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A STORM

VIEWS: 18 PAGES: 6

  • pg 1
									                                         A STORM

Dinner. Twenty two hundred or there abouts on my heavy old Rolex: seventeen hundred
by Pittsburgh time. Even though I had set my watch to Greenwich Time six days ago,
resolved to get used to operating in the same time frame that I needed to do my celestial
navigating. I still was mentally using Daylight Savings Time in my head to think about
the boat routine of eating and sleeping. Seventeen hundred, five o’clock back home;
wherever that was in this tumbling water-world I had chosen. Five o’clock isn’t quite
supper time, but somehow out here it seems the right time to think about cooking. The
thought keeps me connected somehow to that other world I came from.

Cooking! Ugh! Even though the nagging nausea which had been in the background of
my awareness for the past four days, since I left the Sound (Long Island) and felt again
the long, powerful roll of the open ocean, even though that nausea had pretty well passed,
just contemplating standing at the galley stove brought it back! Yea, but I haven’t had
much today; some crackers and lunch meat about mid-morning, washed down by a warm
Coke. The ice is about all gone after six days. Gotta get used to the warm drinks. The
Brits do it, I guess I can too.

Still several hours of daylight left, but the sky off to the west, looking through the ropes
and rails and paraphernalia off the stern of my little boat, is darkening with low, grey,
tumbling clouds. That doesn’t look so good, and it certainly doesn’t make my stomach
feel any better! Sure looks like there is some nasty stuff on the way. Get some food,
then check the weather broadcast at ten after six - er 2310 – and then get things lashed
down and shortened up before dark. Why do these things always come on in the dark?

A small can of Dinty Moor’s Beef Stew is the first thing that falls to hand as I rummage
around in the can stowage locker under the starboard settee. OK. Boy, these pull-tab
tops are handy. Why don’t they make all cans with tops like this? Sure beats digging
around in the sliding-door cabinet behind the stove groping for the can opener. Of
course, if I’d put the thing in the silverware box where I could found it…! Now, out on
deck again to turn on the propane. I know having the shutoff valve out there is a
necessary safety practice, but there are times when it would be nice to have one of those
electric shutoff gizmos right by the galley stove. The wind is still down; just little cat’s-
paws making the long easy slope of the waves look ruffled, like they had been painted
with low-gloss varnish, or like the non-glare glass that sometimes is used for pictures.
Sure is weird the way the sea changes color and mood. Now it’s as if we, the sea and I,
are hunkered down and waiting; kinda closed up and guarded. Charlie, my trusted wind
vane, is gurgling softly aft, and the sails are just full enough to draw nicely, but with a
strangely unnatural twisty roll. Ominous feeling, somehow. But maybe it’s just the
aloneness out here, and the fact that things look as if they are going to get a bit dusty
tonight. All in the head, right? Ha!

Stew bubbling. Smells pretty good, actually! Hiss, crackle, and a faint beep, beep on the
little Sony. There it is, WWV. Usually it is strong and clear, but when you really need to
hear all the details, the signal fades. Murphy at work again! A quick check to be sure
that the Rolex is on the second; it ought to be. I just set it yesterday! OK, here comes the
weather stuff. Son-of-the-gun, he only mentioned that storm way over off the Scottish
coast! Nothing for here! Maybe what I feel out there is just a bit of unsettled weather
and not a storm at all. Well, we’ll see! Now, eat, make up some hot soup, and get things
battened down.

Yep, she’s coming! The sun is down now; not that I could see it before, with the clouds
and all. But now there is that grey-green light of twilight filtered through thickening dirty
cotton clouds. And now the wind is coming up. The sea will soon follow. Let’s see, I
hate to go to the storm jib ‘till I have to. She just doesn’t go to weather with that little
blob of a sail up. Guess I’ll keep the working jib for a bit. Better get two reefs in the
main though. That we’ll need for sure. Damn! The waves are getting up already! That
last splash dribbled ice water down my neck!

Now, suddenly there is a whole bunch of things which need doing. I struggle into my
Henry Lloyds while banging back and forth between the head door and the galley stove –
which is locked now in its gimble. Then, feeling like a spaceman in the bulky foul
weather gear, I tug on my sea boots. Might as well try to stay dry and warm, it looks like
it will be a wet one tonight!

