Down East Down Under

By Deborah Fallows

By Deborah Fallows

In a recent post, I mentioned that the term “Down East” in Maine has origins in sailing terms, when prevailing winds sent ships from Boston sailing downwind (hence down) to head north along the coast of Maine.

Well, thanks to readers, I’ve learned that there is another Down East; it is down south in Carteret County, along the Atlantic coast around the middle of North Carolina! Just look at the similarities of the coastline in Down East Maine and Down East North Carolina. Here is Maine:



And here is North Carolina:

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In both cases, the prevailing west winds mean ships sailing downwind are sailing east, or Down East.

Not to be outdone, a sailor on Long Island writes in about a similar usage. My reader described sailing “up island” when sailing west, or up into the prevailing winds. I’m presuming the opposite also holds true and the prevailing westerly winds sends you sailing downwind, or “down island” out to the east. Sailors out there: is this true?

I suppose we should scour the Atlantic seaboard to see if there are others areas where you would sail downwind to travel east.

I’m writing this from Down Under, watching the sailboats out in Sydney Harbor. There are stiff winds today, probably about 40 knots, and the flags at the Royal Botanical Gardens indicate southeasterly winds, at least right here.

Any sailing talk about Sydney Harbor becomes complicated very quickly; there are hills and valleys all around the harbor, and many inlets along the main waterway, which lead to the headlands and out into the ocean. The wind must be finicky and shifty, to say the least. It is too much of a brain teaser to imagine what sailing Down East means here Down Under. Anyone?

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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