Last night was a living hell. All I could do was piss and pray and try to keep my spirits from sailing to a sunken place.
I knew something was off when I stepped into the cockpit just after sunset. The taste of earth still in my mouth. I could see the stars and the yellow smile of the moon and I was all jazzed up to watch the celestial flight of fireballs in the annual Perseid meteor shower.
Then the wind blew an air that felt foreign. There was something odd. Something flat. Something off. It was as if it came from another, colder, far away part of the world. Some part of the world with penguins, dog sleds, igloos, and ice fishing. Some part of the world where people dress in polar bear fur, even in the summer. Some part of the world where the sun either never sets or never rises.
New sounds flooded into formation- creaks and bumps and bangs- that my ears have never heard before. My whole body had the sensation that insects were crawling across it. I felt sick with fear, the type of fear that should be feared, not swallowed.
I looked up. The sky turned into a haze and all that twinkles lost its luster. Luminescence honey mushroom, gone. Then it got jet black, as if an octopus had inked across the heavens. I couldn’t see boo turkey after that, the entire world vanished. Couldn’t tell if there were clouds and what they carried. Couldn’t tell starboard from port. Couldn’t dance with my own shadow no matter what jig I did.
I went into the cabin. I was pacing. I was squeezing. I was in a jungle and I had a lot of questions tangled up in my vines. Should I furl the jib more? Should I ease the main? Why did I shake the second reef and not put it back in before sunset?
Think woman think.
I was still thinking about what to do, when the squall punctured the atmosphere. Everything began thrashing. 27, 28, 29, 30 knots true and rising. It was gale force 7! White foam, breaking waves blowing in streaks, whole trees in motion, resistance felt when walking against the wind.
A boat the size of Juniper needs both reefs in for this. I’ve got so much canvas up that Juniper’s a kite. I ease her main and spill some air. She catches the crest of a wave and starts sliding with it at 6.6 knots speed through the water (STW) and I’m thinking that number is almost the sign of the beast. This is the work of the devil right here and that cold wind I felt just before, was blowing straight from hell.
All speeds were sustaining or rising and lord only knows what speed Juniper was traveling over ground (SOG). You know I love to surf, but this surf wasn’t fun. It didn’t feel right. It felt precarious, like one colliding motion from the wrong direction and Junie could fall horizontal off that wave hard.
Juniper has done this once before. One night in the North Pacific. A squall came and she was surfing 7 and 8 STW, but it felt different. One wave would set her down and another would lift her. It was more gentle. It made me giggle.
I was not giggling now. I’m still worried about the damn rig and this is in no way sailing conservatively. This is sailing idiotically, but I didn’t want to go up to the mast and drop down to the second reef among this violence of nature, it seemed more dangerous to do so, plus with my broken lazy jacks it’s a lot more involved to throw in or shake a reef.
So I’m in the cabin. I’ve got my ditch bag in my hand and I’m reciting incantations and gathering canned goods from the holes where the spiders live. I’m yelling at the witch in the galley sink and the banjo gospel singer along the way. I say, “Buckle up sisters! Get out on deck and do something useful for once!” For the first time in days, they were silent. And I scream, “Come on you orangutans!” Nothing. “Alright, hang on tight. We’re about to ride this one out.”
I’m just staring at the instruments, watching the wind and boat speed and praying for it to stop.
After fifteen minutes, I feel the wave drop Juniper down and the wind and sea subside to it their previous state of being.
It’s 9 p.m. I shove left over pasta into my mouth and lay down. I’m thinking how lucky I am. My friends on S/V Wilderness messaged that they were flying their spinnaker in a squall yesterday and that, “Ultimately, the 25kts, the rain and surfing at 16kts proved to be too much. Unlike an ephemeral flower which looses petal by petal, Mr code D (spinnaker) exploded in a flash of shredded Dacron.”
At least that didn’t happen to my jib, I think. I pass out. 11:00 p.m. I wake up. It’s happening all over again and I’m still the same lunatic.
“Dear God, I made a mistake. I should have put the reef in before sunset, please don’t let this boat be my coffin. I love you, but I’m not ready to come home yet. Oh and please let the sun rise extra early today and please let Pluto return.”
The squall stops. I pass out. 1:00 a.m. I wake up. It’s happening again. It stops. I pass out. 4:00 a.m. I receive a message from Wilderness, “How are you doing girl?”
I respond, “Massive squalls here all night. Have too much main up. Pissing and praying. FML. How about y’all?”
They said they were in the same conditions 100 NM southwest of me. They said they broke their lazy jacks when they dropped their main. They are flying jib only now.
I fall back asleep. 5:00 a.m. I wake up. It’s happening again and this fifth time, it’s happening like it has never happened before!
I’m seeing true wind speeds of 35 plus. Junie’s surfing on a big wave, I see 9 knots STW. The rig is shaking from the top of the mast to the keel. The jib sounds like a massive pile of birds that just found a school of fish and are fighting for the feast.
I can’t stay in the cabin. I suit up. The windvane isn’t holding course, Juniper has rounded up to a close reach. I unlock the helm. It takes the lioness in me to get her back on course. I lock the helm and go to furl the jib. Lioness needed again, it’s hard to pull against the weight of the wind. Juniper rounds up again. I hand steer until it all subsides. I don’t know how long it lasted. Ten years, twenty, and entire lifetime?
When it was all said and done, there was not enough wind left to fly a paper jet and the main was flogging from side to side and with my busted lazy jacks on port side, the foot of the sail had unwrapped itself and was a flapper girl on her way to ripping. I crawled up to the bashing main, with three lines hanging from my teeth. I squatted like a frog at the base of the boom and bunched up the foot of the sail starting at the mast, then wove each line through the grommets.
The sun came up. I let the boat drift wherever it wanted and I didn’t give a damn where that was. I slept for three hours and woke up backwards.
Today has been calm. I’m traveling slow. I don’t care if the wind stays at 10 knots apparent and a squall never comes, I’m going up at sunset to throw that second reef in. I’ll take my time. I’ll crawl across this sea tonight if I have to.
Ok the second reef is in. The sun has set. The cold air is creeping up. Good night moonbeams!
P.S.- Happy birthday Aunt Tish!