Now the boat is rolling and the wind is veering around to the North West. The wind must
be about 25 now, and I can see the bluish-white of the breaking wave tops in the last of
the twilight. Charlie is working harder now. With the wind shift the red glow from the
compass shows that we are heading almost south. We’ll never get to the Azores on this
heading! I disconnect the can line from the tiller and pull us around to 090 or there
abouts. Crank the jib in hard; let the main luff. I clip on the tether, and clip it to the
starboard jackline. The main thunders snaps as I duck under the boom and slide forward,
holding hard to the cabin-top handrail. At the mast I uncleat the main halyard and
scrabble for a handful of sail to pull the luff down to the second cringle. Halyard in my
right hand and the thrashing sail in my left, I swear and stain and finally get the cringle
over the reefing hook. Quick, before I lose it, I wrap the halyard around the winch and
tighten the luff, hard! Then, cleat it off and grab for the reefing line on the boom. No,
not the forward one, dummy, the second one. No time to tie in the first reef, I’m now
taking spray over the cabin. Boy, these seas came up fast! Uncleat both reefing lines and
haul hard on the aft-most one. The claw of the sail comes down and aft, and the sail
takes some shape, but still luffing. Ooh, this is hard on the fingers! Finally I get the sail
down firmly to the boom and the line cleated, Whew! The temperature has been
dropping, but after that wrestling match I’m sweating and winded. Back to the cockpit.
Boy, its dark! Sheet in the main and SYNTHESIS feels the wind, dips her rail, and takes
off. A final reset for Charlie, add some tiller pressure to counteract the weather helm,
and then take some time to tie in the reef points. She looks good in the weak beam of my
flashlight, and we are bashing along hard on the wind at a great rate.

Time to sit down and take stock. Wind must be thirty now, higher in the gusts. That jib
is already a bit much. Wish I’d put on the storm jib back there when I thought of it!
Now it really needs to be done, and every forth or fifth wave sends green water (it really
looks black) over the foredeck. Fun, fun! But, this is what you came for, isn’t it?
Wellll! OK, clip on again, this time on the high side. Walking is a bit easier up here but I
still hang on tight. Oh hell, forgot to release the jib sheet. Back to the cockpit and let her
fly. Bang-ide-bang up front as the jib luffs. At the mast, uncleat the jib halyard and let it
run as far as it will, which isn’t far. Right arm through the bight of the halyard and I take
it forward to the sail with me. Getting the sail down involves getting a hold on it
wherever possible and pulling down. The sail bunches up on the foredeck and I sprawl
on it to keep it from going over the side. The wind is howling now, and lines are
thrashing, waves are thumping hard against the hull, and things are getting pretty wild. I
sure waited too long to get all this done!

Finally, the sail is down and lashed in a bundle against the bow pulpit. Since all my
foresails set on a pendant at the tack, I just leave the down sail hanked on and hank on the
storm jib above it. Fortunately, I have been smart enough to have the storm jib, in its
bag, lashed on the foredeck with its jib sheets already rigged and led aft. A quick change
of the halyard to the little sail and I am ready to hoist – almost. First I have to get back to
the mast, keeping tension on the hauling part of the halyard to keep it from winding itself
around the spreaders and the mast steps as the mast whips back and forth in its mad
dance! As the jib goes up it snaps and bangs, and I rush back to the winch to sheet it in.
Disconnect Charlie, boat back on course, Charlie reset, and the tiller clamped on again,
and we are set – for a while!

Double-reefed main and storm jib is a combination good for up to about 35 knots of
wind, and sure enough, soon the rail is in the water again. Time for another change.
Seems like I just got the last one done, but really, it is now the wee hours of the morning.
Lightning now off to the North West and getting closer, better get the next sail change
done. I don’t like messing around the mast when the sky gets full of electricity!

