IT’S THE WATER THAT I FEAR

The wind is sublime and the swell tender. I’m watching the sun drop down a sea glass sky with clouds so perfect and cumulus that this could be a painting.

I just received the below dispatch from 22 South, and I’m thanking my lucky stars that I‘m not in that mess: “Mate I’ve been having 25-30 kts for the last 48 hours and it keeps going strong. I’m wing on wing with 2 reefs and a mini triangle pole out, waves coming from everywhere turning the boat too much, and because of that I’ve been hand steering, a bit paranoid about frying the autopilot, I’m flying but bloody hell it’s uncomfortable! A wave just literally came inside the boat, through those ventilation things on deck, it was like a waterfall, all the couch is wet…oh well! Hang in there team!”

I feel guilty that I’m in paradise over here, while the other boats flounder against the abyss.

8 p.m. I decided to keep only one reef in the main tonight, to maintain speed, but the jib is significantly reduced. I am laying down on the settee, about to start my 1 hour sleep cycle.

9 p.m. I am in the cockpit checking up on the world. Something is brewing. The sky is milk and the cumulus clouds have risen to cumulonimbus. I’m grateful that the golden light of moon is beaming through it all.

I’m looking around to see where the squall is coming from and if it’s going to hit me. Best I can tell there are many squalls coming at me from every point on the compass rose. Oh heavens no! Why did I not put that second reef in?

9:20 p.m. The squall is here. The boat speed just spiked up to 8 knots STW (speed through the water.) I don’t like it. I’m furling in the jib.

I just got the jib in all the way and Juniper is still moving at 6.5 knots. I see 20 plus knots apparent wind speed. Rain is pricking my body. I am frost. I want to be back beneath my blanket. I want to be staring at a still lagoon with sand beneath my feet and the taste of a fresh coconut in my mouth. I want to be in a hot air ballon floating above. I want a little buddy aboard this ship, mollusk where art thou?

10:00 p.m. The first squall just passed. I am heading up to the mast to put in the second reef.

10:30 p.m. I can’t get the reef in. The main is getting too backwinded to drop. I’ve tried three times. This has only happened once before. What is the matter? Think, Olivia, think! There is too much wind in the sail for it to drop. Yes. Why? Because I am downwind, but I’ve always reefed downwind before, in gales bigger than this. I have to get the air out of the main!

11:00 p.m. I message Captain Brandon on S/V Wilderness. “Dude. So tired. Can’t think straight. Can’t get my main down enough to get the second reef in. It keeps backwinding. What am I doing wrong?” Brandon writes, “Go upwind.”

That doesn’t make any sense. I’ve never done that before. If I’m sailing downwind, I’ve always reefed downwind. I consult all of my sailing books. They all say go upwind or on a close reach and luff the main to reef. Have I gone insane? I have never gone upwind in the trades just to throw a reef in.

11:20 p.m. Here’s another squall slapping the light out of me.

12:00 a.m. The squall has vanished into the next dimension. I guess I will try this new-to-me-technique that is supposedly the one-and-only technique for reefing underway. The engine is still giving me the red light, so it’s me and Ruby, my hydrovane. I’m gonna try the close reach, luff main approach, since there is no way Ruby can hold course into the wind while I run up to the mast and drop.

I’m heading up into the wind and the world around me is getting more turnt up as I go. Waves smacking me. Wind screaming profanities. Man on the moon laughing like a hyena. Birds flying backwards. Fish with evil eyes. And I promise you that the clouds just shaped themselves into letters that form the words, “Welcome to Paradise, Baby.”

It’s a freaking circus, I’m not going up to the bow to reef the main in upwind conditions like this! Nobody in their right mind would do that. Right? Am I in my right mind?

This is all a dream. I am not at sea right now. I am in a firefly flooded forest. I hear the sound of cicadas, frogs, crickets. I catch whiffs of the bleeding hearts of spring; honeysuckle, rose, lavender.

I fall back off the wind. Olivia, you have done this 300 times before. Think! I can’t feel my face and you want me to think right now?

12:21 a.m. I’m in the midst of another squall. While the squall is churning the world into a seething state of fizz, I put the Coconut Wind Goddess back inside and wash off all the makeup that I had painted onto my face especially for the wind. The wind is here, and this wind is more than enough.

