Thursday, May 10, 2007

Day 17

I downed the shot of vodka, I swallowed the 2 red Columbian pain killers, I stuffed the sock in my mouth and only then, did I place my left hand on the table.

My uncle Bill, via long range email on the single side band radio, had described the process for realigning a dislocated finger, and it didn’t sound like a bucket of joy. This one was seriously out of joint after trying to loosen a jammed headsail in 20 knots of wind. It pointed violently toward my thumb with no accord to the harmony of the other 4 digits. Suzi’s instructions were to pull it out so it can reseat itself. We tried several times, and to no resolve. No pop, no straightening, just ripe pain searing along the length of my ring finger every time she gave it a yank.

Then the alarm on the GPS went off. I had programmed it 10 days before when we left the Galapagos Islands for the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. The alarm denoted the halfway mark. I was 1,500 miles from land. That’s the farthest you can get on this planet from terra firma. My engine was leaking oil & diesel, the generator only continued to run if you hand pumped the fuel ball, and the headsail had jammed in the track in such a way that I couldn’t reef it entirely. And of course, I have only one functional hand.

As I type this, we are currently on a heading of 325 degrees. 360 is due north so you can see we’re not that far off. Why am I pointing this thing north when the goal is west? Good question. I can’t keep the winds directly behind me due to this misshapen headsail that’s jammed, and my previous course before we gybed was going to take us to Pitcairn Island instead of Fatu Hiva. Had that happened, I would have had a mutiny on my hands that would have made The Bounty look like a Sunday morning “row”.

Our inability to sail directly downwind was further compounded 2 nights ago by the fact that the furling line had chewed through a point of chafe (that I had somehow missed) and parted at midnight in 28 knots of wind as it completely deployed itself. When it’s howling 28 knots you reef to expose less sail to the wind. The last thing you want is more sail. I suddenly had a lot more. The boat accelerated almost immediately. I needed to get this situation under control at once.

“Suzi! Wake up and suit up! I need you!” We put on our harnesses and I clipped into the jack lines that run the entire length of Barraveigh. I crawled forward with fresh batteries in my headlamp in order to inspect the situation. Once I put the repair plan together in my head I pulled myself back towards the cockpit and shouted to Suzi what I would need: 2 oversized carabineers and the new green furler line. Again I crawled forward with the vessel awash up to the mast every time she sped into another green wave. If I go overboard, there is no way Suzi will ever find me, let alone get me back in the boat. In an ocean this large with help so far away, if you can’t save each other – you’re done. Every move was literally life or death. I had to tie the frayed line to the new one and use the carabineers to redirect the angle of pull so it wouldn’t chew through again. Damn. I should have caught that days ago, then I wouldn’t need to be up here risking my bacon now. Sheets of water conspired against every step I needed to complete. The pain in my dislocated finger was a constant reminder that I couldn’t trust that hand to hold me should I bounce over the rail. I moved slowly and deliberately, careful not to drop anything or overextend my balance. I got the lines joined, and screamed for Suzi to start furling it in. She did, and the boat came back into control as her speed diminished. Good – now I needed to find a place to secure the carabineer. The toe rail hole was perfectly located; I just couldn’t get enough body weight on the line to push it into the jaw of the carabineer. I took a calculated chance and lifted myself up quickly and practically sat on it. It worked.

It looked good. It still does. I now check it regularly, and I adjust all lines a few inches every other day, just in case I can’t see if they’re wearing. That was harrowing and I never want to repeat it. I sense inwardly though, that in some way, I am stronger for having lived through it. This trip is like a 5 year “Outward Bound” program, except, this is the extreme version on steroids, with zero “do overs”. We expose ourselves to our fears in hopes of overcoming them. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said, “…sailing is chess with pull-ups.” That’s the honest truth. We need to think at least 2 steps ahead and physically live up to the challenges as well.

The finger hurts constantly, and we won’t be out of danger until we’re anchored 10 days from now, but I know we can do this.

- Captain Bob -

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