I disconnect Charlie, round the boat up into the wind and lash the helm. Set this way, the
rudder tries to bring the bow further up into the wind while the little storm jib tries to
cause her to fall off and sail./ The result of this tug of war is that the boat lays about 40
degrees to the wind. With the main sheet eased, the mainsail luffs and snaps without
producing any sailing force, and I can get it down. Back to the mast and drop the main.
As it comes down the wind, now like a solid force tearing at everything; catches in the
folds, and the sail thrashes like a thing alive. I roll and bundle it up along the boom and
tie it as tightly as I can with the sail ties which I have looped through fairleads under the
boom. It takes an hour to get the sail down and lashed. I’m bushed! God, its dark!
Somehow, though, my eyes have become enough dark adapted that I can really see what I
am doing with all the lines and knots. It is amazing how little light the eye can adapt to!
I dig out an extra piece of line and run an extra set of lashings down the boom. It’s not
pretty, but I hope it will hold until this blasted wind drops.

Now is the time, I think, to try out the new storm trisail. Jane and I wrestled the 20 foot
length of sail track back home from the Annapolis Boat Show last year, and Claude and I
went to all the trouble to drill and tap umpteen million machine screw holes to fasten it to
the mast right beside the luff grove. I should have tested it before getting out in this
mess, but it is just one of a long list of things that fell by the wayside in the rush to get
underway.

The trisail lives in its bag lashed to the foot of the mast. Thank goodness I have it already
attached by sail slides to the track! I would have a dickens of a time doing that in all this
ruckus! The trisail is loose-footed, and I manage to lead the less-side sheet to a block on
the starboard rail and then forward to the winch. My fingers are cold and getting stiff,
but I manage to unshackle the halyard from the lashed-down mainsail and fasten it to the
head of the trisail. Up she goes with a roar, and I scrabble along the cabin top to winch it
tight before it tears itself apart. Done! SYNTHESIS lays her tail in the foam and takes
off. I scramble to unlash the helm and finally get things trimmed up – just in time to
decide that this is still too much sail!

Finally, with the trisail back down, (at least, I concluded, the sail and its rigging works
just fine – but not in 50 knots!), the little storm jib acting to steady the boat some, and the
helm lashed alee again, I let SYNTHESIS take over. I figure that she can take care of
herself – and me – far better than I can. Boy, am I tired! I make one last check of things
as best I can in the darkness, slide the hatch boards in place and close the companionway
doors, and retire below to get out of my now pretty soggy clothes. A dry sweat suit feels
grand, and I stretch out on the starboard settee.

Noise, you can’t imagine the cacophony of sound inside the hull of a small boat in a
storm! The howl, sometimes scream, of the wind in the rigging forms a background of
white noise for a crescendo of crashes, bangs, thumps, and creaks as green water smashes
on deck and the contents of all the lockers tries to scramble themselves in the bilges. Can
she take this kind of beating – for how long? Why am I doing this? I close my eyes and
cover my ears with Jane’s quilt and hold on – and on – on! A day passes, and now it is
dark again. I get up for some crackers and to pee in my pee bottle, but nothing else. The
grey-green light through the ports has now turned to black, and still the beating goes on.
I did manage to pull the hatch and check the bilge – dry’ Thank God! No leaks! What a
great little boat!

More lightning, lots more! I can see it flicker and flash through the ports, and hear the
crash of thunder over the din of the boat noises and the storm. In-between flashes it is
pitch black in the cabin. I am still on the starboard settee, with me head about a foot from
the stainless steel mast compression post which rises vertically from the overhead,
supporting the downward loads created by the mast. I can’t see this post, but at times I
put out my hand and grab the cool steel to hold myself on the bunk. All of a sudden I can
see it, glowing an eerie green. It gets brighter and brighter like a green neon tube, so
bright that I could read by its light if I were holding a book. Then, after about 20
seconds, poof, and everything is black again. Wow! Saint Elmo’s fire! I have seen it on
and in my airplane during some bad weather, and in the rigging of sailboats, but never
inside like this! I wonder what it would have felt like if I had reached out and touched
the post?
Now it is really getting wild out. I don’t know how hard the wind is blowing, but it is
harder than I have ever been out in, and it is a good thing I can’t see how high the waves
are; they are now crashing regularly on the boat. I know it is time, but I don’t want to go
back outside. I must, though, and turn the boat down wind so she can run with the wind
and waves instead of being tattered by them. On with the cold and soggy foul weather
gear, clip on the tethers and out into a screaming maelstrom of solid, horizontal-rushing
water and roaring waves; and dark, always dark!

