoot, as decks of boats are wont to do, and I grabbed a ledge of a bench where I remained, with almost as good a view as anyone standing at the rail, and in less peril of losing my hat to the sea.

The trip was designed to showcase the island and introduce the offshore turbines to a number of visitors involved in power-related financing, so with it came a talk from the long-time Project Manager. The wind farm remains a topic of conversation among visitors, and I have not hesitated to call him with “can you explain. . .” when met with a question I could not answer. I have always been intrigued by the operation, so it was not entirely new material, but it was nevertheless laced with all manner of information I had never heard, a great refresher course and an up-date on the larger installations expected to be built along the eastern seaboard.

We heard even about a Rescue Squad training operation out on one of these structures towering over the sea.

I knew the turbines were big, not from numbers alone which mean little, or comparisons to known but far away buildings, but from photographs including real points of reference, such as the supply boat that appears less than a toy, perhaps a Christmas ornament for a tiny tree, or a doll-scaled plaything.

More years than I had imagined it would be after that “I can't” afternoon, I was out there, under the turning blades, on a boat moving along the chain, being impressed anew at the majesty of the installation. It wasn't until we were nearly under one of the turbines that the whoosh of the blades was noticeable, and then almost erased by the sound of the omnipresent wind.

We even saw the supply boat, as had been described, with a nose of a bow, designed to butt up against the base of one turbine, white water churning from its stern holding it in place, as a crane unfolded from aloft, bringing whatever was needed up from the deck of the vessel to the platform of the yellow foundation.

I'd have been happy to stay out there, running a slalom course through the turbines, watching the sun define the distant bluffs but home we went, zipping along the same jagged shore and slipping back into Old Harbor.