Sunday, January 16, 2005

Report from the Forepeak: Our Money's Worth

Our Money's Worth

What would a sailing trip be without a few rough spots? Smooth sailing? What
fun would that be?

Last night's early watch (22:00 - 04:00) began like a honeymoon postcard -
quarter moon in a sky cloudless but for a few decorative cumulus, tops lit
pinky-orange tones by the last of the sun, off on the northern horizon,
stars by the fistful, calm sea and gentle following air. Didn't have to make
any adjustments to self-steering or sail all watch. In the last half hour,
though, I started having trouble seeing anything south of the boat. It felt
after a while that we were sailing along the edge of the world, so thorough
was the lack of anything at all off to port. Then everything astern started
following suit. By the time Achim came on at 04:00, it was pretty obvious
that we were being overhauled by a rather large, thick, dark, threatening -
if not actually evil - cloud. It was the great-grandfather of all the little
puffy Buffalo clouds (the Puffalo?) I had been chanting to on previous
nights to bring us a little wind and perhaps a shower or two. It appeared as
though the message might have been passed all the way up the line to the
home office, and the CEO him- or herself had come out to handle the order

The cloud swallowed us whole. It then proceeded to rain on our stately
parade. We weren't sure whether we should reef sails or not yet, the wind
remaining very light and seemingly unchanged in direction. This was probably
a cloud tactic to get us to relax our guard, which we did - somewhat. Rain
fell, gently at first. We battened down hatches and hung out on deck a while
to see what would happen next. We got wet and nothing much seemed to be
going on, so we went below. A word about the weather: Warm. Both wind and
rain. And soft and friendly. More cloud tactics.

I like to engage with the water, if it seems reasonably possible and not too
terribly uncomfortable to do so in whatever natural setting I find myself.
Often I chicken out, because of some failure of the comfort control or risk
management departments. But nearly as often I don't, and take the leap, into
lake, river, bay, ocean or creek. Here I was partly wet already, and
thinking "If you don't get out there and take advantage of this, you're
gonna wish you had." So I went outside to take a rain shower, stripped down
to my skivvies (kept those on so as not to shock the, what, fish?). Raised
arms to the sky and let the gentle rain rinse me. It wasn't quite
satisfying, though - not quite enough flow or volume to really feel washed.
Not to worry. Went back below decks, wind condition not having changed much,
to dry off. Achim went topside.

I was headed for bed when the hatch opened and Achim poked his head below,
and about seven gallons of driving rain came with him. "Coby," he asked,
"could you please come up and help reef?" Achim's a Horatio Hornblower type
skipper - always polite when giving orders, so that they sound more like
requesting cooperation, regardless of the situation. I went back on deck and
found all the fresh water in the world waiting for me. And the wind had
finally showed its colors, so that the fresh water component of the current
'natural setting' was moving mainly horizontally, from various directions.
In a fiftieth of the time it took earlier to become delicately dampened I
was soaked to the skin. Well, of course, this was admittedly an easier task
since I came on deck in only the aforementioned underwear and a flotation
jacket - but it wouldn't have mattered. Once over the initial shock at how
quickly the weather had gone from friendly to frenzied, I started to get, as
I am wont to do in these situations, giggly, followed by gleeful. It's a
weird reaction, but I enjoy it very much. I remind myself of Slim Pickens
riding the hydrogen bomb to glory at the very end of Dr. Strangelove.

We got mainsail double-reefed with no trouble. I stood at the mast afterward
coiling the main halyard and tidying up the reefing lines with the rain
pelting down, just grinning like a fool, when suddenly, with a lurch to
port, the mainsail poured about twenty gallons of fresh rainwater that had
been accumulating in its newly reefed folds onto my head. I cackled
gleefully. One of the Kodak moments. Another one would occur shortly. Achim
yelled from the cockpit "What's going on?" "Just playing with the water!"
says I. I found that the stuff tasted good. In fact, it would qualify,
without qualification, as the finest beverage I'd had to drink in - well, a
long time. I figured this filling and dumping phenomenon would probably
recur shortly, so I positioned myself strategically to benefit from the next
serving, with my mouth just under the place the last had issued from and
waited. Didn't have to wait long either, but the next round sluiced from a
couple folds lower, full onto my chest. My disappointed lips closed and I
looked down to see where the new source was, and as I did, the old one came
back on line, depositing its load on the top of my head. The scene was
straight out of early Loony Tunes. I heard an odd sound from the cockpit.
Our polite captain, it was, howling with mirth, wishing for a video camera.
I joined him, and we howled together into the gale, creating gales of
laughter that will be discovered, I'm sure, by future sailors who visit this
spot. The laughs will beget little chuckles that will land on their decks
and flop about, like flying fish.

We believe, in fact, that this storm is a resident of the area, not some
itinerant that blew through in the night. We are convinced of this because
the thing didn't appear on any of the half-dozen sources of weather news
that have served us amazingly well during all our travels so far. And
secondly, because it didn't seem to move at all, beyond the act of
enveloping us in its folds. After the initial blow, the wind started leading
us around by the nose. We were taken on a tour of all the dark
neighborhoods, which left us heading two knots per hour back the way we had
come. Suburbs. Bobbing around like the last apple in the tub at a large
Halloween Party, not enough wind to steer by, we took a break to dry off a
bit and wait for developments. I wound up passing out on my bunk (just
wanted to lie back for a second and shut my eyes), and woke to the sound of
our trusty friend the Iron Genny starting up. Achim had furled the jib, and
switched the main over to catch what turned out to be a fickle and useless
wind, and finally fired up the diesel determined to stay on course and get
out of this unsavory neighborhood. I fell back asleep - sounded like
everything was under control - and woke up three hours later with Erika
conveying the Captain's respects, and would I please join him on deck to set
the sails again? I did, we did, and are continuing on our course as I write
this. We looked back and saw, by the almost dark of the first light of 9:45
in the morning, the cloud we had been under, just sitting there, smirking,
waiting for the next hapless boat to come along. I suggested that the reason
we weren't aware of its presence was that we were looking at weather reports
instead of navigation charts. We have since checked and found no sign of the
thing, so I am taking this as an opportunity to warn everyone sailing the
Caribbean in the vicinity of 12°31'1N latitude by 56°46'8W longitude to
Beware! Copies of this will of course go to the appropriate government

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