I fumble with the lashing and finally free the tiller as a crashing wave fills the cockpit
again. Things are pretty hairy, with each wave seeming to crash down on SYNTHESIS
with intent of breaking her up or rolling her over. Helm amidships and she slices down
the face of a wave and puts her stern to the wind and seas. Things calm down, and
although I have to stay out there and steer – Charlie can’t cope with these seas – the
danger is over for now.

Hours pass, I’m cold and stiff, and by bottom hurts from sitting continuously on the hard
fiberglass of the aft cabin top. My fingers are numb and my left arm aches from the
constant push and pull of the tiller. Sure wish I had my gloves, but they are down in the
cabin and I can’t let go of the helm long enough to go get them. In fact, things are getting
worse by the hour. Even in the blackness I can sense that the boat speed has increased as
we race down the waves. Each one now is a battle to keep SYNTHESIS from getting a
little sideways and tripping on her keel. Boy, talk about scared; I am! We are just on the
ragged edge of control, and for sure, one of these times I’m going to make a mistake, and
that’s all she wrote! To compound things, the steepness of the waves and our speed
down them is causing the bow to bury in the base of the wave ahead, even though the
waves are marching at us from astern, and we are taking green water over the bow up to
the mast! Now, along with the distinct probability of a broach, is the very real danger of
pitch poling! Time for the last line of defense, the storm drogue. If I can’t slow the boat
down we’re going to buy the farm for sure!

Hours before, when it was still light and I wasn’t on the helm, I had foresight enough to
rummage around in the aft cabin and get out the Galerider storm drogue and its bag
holding the bridle and 150-foot rode that I made up last winter for just such a storm.
Now I’ll get to see if it works! The problem of deploying a drogue from the stern of a
cruising boat with self-steering gear hung on its fanny, is to keep the rode from tearing
off the gear. I had fashioned a bridle of 5/8ths lay line with snap rings spliced to each
end, and a large stainless block in the middle. The rode was then shackled to the block,
with the other and shackled to the swivel attached to the lines from the drogue. All that
was ready just under the aft hatch. Ok. Time to do it! Its still an hour or so from dawn,
and black as the inside of a cow! I had a light messenger line run out around the wind
vane. I clip one end of the bridle on the pad eye on the port side, and tie the end of the
messenger line to the other end of the bridle. Hope I don’t snag on anything back there;
I’ll never in hell be able to crawl back there to free it! Look out! Still gotta steer this
thing! Lots of balls to juggle, and don’t forget to hang on with your fifth hand! There,
the bridle is around the vane and clipped to the starboard pad eye. Now, trail out the rode
and work the drogue, which is a four-foot in diameter basket made of canvas webbing,
over the side and let me go. God, it's wet out here! Waves breaking everywhere! There,
she’s out. Oh, oh. Not much change! We’re still going like a bat out of hell down the
waves. Well, just keep steering.

Here comes the dawn, and boy, am I tired! Don’t know how much longer I can keep up
this strain. This kind of steering is very hard work! Now it’s light enough to see things
around the boat. The wind is still tearing the tops off the waves, and the waves… Wow.
Spreader-height at least! I think it was better in the dark when I couldn’t see them! What
the…! You dumb ass! There, nicely secured around the aft cleat is one strand of the
rigging for the drogue, and sure enough, there she is hanging just in the water off the side
of the boat! No wonder I didn’t get any effect! I just hadn’t noticed it in all the dark and
dunking!

It’s easy to lift the line off the cleat, and over she goes. I watch the rode stream back and
then tighten. Hot dog! The breaks are on! What a wonderful feeling! No longer are we
rushing pell mell toward a cold swim. The boat has slowed down to about two knots or
so, even on the steep downhill parts. Those monster waves are still rushing at us from
astern, but SYNTHESIS just lifts her stern and all the foam and tumbling water just
moves under us as we kind of hang on the face of the waves. Beautiful! I still have to
steer, but not with the strain and concentration of before, and all of a sudden the storm
seems manageable; duck soup even! From here on it’s no sweat! Now I know that
SYNTHESIS is a real sea boat. I can sail her anywhere! Maybe even the Horn..?

								
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