“Leeeessssssslie…Leslie. Help.” The sound of an unfamiliar voice, drooping and quiet woke me from my pre-watch nap. I didn’t so much hear and understand what was said as my subconscious felt something wrong. I peek toward the cockpit through the companion way door and see Andrew, slumped over on the beanbag.
“What!? What’s wrong?” Fear making my voice shrill. I jump out of bed, run through Sonrisa’s cabin and grab my lifejacket harness hanging by the door. “Andrew. ANDREW? What’s wrong?”
He labors to lift his head, but just barely, it looks so heavy. His eyes are still half closed. “Lesssslieee….I think I’m passing out…” He drops his head and his eyes again. Then, he squirms his long body sideways and sticks his head beneath Sonrisa’s sprayskirt. He vomits over the edge, his poor body cringing with each heave.
“Ooooh! It’s okay, it’s okay! Sonrisa and I have you. Don’t worry.” I tell him, scrambling with my lifejacket and sitting next to him. I rub and pat his back. Why? WHY is he passing out? Why is he sick? What is wrong? I am looking him over to try to get some sort of clue as to what is happening. My mind jumps to the worse. I have always worried he would have a heart attack at sea and I would have to sail his dead body to port. This cannot be happening. I consider making a medical Mayday call, UnWind is within VHF distance, but what could they do anyway?
He squirms back to lay his head on Sonrisa’s cockpit combing. “Water…” He tells me. So, I find water.
He takes a sip and lays his head back down. Closes his eyes. “Are you seasick, Lovie?” I just want him to talk to me. I pat him and talk to him. Soon, he is squirming to hang over the edge again. “Seriously, now, what am I supposed to do?” I ask Myself, firmer this time, as if talking sternly will set loose an idea or two. But I come up with nothing at this point, so I wait. He shimmies back into the cockpit and closes his eyes.
“I think I passed out.” He says, the words are still halting, but slightly more coherent.
“Yes, I think you did. But why? Do you know why?”
He sighs, and thinks. “I was pulling in the genoa sail. I smashed my foot, I think.” I look at his foot. He is holding it up away from the floor, as if it hurts to touch anything. Okay. I start to feel a little better. He may have hurt his foot, but he probably isn’t dying.
I stick my face closer to his foot, and he yelps: “don’t touch it!”
“Okay, okay! I won’t.” I sit back up, and just wait. A bit later, he is coming around and able to formulate words again. Apparently, his foot slid on the wet cockpit sole while he was pulling in the sail. It pinned itself beneath a wooden bracket that is used to hold the cockpit table when in port, and when he tried to pull it up it was smashed/trapped beneath the bracket just long enough to hurt like hell. Out he went. I think he was coming around when he called me up.
Soon, the drama is over, and I send Andrew to bed an hour early. We settle into our final night watch of a four night trip. This trip has been another challenge.
The first day started nicely enough. The waves were calm and the was light wind. We had the bird I named Goldilocks join us that evening. She couldn't find where she best wanted to sit; she tried the boom, the main sail, the kitchen hatch, the spinnaker pole and the life line before she finally settled down on the front deck. I think she found a spot good enough for about an hour when all of a sudden, the wind piped up and forced me to wrestle with the sails. All the flapping and flogging disturbed her, and Goldilocks was gone.
The wind was supposed to develop from the East/South East, but I kicked Goldilocks out of her spot because the wind decided to come from the Southwest instead. Instead of a downwind reach, at 1:00 a.m., in darkness lit by a bright moon, I had to rejigger everything to go upwind instead.
We sailed upwind and up current in 20 knots of wind for the entire second day, requiring us to motor sail. We listen to the engine chug along, while we keep all of our sails hoisted to make sufficient way against the current. Every now and then, the bilge pump runs, causing us to resume a search for a small leak we are struggling to locate. On the morning of our third day, the waves started beating us up from the side.
