19 July 2012
Imagine you're a sailor. You and your boat are participating in a long distance single-handed sailboat race across the Pacific. You both have a symbiotic relationship because without her, you are unable to exist. Without you, she is unable to make port; you need each other. Life on board is busy. The wind vane autopilot allows you the luxury to attend to everything else on the boat. Between constant maintenance, you are keeping up with sail changes necessitated by changing weather, navigation, strategy, eating and rest. By law you are required to stand 24-hour watch, but that is impossible. You must sleep - while the boat sails on the course you set her - into total darkness. As an experienced sailor, you know the rules about keeping your harness on and yourself tethered to the boat at all times while on deck. You know the penalty; suddenly falling overboard and watching your boat sail away at top speed into the darkness. You know you will die. For the last couple nights, the Vic-Maui fleet has been getting updates on the sailing vessel Bela Bartok, a single hander participating in a long distance race across the Pacific which is now presumed "abandoned." She's been reported 300 miles NE of Honolulu making a slow speed and course roughly in line with the incoming Vic Maui race fleet. Our race started with a waning moon and I think we've had moonlight for maybe 3 night's tops. It's also been mostly overcast, which means that when it gets dark, it gets really dark. Not something this Alaskan is used to seeing in the summer. As we sail blindly careening though the darkness at top speed, the only way to steer is to look straight down at the compass. When you look up, the only thing you can see is the wake from your own boat and the speed is accentuated in the night. Every bit of common sense in your body tells you this is slightly insane, but you have many more nights ahead. You can't see and that's that. You try not to think about the things you could hit out here; a log, a submerged container, an unlit ship. But tonight has my mind on Bela Bartok. In addition to avoiding collision with her, my heart goes out to whoever her skipper may be and hope that he/she is merely incapacitated and not lost at sea. Until the authorities retrieve the vessel, they will not knowÂ...and tonight Bela Bartok sails on under her own command.