Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Casualty At Sea

We didn't lose Suzi, but Suzi lost it.

I think the Beach Boys summed up the trip from Vanuatu to The Solomon Islands when they sang: "This is the worst trip, I've ever been on." We ripped the headsail on the first day when the fierce winds and waves rounded the boat into the maelstrom. It turned us around and flogged the hell out of the genoa. Ok. No problem. I rolled it away and committed ourselves to sailing 400+ miles with only a main sail. The sea conditions were appalling. We had regular squalls of 40 knot winds, torrential rains which brought zero visibility, huge breaking waves, and a new leak at the rudder. Suzi's crying jag started as soon as we left the protected waters of Luganville. She was quickly reduced to a sobbing mass. She was inconsolable and incomprehensible. Something snapped, and she would tell you the same thing. She just lost her nerve. I don't know how else to describe it. She went from asset to liability in the first few hours. And this is the same girl that lived through the 5 day nightmare that was our sail to Palmerston from a year before. This is the same Suzi that sailed to New Zealand with me. It just doesn't make any sense. But we're working on it. If you feel moved to do so, give her your support @ suziroberts1@yahoo.co.uk. Although she's doing better, she could really use a pep talk.

Then I noticed a new leak at the rudder and wondered when it was going to fall off, or when the autopilot was going to quit with all the new noises it was making. We were at such an angle of heel that we couldn't pump out the overflowing toilet. We were scared, and exhausted, and unable to eat - for 4 days. Sometimes this trip just sucks.

I'm telling you, sleep deprivation while under life threatening conditions will make you dig deep. It's as if sleep and the sea are good friends because they are both trying to kill you. Like cohorts in an attempted crime. Just one little doze could be a critical mistake, but it's so tempting when you're that exhausted. It's a frightful realization when you catch yourself talking out loud to calm your panic. I'm an atheist who repeatedly mumbled "Please, no more" when the next squall line marched in from the rear. At 05:00 I could hear myself talk through the final hour of darkness with the words: "Just let the sun come up, please let the sun rise. I'll feel better when the sun comes up." Who was I talking to? Me. That inner me, the one deep inside that is all you have left to rely on when you are drained to your core. Look - some of you who read this are long haul blue water sailors, but most of you have no idea what it can be like out there. And this trip was a total anomaly, even for me. Not only did I have the seas and the wind to contend with, but I had my broken Suzi to assuage as well.

How can I possibly explain in terms that you can relate to, what this experience was like? It begins with the knowledge that you are completely on your own. Sure, you can set off the EPIRB and if you are still afloat when the helicopter shows up (if it shows up, and in time), you can get airlifted off (maybe), but short of giving up your boat, there is no one who can save you. There isn't even anyone who can help you. You have to fix every problem on your own using only the tools and materials you have on board. And you have to do it at a 35 degree angle that alters every 45 seconds. Are you a surfer? Can you try to comprehend what it is to surf a 41 foot 20,000 lb boat down a 20 foot wave: It's exciting right up until the point she gains so much speed that she turns into the trough like she's going cut back and hit the lip. Then the wave catches us on the stern quarter, spins us out, turns us wildly onto our beam and rockets us up as the white water explodes all around us. Nah - that isn't going to convey it. You need to live it. And you need to understand that all of this is happening at night, 100s of miles from land, in pouring rain with more wind noise then your nerves can handle.

In summary: The Sea was throwing everything it had in the hopes of killing us, my boat was disintegrating, my girlfriend was losing her mind and had turned against me, and I had to find a way to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It took every bit of everything I had to get thru it. I'm equal to the challenge. I just hope I've passed the test and there will be no follow up exams anytime soon.

We made a "mechanical emergency stop" in Kira Kira which is 140 miles short of the check in port of Honiara (which is where we are now, safe and sound). We just needed to sleep, check our leaks, get a real meal, and swap head sails. It was the worst anchorage I've ever been in and we stayed for 3 days. Under normal conditions I wouldn't have spent a single night there. That's how spent we were.

It ain't easy being free, but things are now looking up.

Next email: Betelnut, Guadalcanal, and a Japanese Bayonet

Your Captain,

Bob Friedman

"It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.
- John Paul Jones -

1 comment:

Fiona said...

I've not even risen to the challenge of watching George Clooney's Perfect Storm!!

Don't know how you do it, but do know why you do it!