23 January 2008
Quick note: I accidentaly posted this for January of 2007. And now for your enjoyment!
"You know - I was thinking that we should get the rudder checked," Kathy said matter of factly.
I was curled up on the starboard side of the cockpit. The boat was healing 15 degrees. The wind was howling at 28 knots. As the wind passed through the main sail it made a long ghostly moaning sound - the sound that I interpreted as "Fooooooollllllllllll!"
"What?!" I replied; my voice quivering, "We should check what?!' "Get the rudder checked. It's making a weird sound." Just then the wind increased. I made my way to the wheel and struggled to keep my balance as I checked the wind indicator - 33 knots; then 34. The boat lurched over on it side 20 degrees and rounded up into the waves. I caught myself rooting for the wind in hopes of seeing 40. Then it occurred to me that I might be going crazy.
I screamed to the girls, "You know what's scarier than 33 knots of wind in square seas?" "No! What?" "35 knots and square seas at night!" There was no reply. The cockpit wasn't silent though. It was loud as the wind howled through the sails and rigging. Fooooolllllll!
30 minutes earlier. Casey, Tara, Kathy and I were having a normal family conversation in the cockpit with 5 knots of wind. It was 7:30 and we just finished our chicken fajita dinner.
"I'm so bored," Tara said, "Can't we talk about something?" "We are talking Tara," Kathy replied. "Not about anything I care about." "Hey Dad! How come we're not motoring?" Casey asked impatiently. She had finally perked up after a day of fasting from food and water. Kathy had given her some sea sickness medicine the previous hour and she finally felt better. "We're waiting for Alaya," I replied. Our buddy boat Alaya was having a difficult time. Through the course of the day they had lost their autopilot to the mighty Tehuantepec. They had a wind vang they were using for a backup. The problem was that they didn't have any wind. We spent the evening checking in with them on our SSB radio. We were too far apart to use our VHF. "Dad! Can't we just start the motor? Why do we have to wait?" It always makes me proud to see so much empathy from my children.
Alaya was approximately 15 miles behind us. We didn't want there to be that much space between us in case something we wrong. Besides, we spent most of the day getting pounded by square seas and high winds. It was nice to just enjoy the calm.
"No. We can sail. It'll be okay. Just relax. It's all good." I told the girls how that we were through the mighty Tehuantepec and the worst was over. "Dad!" Tara said firmly, "There's NO WIND!" Just then we felt our first puff. I worked my way to the wheel and checked the wind indicator. There was 8 knots of wind. Wonderful, I thought; we'll be able to sail.
The winds built quickly to 15 knots. I started to think about pulling in our jib and double reefing our main. We had a single reef in already, but I thought it might be a good idea to reduce it some more; then the wind dropped back to 12 knots; then 11. It could wait.
Just as I sat down and relaxed it hit. Boom! The boat lurched to starboard. Conversations stopped. I ran back to the wheel to check the wind indicator: 20 knots right across our beam. The seas picked up and we had 3 and 4 foot seas that started to break over the side.
I scrambled to the jib and tried to pull it in; it wouldn't budge. The wind was now at 23 knots and Kathy tried control jib as I grinded it in on the winch. We were still over powered and were leaning at around 15 degrees. A wave would hit the bow and come crashing over.
Kathy yelled to me over the seas. "What do you want to do?" She looked at me for a response and I was watching the main sail and listening to the wind howl and thinking that I wanted to curl up into the fetal position. Kathy continued, "Do you want to reef the main?!"
"What?" I yelled back. I was stalling for time. I looked back at Kathy and kept trying to mentally find a reference that would define me. Was I the guy in the movie that froze at the time critical moment? Who allowed some catastrophe to occur due to his inability to garner his courage at the proper time? Or was I the quick thinking Macguyver ready to burst out my paper clip and save the day?
Another gust hit and the boat lurched hard over at 20 degrees and rounded up. The seas were really square. The wind indicator was showing 33 knots. "No! Let's wait!" I yelled back. "I think we're okay for right now." I sat next to Casey who was in the cockpit under the dodger. I was slightly exposed to the weather. A wave crashed over the side and I was hit by cold stinging spray. So I was the guy that froze - the cold wet chicken; now I know.
Back to the present. The girls quickly decided that they were going to bed. Tara gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and with a reassuring smile and said, "Good night dad," as if she would never see me again. The girls piled into our bed and, once asleep, the heeling boat rolled them together in a heap caught from falling out of bed only by the lee cloth.
I went down below and looked on the map. We had 12 miles until our next waypoint. We were crossing another estuary soon and I made up some mumbo-jumbo about how the wind was being funneled through and once we passed that point the wind would stop. Hey! It was the only solace we had. I didn't have a clue, though, and most of what I was saying was in the form of a prayer.
Kathy and I were in full gear at this point. We had life jackets and tethers on. After 2 hours we were still getting pounded. I started thinking of "What-if's." Like, What if the main sail shreds? What if the mast snaps? What if we get knocked down? What if the boat flips over? Letting my mind dwell on these things caused my body to tighten more into the fetal position. I started holding my breath (Don't ask me why).
I heard Kathy trying to calm her mind by quietly singing hymns. For some reason, this had little calming effect on me. I figured she had already given up; it was up to me now. I curled up a little tighter. When I was young and scared I would sing to myself. I started singing quietly so Kathy wouldn't hear through the howling wind and rigging. "Roadrunner, if he catches you, you're through. Roadrunner, if he catches you, you're through."
Hours later. Once we hit our next waypoint the wind and the seas died. The rest of the evening was spent coaxing myself out of the fetal position. Kathy only had to slap me once because of hysterics. Tara put it best: "Dad! It was fun and all sailing through the Tehuantepec, but I don't think I ever want to do it again."