“Are we going to die out here?” Crystal inquires with a touch of fear in her eyes.
“No, no. We are fine.” Leslie responds, huddled under her foul weather gear soaked by wall after wall of rain.
It is day three of five on the passage from Ua Pou, Marquesas to Manihi, Tuamotus, andthis has been a difficult passage. Everyone started out with high enough spirits, but Crystal was nervous and Kevin was a little green around the gills from the start.
Upon departure there was no wind at all. The sea was glassy like a lake and I jittered along under motor. The sky performed a beautiful rainbow dance, and dolphins came to visit. Crystal and Andrew sat on the deck and tried to reach their feet down to pet the dolphins. One of the dolphins would look up and over his shoulder, swooping in my bow wake, taking a running start and jumping to try to meet the distance. “Dolphins out of port are good luck!” Kevin explains to Crystal, and this is true. They are good luck, but they also like to keep you company when the sea is testing you. On this passage, Crystal and Kevin will be tested.
The first night watch was filled with stars and no moon. Leslie kept hoping the ocean would settle just enough to reflect all the stars, and it almost did but a haze of ripples obscured the globe just enough that the stars were like a mist on top of the water rather than a direct reflection. She sat on my combing watching a ridge of neon green phosphorescence curl away from my hull. Crystal nestled into the beanbag listening to her audiobook.
The second night watch brought some rain. It wasn’t too much, but it was an omen for what was coming the next four days. By morning, the wind was up and I was sailing along. Finally, my engine was silenced. The waves were building a little, 90 degrees from my port side. They would approach, lift my hull one way, roll under and lift me the other way. We swing side to side, and Kevin becomes more and more pale. He suffers in silence, but I know he is miserable. As the sun goes down on the second night, the wind is a boisterous twenty knots and I am having a great time sailing along. But now, the waves are coming side on with a few from the front and a few from the back as well. We are rocking, jumping, swinging and bouncing.
Crystal and Leslie were on deck for their night watch when Kevin crawls through the companion way moaning with nausea, wild eyed with frustration. “Aauughh! I can’t be down there anymore. I’m going to puke. I can’t breathe.” Crystal helps him lay out on the beanbags. Kevin closes his eyes and lays back, breathing and concentrating on keeping his cookies in place. His body is shaking a bit from the anxiety and irritation. Crystal and Leslie set him up with a pillow and a blanket. Crystal feeds him nausea medicine, sea sickness medicine and a Zanax. He seems to settle down a bit and Leslie sends out a little request to the sea to go easy on him. But, she knows better. Peeking out from my cockpit, Leslie can see a black squall cloud approaching and fears it is about to rain. She gathers foul weather jackets and spreads them over Kevin.
And rain it does, dousing everyone on deck and forming “cool-pools” in the beanbags. The squall comes and goes, and Leslie makes a pleading request that the rain stay away so Kevin can stay on deck and dry out. Twenty minutes later, another rain comes through; then another and another. By morning, the sky is a thick grey and the rain is almost continuous. Kevin is laying in a pool of water soaked from the top and the bottom. HIs toes are curled around a shelf on the bench, trying to steady himself in the rolling, but otherwise, he has not moved all night.
By the next afternoon, the waves are slightly more to my stern and I am still sailing along in good wind. The rain continues. Kevin suffers in silence. He hasn’t eaten anything for 24 hours, and he is soaked to the core. This is warm tropical rain, but eventually this will become a concern for hypothermia. Crystal is taking good care of him. She helps him into dry clothes during a break in the clouds, but fifteen minutes later he is soaked again. The rain will just not let up.
Leslie and Andrew consult. Can we turn around? No, that will just be upwind. It will take longer to go back than it is to keep going. Crystal and Kevin are experiencing the profound difficulty of a passage: once you are out there, you have little choice but to stick it out. The crew decides Kevin has to go down below, whether he likes it or not. He agrees, and the four sailors start the process of getting him into the bed. I try to hold as steady as I can, “steady and smooth, steady and smooth” I say to myself. But it’s to no avail. The sea is still a jumble, and I have no choice but to ride it. Kevin finally loses his cookies in the transfer from on deck to the bed below. Kevin is plied with more sea sickness meds and more sedatives.
Time marches so slowly. Sometimes the sailing is good, the wind is up and the waves move behind us. Other times, a squall comes through and we lose all wind. We are soaking wet most of the time. Rain, rain, rainbow, rain. I don’t mean to make my crew miserable, I really don’t. I try so hard to sail smoothly, make it easy on them, keep them safe. I want to be thought of as sea-kindly, strong and safe. But, I also know this is just part of the process; the sea tests everyone at one point or another.
Toward the last 24 hours of the passage, Andrew and Leslie start calculating the speed needed to reach our destination at exactly 11:30 a.m. This timing is critical. Manihi is our first atoll landfall. We will need to shoot a narrow pass, surrounded by coral. It is so narrow and shallow that the currents create a flowing river complete with white water rapids. We must undertake the pass at slack tide (the thirty minute space when incoming tide switches to an outgoing tide or vice-versa) otherwise, we could get stuck and pushed onto the reef. My crew is not likely to die in a circumstance like that, but I might. Coral is known for crushing holes into fiberglass. If we miss the timing window, the only thing we can do is hove-to (set the sails reverse of each other to stop me in place) and wait the six+ hours until the tide switches again. We cannot enter a coral infested atoll in the dark, so if we miss the 5:30 p.m. slack tide, we will have to hove-to for the rest of the night. I know Andrew and Leslie care about me as much as I care about them, so they will do what is best.
Crystal and Kevin are both counting the days, hours, even minutes until we arrive in Manihi. Andrew and Leslie had given them an estimated arrival time, but the reality is that we must always do the prudent thing, even it if requires more time. Leslie and I both fret about the crew’s mental health if for some reason we are delayed in arrival. Leslie and Andrew turn on the engine and push directly through a headwind for the remaining 16 hours.
Mahihi appears out of nowhere when we are five miles away. The tallest thing on the atoll are the palm trees. Crystal and Kevin both perk up, happy to be alive. We sail the remaining distance in the 6000 foot deep water just offshore. We arrive at the mouth of the entrance a bit too early, so we circle waiting for the tide to die down.
I don’t know about my crew, but when I assess our passage I see great success. Crystal’s seasickness training worked like a charm. She didn’t get seasick, and she kept her anxiety in check the entire trip. Kevin was a champ. Despite full blown misery of the worst seasickness I can remember, he suffered in silence and waited. It’s a win when you can say: you only puked once! Andrew and Leslie are fine, though a little exhausted from watching the misery, and I am in tact with no broken parts and pieces. We are a little soggy and tired from the rain, but otherwise we are all just fine. See? Success.