Chapter Twenty Three (continued)




Forever Ours maintained a constant heel into the steady 18-knot breeze.  Joyce lay on the deck on the low side, wedging herself between a railing stanchion and the raised cockpit and dipped her hand into the delightfully warm water.  She made a rudder with her hand, allowing the moving water to massage her fingers.  Her ear tuned into the whispering flow of the water along the polished fiberglass hull.  The water below, a deep midnight blue in the shadow of the hull, was framed above by the graceful arc of the great genoa, billowing out under the pressure of the air coming in off the port bow.  Looking up at the blue sky above, and then around at the vast expanse of ocean that surrounded them, she realized for the first time that necessity had offered her a view of one of life’s most beautiful experiences.  Desperation had brought them to this point, but God once more had turned into pure joy a forced change of lifestyle.   She offered God a silent prayer of thanksgiving, fully appreciating the odd fact that, had she had a choice to make in their circumstances, it never would have included a sail to a distant port.  And they never would have had the opportunity to experience this facet of life.


“Care for some company?” Earl stood above her with two mugs in his hands.


“Of course.  Isn’t this wonderful, Earl?  Who would have expected something so bad to turn into something so good?”

“I know.”  He offered her one of the cups and sat cross-legged next to her facing the water.  They sipped the hot liquid in easy silence.  He looked aloft to inspect the telltales on the genoa and main.   Noticing a drooping inboard telltale, he wrapped the free end of the jib sheet around a winch with his prosthetic arm, freed up the jib cleat, and paid out the sheet slightly.  The boat responded instantly with a sharper heel.  They were maintaining a close reach, a point of sail at which the boat excelled, proudly displaying a bone of white as the hull sliced through the sea.


“You’re becoming a real salt,” Joyce remarked.  “Not a bad job of one-armed paper hanging.”  They both laughed.


“Somebody else’s becoming a salt, too,” he replied, looking up at Cathy, who was handling the helm with both intensity and joy.  Her small-muscle control over the joystick was nothing short of amazing.  Her desire to be useful won over the hearts of the four adults, who gave most of the helmsmanship work to her.  She would have been perfectly content to keep at the task 24-7 if her body didn’t need sleep.


“Sounds pretty quiet upstairs,” Stephen said to his wife as they lay on their bunk together.  He and Cindy were down below taking advantage of the relatively calm water to catch up on their rest.


“I just heard one of the sails getting sheeted out.  Everything’s okay.”  Apprehensive at first with the delegation of sailing chores to their novice friends, they had become somewhat more comfortable lately with the realization that Earl and Joyce, and Cathy too, which was a big surprise, were becoming valuable shipmates.


Stephen yawned.  “We’ll have to take baths soon,” he said.  “I’m starting to notice myself.”


“Me too.  But the weather’s so perfect for sailing right now that I think we’d better wait.” Fresh water was too precious to waste on personal hygiene.  They would need to douse the sails and let the boat drift slowly while they all jumped into the water and rinsed themselves off.


“Okay by me.  But don’t complain.”  He laughed and gave her a tickle under her arm.  “I’m getting hungry.  Let’s make some chow.”


“Do you smell what I smell?” Earl commented as he motioned down below.  “I’m famished.”  Cathy gave a squeal in assent.  Most of their meals were eaten cold to preserve their precious propane, but this morning the air was heavy with the smell of frying bacon.  “Last of the eggs,” Cindy called up.  “Enjoy them while you can.”


“The clouds look like soft pebbles.”


“That’s a good way of putting it,” Stephen said to Joyce.  “A pebbled sky is a harbinger of changing weather.  Sometime this afternoon we’ll be seeing heavier clouds, and probably some more wind.”  He ducked below and returned with the logbook.  “The barometer’s heading down, so we’re certainly in for rougher weather.”  He entered the latest barometer reading into the log along with the time of reading.  “We’d best be keeping a good eye out for changing conditions.”


Over the course of the next several hours as they maintained their heading their point of sail changed from a close reach to a beam reach, and under a strengthening wind they doused the jib and took in a reef on the mainsail.  The clouds built and lowered and the sky darkened.  The boat took on a wobbly motion that Cathy found difficult to compensate for, and she vented her frustration in a series of angry moans.


