The Voice Speaks, Again
(Author's Note: I would like to tell the reader to bear in mind that
the following initial incident would, in real time, occur in no more
than one second. It sounds long and detailed, but the entire event
took no more than a minute. At sea, things can happen just that
I watched Great Inagua slip beyond the horizon. For the next twenty
four hours, I relaxed with Dream on a beam reach run to the Windward
Passage. I set Dream's course just east of it. A lot of ships
funneled through there from the Caribbean Sea and headed north out
into the Atlantic. This course kept us out of those shipping lanes,
and I never saw one ship the whole run. The plan was that just north
of Haiti, we'd swing southwest to the Windward Passage. The sailing
since Georgetown had been outstanding, and with Trudy at the helm, I
went about my other duties aboard Dream in a very good mood. I
watched the sunset out on deck, eating canned stew over noodles,
right out of the pot. Who needed to dirty another dish when no one
was around to see me anyway?
That night, I lit the little kerosene lamp below, read, slept off
and on, and sat out on deck. I dragged on a cigarette and looked at
the eerie green phosphorus trail left in Dream's wake astern. I
watched the sunrise over a mug of coffee, and turned my attention to
the occasional flying fish as they became active on the surface. I
had watched them for countless hours, and never tired of it. People
say they don't really fly, but it sure looked like flying to me.
None landed on deck this morning, so it was just eggs for breakfast,
along with pan toasted bread. I had to use the bread up fast. It
usually went moldy long before I could finish the loaf.
I swung Dream southwest to line up for the Windward Passage. I
expected to be there about midnight. It was noon and I logged the
course change. Normally I would have set both Jennys under
wiskerpoles, wing and wing. We were sailing nearly downwind now. But
I had lost one of the wiskerpoles overboard, so I set the large
Jenny to starboard and a full main to port. Trudy was trimmed out
and she had the helm.
I sat out on the afterdeck, my back leaning against the stern
pulpit, and my feet up, cross legged on the starboard side. It was a
gorgeous afternoon and I basked in the sun. Dream, with Trudy at the
helm, set about her business in her usual manner and required no
attention, at least for the next twelve hours. My mind drifted off
to past days and places.
In a lifestyle at sea, there are certain rules one needs to adhere
to, rules from my readings are written in the blood of the past.
Rule number one aboard Dream is that the lifeline harness is always
worn and secured to Dream. I've never even thought of breaking that
rule, and never did. Rule number two is when out on deck, the hatch
stays closed and sealed. This afternoon, I broke that rule.
I locked the hatch in its wide open position. With the dodger in
place, downwind it acted like a wind scoop and circulated a lot of
air through the cabin. It served to dry out any dampness, and air
out an otherwise stuffy cabin. Any other time, I would have sat
below, but it was just too nice of a day, and without much thought,
figured, "What's the harm?"
One wave pretty much looks like the next and it's easy to fall into
a rather daydreamy mood. But each wave is unique, in some slight way
or another. There was one, ever so slightly different. A little
steeper than the others perhaps. Whatever its difference, Dream
moved a bit more to port than it had with the others. Trudy sensed
the slight change in direction, but was too slow to react. The
mainsail double-winded and the boom jibed. It struck the hatch and
rose up now inside the port backstay and slid over the top of the
hatch. The end of the boom caught the starboard backstack on its way
across Dream and wedged itself between the hatch and backstay.
With the main now almost amidships, Dream's inherent tendency to go
to windward took over and she violently turned to port to head into
the wind. Trudy was set up for a downwind course and instantly
counteracted with full right rudder and demanded Dream to return to
her assigned heading. This put Dream broadside to the wind and
waves, almost laying her over completely on her side. Both forces
were great, equal in influence but opposite. Each canceled out the
other. Dream, locked in contradictory commands had no choice but to
keep herself on beam's end, or near enough to it.
The suddenness of all this pitched me over the starboard side, but I
managed to grab hold of the portside pulpit with my left hand. As I
slid across the deck and into the sea, the left side of my rib cage
grated over one of the deck's jamcleats. The pain from my ribs
almost made me let go. I wasn't completely overboard, however, I
wasn't onboard either. This situation, in proper nautical
nomenclature, is known as "being caught between "the devil and the
deep blue sea." As I was dragged through the water, in this second,
any pain went unnoticed with what I saw.
Dream lay over so far that the sea itself was up to the aluminum rim
of the hatch. Any other time, this wouldn't be the crisis it was in
that moment. Not only was I in the water, the hatch was locked in
the wide open position. I watched in horror as we drew up to the
crest of the next oncoming wave. If it broke, it would push Dream
just that much more over and in a couple of seconds, she would fill.
Far offshore, in thousands of feet of water, Dream would sink. With
me firmly secured to her via the lifeline harness, she would carry
me to the bottom with her. But that was all right too. We were so
far offshore, there was no place to swim to anyway.
The first wave didn't break, but as we slid down the back of it, I
saw the next one, and it was breaking. With a strength I know I do
not normally possess, one-handed, the pain in my ribs forgotten, I
pulled myself up just far enough to trip Trudy's clutch line by my
fingertips. Instantly, Trudy released her iron grip on the helm. The
rudder swung amidships and Dream, now free of Trudy's interference
swung into the wind. The wave broke harmlessly around Dream as she
stood upright, bow into wind and waves. It took me a minute to climb
back on board where I loosened the locks on the hatch slides. The
boom was still pinned to the backstay, sails flapped wildly and the
hatch was jammed. In a rage, I slammed my right arm down on it, and
it slid closed. Flesh and bone isn't much of a match for aluminum
and lexon. A pain shot up and down my entire right side and my arm
I sat up on the hatch, and steered Dream off the wind. The sails
filled and I re-engaged Trudy. I didn't look at the course. For the
moment, all was quiet and I didn't care what course we were on. I
sat there doubled over and closed my eyes. The pain in my ribs and
arm came, in full force now, but through closed eyes all I could see
was the open hatch, the sea at the very edge, and that oncoming
breaking wave. Despite the tropic heat, I broke into a cold sweat.
As I sat like that, a voice I hadn't heard in a long time, but
recognized instantly said, "I told you, Captain, you make a mistake
out here, you die."
It was slow moving for me the rest of the day. Movement returned to
my arm and eventually the tingling faded away. I still hurt like
hell and wondered if I had broken my arm or cracked some ribs.
Below, I changed into dry clothes and got out the charts and the
cruising guide for the area. We were fast approaching the Windward
Passage and I wasn't in any shape to face forty-eight hours in the
shipping lanes. Cuba was out of the question, and the only place I
could see available was some place called Mole St. Nicolas, Haiti,
located at the very western tip of Haiti's northern fork. I looked
it up in the guide. Not good news. It was a military outpost, on
permanent alert waiting for an invasion from Cuba. It had no roads,
no facilities, no electricity, no available water and yachts were
not welcome. Not even Cuba was described that badly! It finished out
with the one final law of the country. Never, under any
circumstances, enter a Haitian port at night.
At two a.m. I sailed into Mole St. Nicolas and let go the anchor off
the village. Without any electricity, there were no lights, and it
was obvious that no one knew I was here. I ran the Q Flag up and
went below for a few hours sleep. Somehow I knew, in a country where
I don't speak the language, and in a place I was not welcome, the
morning would hold one hell of an adventure