1 a.m. The wind has sort of mellowed, but the rain is still dropping deep. I keep Juniper on a broad reach and harden the main sheet in as much as it will let me, because that’s one way to suck the wind out of sails, right? Either over trim or ease to spill air in relationship to the point of sail that you are on.

I tether myself to the jacklines. I’m praying prayers my lips have never known. I crawl up to the mast. I let the halyard loose. The main drops like the brown leaves of fall. The second reef is in.

That’s how I’ve always done it! I just had the main too eased when I first went up there. I don’t know if I made this technique up or what. I swear I didn’t. I swear somebody told me to reef this way when I’m offshore on a reach. Anyway, right or wrong, it works for me.

See, I am a clown. I make mistakes every day and I don’t always know what I’m doing or if I’m doing it right. I just know when I’m by myself I have to get creative, I have to find the safest way to accomplish something. If my halyard and reeflines ran into the cockpit, I’d do an upwind drop, but they don’t, so forget that noise.

2 a.m. I close my eyes. I am shivering. Waves are beating on the hull. It sounds like I’m hitting glaciers. The waves want in. The waves want me. The waves want all of me. Alarm is set for one hour.

3 a.m. Alarm goes off. The hydrovane isn’t holding course. I’m hand-steering.

4 a.m. I lay down for another nap. The last pamplemouse looks like a winged ghost as it rolls around in the food hammock and the fresh water tanks sound like steel drums.

5 a.m. I’m up again. Hand steering sometimes. Making coffee. Waiting for the sun. Just received this message on my Inreach from my weather router, “There could be some showers today, but no big squalls in your area.” Me, “Ok thank you! Squalls here last night and now. Confused sea.” Them, “There is a high pressure system building to your south which will push confused seas towards the north. In higher trade winds watch for more frequent, lighter squalls (similar to CA to Hawaii weather.). Me, “Ok thank you and thank you for reminding me that I saw similar conditions on the way to Hawaii. It always feels like the first time when the sea gets consistently wild like this.”

7:22 a.m. The sun is rising! I can see the waves. The sea is drunk. White horses galloping everywhere. Waves as big as Texas coming from every which way to Sunday. When I’m in the trough, the waves aft are as tall as the bimini.

Today is a precipitous cacophony!

Waves breaking right under the stern. Into the cockpit. Over the bow. Juniper fish-tailing from side to side, as she is tossed from one wave to the next. Spinning like a dolphin. Catching air.

8:00 a.m. I am jibing towards the north west and I just noticed that some waves are so windblown that their crests are glass bottle green.

9:30 a.m. A wave just threw everything from one side of the boat to the other. Seashells, coins, feathers, sage.

11:30 a.m. I am jibing back towards the south west, with a better angle.

Also I just witnessed a flying fish commit suicide. I think the waves were too much.

I am considering now strapping the flying fish fleet to the stern of the boat and having them swim east, so that they create a sea anchor.

12:15 p.m. My honey just spilled all over the cabin floor. I’ll have to make more.

1:00 p.m. The hydrovane is loosing course at least once an hour and I have to help it correct. I have it on all it’s highest settings. Not sure why this is happening. And the depth sounder alarm is going off constantly, that’s how lifted by the sea Juniper is getting.

1:45 p.m. I just screamed Psalm 107:30 at the top of my lungs. I haven’t slept but three hours in the past 24. I haven’t eaten anything but two crackers and a cup of coffee. Praying for the swell to sober up a smidge.

6:00 p.m. A wave just tossed Juniper all the way on her starboard side. I am down below. All I can see is ocean out the portholes.

Juniper popped up quick, but damn this sea is intense. The wind doesn’t bother me, nor the squalls; it’s the water that I fear today.

This is all I have for you today my friends. I’d like to try and sleep a wink before dusk.

With Love,
Olivia

5 Replies to “IT’S THE WATER THAT I FEAR”

  1. Sleep would be a good thing. At the moment, you are nearly due south of the Rose Island atoll. And heading right on course. Hang in there!

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  2. Hanging on every word as I visualize the surroundings of your night and day at sea. Feeling the discomfort of my heart pounding in fear. What brings back some peace for me, is you were able to write to us, thank heavens. Love, mom xoxo

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  3. Let’s see . . . remember to eat, sleep, navigate, be hyper-vigilant, steer, watch for potential gear failure, be extra alert/guarded against personal injury, and, oh yes . . . is the GoPro still working . . . and is it handy?

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