Tonight these side-on waves have reached higher peaks than I can remember sailing. Maybe our afternoon shenanigans are making the waves only seem bigger. Sonrisa continues to sail happily, but beneath the overcast sky, the waves are as black and shiny as a dilated pupil. They mound up, snarl their lip at the crest and just as I think they are going to crash down on top of Sonrisa, they roll beneath her.
I put the companionway boards in, just in case a wave does poop us. I don’t want a flood of water rushing down below. But then, I feel utterly alone out in the cockpit. In the dark, I think and rethink what would be if the worst happened to Andrew. I curl myself into the corner of the cockpit, right next to the door and beneath the dodger. I can sail Sonrisa by myself. Andrew can also sail her by himself. This has always been a great comfort to both of us.
The waves have a 7 wave set, five waves that are normally sized, two giants close together, one right after the other. I watch from my tight little corner as the five waves go by, I brace myself as the first giant picks us up. Sonrisa rushes down the backside of the wave and I hold my breath in the trough. It is in this trough that Sonrisa dips and swings toward the second wave and I worry it will catch us at the wrong angle. My harness tether is attached, but I grip the dodger frame as an extra precaution. It’s not so much a worry about falling out, but what if Sonrisa flips over? I want to come back upright with her. I know she would be annoyed to hear me worrying like this. These waves are nothing for her, but for me, tonight they are terrifying.
I listen to an audiobook to pass the time and distract my attention between the sound of my “watch-watch” alarm. (My stopwatch I use to alert me in 15 minute intervals that it is time to poke my head above the dodger, take a good look around, and check Sonrisa’s course.) My book, entitled The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, proposes that all lives, goals, ambitions come along with tradeoffs - even lives involving tropical beaches and rum based cocktails - and you must decide which set of miseries are you willing to withstand. Which miseries do you choose not to give “a f*ck” about?
You want to be a fancy pants lawyer? You must learn not to get twisted up about thumbing your way through 25 bankers boxes of construction documents and marking down your life in six minute increments. You just have to do it to get the reward.
You want to be a circumnavigator in a little sailboat? You must learn not to care about seasickness, uncomfortable waves, fear, and lack of normal conveniences. The book seems like an appropriate pep talk for me tonight. A “quit whining, get to it, you chose this life” sort of pep talk. I admit we enjoyed two really unique and beautiful sunsets on this passage. So, there is the good with the bad.
I stretch my watch out as long as I can, but I don’t make my full 6 hour shift. Fear is an exhausting influence, and I didn’t get my pre-watch nap. I stay on watch from 6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m., then I wake Andrew. He seems fully recovered now, though his foot is a bit sore. I set my alarm for 2:00 a.m.
As soon as my head hits the pillow, I sleep, but it is fitful. Through my sleep I can hear all of Sonrisa’s contents: food, spare parts, dishes, mugs, everything slam and roll in rapid succession. As usual, we tried our best to wedge everything in with sponges, rags, and towels. That strategy works in a normal sea but with these waves there isn’t anything you can do to keep things quiet. The wave bombs are hitting the hull again. At least I am not responsible right now. I rest.
I take another watch at 2:30 a.m. Andrew introduces me to Doug the Shit-Bird, a large sea boobie with fluffy white breast feathers who has roosted on the bedroom hatch. He rests in wave set 1-5. When we hit the two large waves, he raises up on his toes, to keep his body balanced over the most level part of Sonrisa’s tilt. Sometimes, he needs to stretch his wings up and out to maintain his balance, like a gymnast wobbling on the beam. “Woah,” he seems to say. After regaining equanimity, he looks around as if to see if anyone has noticed… or to see if anyone is planning to eat him. He is good company. We sail along together, both of us scowling as rainstorms drench Sonrisa’s deck then leave.
As the sun lightens the sky from grey to lighter grey, I pull out my camera in an attempt to take a picture of my grump-faced companion. I peek my lens around the corner. Doug notices me, stretches neck skyward and his eyes grow wide. I see in his eyes, he did not previously sense the other living creatures on this boat. With a squawk of displeasure, he takes his leave. In his place, a gift. A gift from Doug, the Shit-Bird. What could it be?