The wind stiffened and the sky darkened.  “We’d best head below,” Stephen shouted to Earl.  “Help me douse the main first.”  Cindy handed Cathy to Joyce and took over the helm.  She steered the boat directly into the wind to luff the main as Stephen and Earl took in the sail and bundled it tightly against the tug of the wind.  Earl, having been coached enough to know how to help, fetched a canvas bucket from a bow locker and rigged it to make a sea anchor.  Cindy, in the meantime, dogged down the helm to maintain the rudder amidships.  “Go on down!” Stephen shouted over the low moan of the wind as Earl tossed the bucket off the bow.  Stephen took a final moment to rig a fore-to-aft lifeline in case something topside demanded attention, and then swung himself down below and slammed the hatch shut.


The boat was now drifting backwards to leeward under the force of the wind on the hull.  Stephen had discussed this eventuality with the others under calmer conditions.  He could have chosen the other available alternative of “lying ahull”, or unfurling a tiny section of the jib, strengthened in that area just for that purpose, to serve as a storm trysail, at the same time setting the rudder to a constant turn and allowing the boat to drift without the sea anchor.  But, as he had told the others, sometimes the boat will broach while lying ahull, a very dangerous condition that can cause the boat to turn turtle or ship water and sink.


“Of course,” he told them as they huddled below, hanging onto whatever they could find to brace themselves against the bucking craft, “it’s kind of ‘you pays your money and you takes your choice’, because nothing is certain in a storm.  A rogue wave could catch us broadside and we could broach this way too.  Or worse yet, we could come up against a wave so steep that we’d pitchpole, like looping a plane, but a lot more violent.  Pitchpoling always stops halfway around and never ends well.”


“Gee, thanks,” Joyce remarked sarcastically.   “All we need right now is a little scare to wake us up.”  Even Cathy, who was beginning to turn green, croaked a laugh.  “Thank God that we have God.”


“Amen to that.”


Within a few minutes Cathy was terribly seasick.  All they could do was place a large bowl in the proximity of her head and clean up the mess with rags where she missed.  She curled up into a tight little ball.  The smell of vomit threatened to bring the others into the same condition.  Stephen took charge: “Right now, we’re in the hands of God.  We’re not solving anything by hovering around Cathy getting sicker by the second.”  He reached into a deck-level cabinet and brought out a gallon jug of a nondescript red wine.  He looked at them.  “What?” he asked.  “Oh.”  He laughed.  “We do have a more genteel wine for toasting the sunset.  Do you see a sunset right now?  These are emergency rations.”  He poured a generous amount into four cups and gave one to each of them.  “Drink up,” he said.  “This is the best seasick remedy available.”  Despite the urgency of the situation he couldn’t bring himself to feed alcohol to a child.  He gave her another Dramamine tablet and had her drink it down with sips of water.  She continued to retch but brought nothing up.  Earl picked her up and held her, straining to dampen out with his legs the rocking of the boat.  He watched her as she eventually quieted down and fell asleep, and then placed her gently in her small cot in the forward berth.  Despite her fears, Joyce gave him a loving glance as he returned to the saloon with wobbly legs.


The wind died down late the next morning, and by nightfall that waves had subsided.  The night was clear; stars shone brightly overhead in a spectacular display, the likes of which Earl and Joyce had never seen on land.  “It’s the absence of all the lighting and whatnot that one has on land, even away from the cities,” he remarked.  Later that night the moon came up and gave them a brighter view of the heavens.  When they returned to their bunks, Earl and Joyce fell asleep immediately, contented with their new life.


The following morning presented an unlimited expanse of blue sky.  They all came topside to join Stephen, who was manning the helm.  They reveled in the graceful movement of the boat, relieved to experience once again the absence of violent motion.  The air was noticeably warmer.  “Your sails are out more,” Earl remarked to Stephen.


“Yeah.  The wind has shifted a bit.  We had to change our point of sail to a beam reach to maintain our course.  Which is fine with me, because on a beam reach the wind direction is broadside to the boat.  It’s the fastest point of sail.”


“Oh?  That surprises me.  The boat isn’t heeling as much, and it seems calmer.”


“I know.  It’s a bit counter-intuitive.  Sailing closer into the wind creates a lot of force, but less of it is useful in pushing the boat through the water.  The boat works harder and makes more of a fuss, creating the illusion that it’s accomplishing more.”


“Thanks.  I just learned something.”


“Good.  There’s lots more where that came from.”    





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