(note: from Heather, this is why I love my husband so much)
Stories from a Voyage
Not Everybody Makes It Through The Night
Not three little birds on my doorstep (that’s a different Bob M.) but Three little fish on my toe rail.The rising sun has already started to bake the vibrancy of life from the liquid iridescent of their scales. however it has been several hours since life left these tiny jewels of perfection, so miraculously crafted to complement their environment. But last night many of us found ourselves in an environment that was not natural for us and for these little guys no mater how enchanted and magical their fairy wings appear, once the waters of the breaking wave that helped launch their flight onto Daisy’s deck had sucked away, down the scuppers of the toe rail, so did their chances of life. Heart-breakingly no pixie dust was left over to help them breath the air into which the gift of their magical fairy wings allow them momentary access. No capability to stay, other than by the act of giving up the rest of their life in the environment for which they were created in exchange for one more moment in this. For these little adventurers this end was not the result of the ultimate romantic gesture but instead they got ensnared in a game being played by sea gods, who last night had sympathy for no one, as they amused themselves whiling away the night distractedly shuffling around game pieces of unimaginable power .
Daisy and her “cower aboard” contingent also were shanghaied into action as part of last nights cruel game and nearly took on the lead role.
We had left Rosario island in near perfect sailing conditions, so different from our arrival. A translucent blue sea with only the slightest of swell being caressed by a silky 20 knots of wind on the beam under a cloudless blue infinity.
About 20 miles out, it obviously proved amusing to one of the players in the evenings games to take away what he allowed us to taste. Like the throwing of a switch, Daisy was transmuted from a graceful swan slicing through the blue at 8-9knots without a feather out of place and a heartbeat later turned into the comedy act of a blue footed booby trying to waddle and trip and stumble along the ground, in an environment for which it’s appendices we’re never intended. From no where, 4 ft waves on the starboard quarter and a pathetic, near undetectable 4-7 knots of breath dribbled over the starboard and then port quarter, causing Daisy to flap, sway and stumble down waves, ashamed and embarrassed at her condition.
For nearly 3 hours and 6 nauseous miles we consoled her and encouraged and enticed her to regain her composure until our pantomime must have caught the eye of another player in the evenings games and who, on a whim saw amusement to pour on us 30 knots of wind going in the wrong direction.
The last 3 hours had taken us much too far North trying to help Daisy compose herself over the previously windless rollers, so I thought “what the heck” and latched onto the runaway train heading much too far South. Still fully rigged we careered along, just pleased to be moving again and getting air into our lungs.
In this marginally out of control euphorbia, all composure and pretext flapping and fluttering in public along with the leech of our overpowered rig, we heard the thud crash of what we thought was a flying fish hitting our canvas and tumbling to the deck. However as we looked down to focus on it. It ignored what is possible for a fish to do and took off into the air again! As we tried to track it, in and out of our bucking and gyrating rig, it still did not compute that a fish can not fly circles, weaving in and out between the penduluming spars and canvas. Then there was another crash and tumble, but this time we caught a glimpse of the ariel drunk who had careered into our sails for a second time. It was a bird. Clearly exhausted having been caught in the same meteorological joke as ourselves. 4 more times he launched, circled and tried to target a secure landing for a safe-haven on Daisy. Each attempt ended in failure, undermined by his own exhaustion and the weather driven gyrations of Daisy’s rig. Finally he gave up seeking a lofty refuge and when he collided with the corner of our Bimini he simply clung on. No longer having the energy or will power to avoid the possible threat that we might be, only 2 feet from him.
The poor little guy was clearly exhausted, disorientated and a long way from home. He was a water bird but not a seabird, like the brown boobies we frequently see this far offshore. He was a type of Kingfisher or Kookoburou.The long spear of a beak and short stubby wings characteristic of a high speed diver. He also had an impressive crest that he displayed in an attempt to look threatening, as his last remaining defence, everything else spent. But no amount of bravado could disguise his helpless desperation. The only thing on the boat that looked in a worse state than the bird was Paul.
Paul had been the butt of the earlier first move of the sea gods. 3 hours limpid rolling at the mercy of the waves with no wind for directional stability had
rekindled the green lustre that he had so manfully stared down at the start of the voyage. But now as the plaything of the gods, in a one, two sucker punch they had built up his dietary confidence and then playfully, slowly turned him over and over until he was done on all sides.Then to finish him off, when he felt his most delicate and fragile, they bought him tickets on the downhill ragged-edge slalom of our 30 knot wind powered, wave surfing.
Now that I look at him and then back to the desperate little bird, I realise That I should have been more aware of my crews condition before voluntarily selecting to step onboard the ride being offered as bait by the bored and manipulative players of maritime destinies.
The little bird recovered his composure quicker than Paul and over next hour, several times flew to grasp onto some precarious but more lofty perch in Daisy’s mass of rigging and lines. However, he could never retain his acquired perch, a combination of him being much weaker than his intentions and the helterskelter gyrations of our headlong rush, still under full mainsail. We had reefed and reefed and then finally furled and stowed the headsail. Leaving out just the mainsail, as it was more challenging to furl it in the building 35 knot winds.
As a consequence each brave new sauté by our stowaway ended with him cascading to the deck.
By now each of us had developed a affinity with the little aeronaut and were willing him to find his safe haven before he expired, but shock horror! Edd suddenly shouted “he’s down, ditched in the water” and is now pointing to him swirling past us in the frothing bow wave of the boat as the light of the day was failing.
“what can we do?” he voiced our collective helplessness. Anguished looks, even from the pallor Paul.
Weighing up the risks of any manoeuvres, to a loaded rig in these power conditions. I said we can use it to practice our man overboard drill. Without a seconds hesitation Edd is on the stern, arm and finger outstretched pointing to a vortex in the foam of the pluming seas rapidly disappearing behind us shouting “I got him, I got him” and continuing to track him. Paul I instruct to fully bring in the main to a close hauled position and I start the engine to power the boat through the wind and 180 our 35 tons of careering fortress. Edd asks, without breaking his focus on the spinning limp compatriot in the foam, what will we do when we get along side him? I said we have a recovery net that attaches to one of the boat hooks stowed in the bosuns locker. We will scoop him out.
Each of us is manning his station, we pounded through the eye of the wind and are making way back to the point that Edds outstretched arm still painted on the ocean, like a marine painting targets for the missile boys to zone in upon
and swoop in with wings of death. But our avowed mission was the reverse, to swoop in and pluck him from what seemed a foregone fate.
Without warning, Edd cries out again “he’s back in the air”. are you sure ? I ask in disbelief . He’s nearly certain, so we continue in the
direction he had taken, each of us willing Edd to be right, but none of us really believing the crumpled pile of feathers had found the
reserves to avoid the reaper. Then he was spotted right over us, trying another stucker like, screaming dive and last minute pull out, to come to a momentary ariel standstill, grasping for another piece of twisting, pulling, heaving rig. As before he tumbled deck ward but this time, 14inches above the deck, he caught and stuck to, the unused stay sail sheet. He hung there for a moment and in that moment, everyone hanging on a staysail sheet and everyone not hanging on a staysail sheet,, dug deep in there will power and held their breath. He was hanging on, he was going to make it. We all nearly cheered but did not want to scare him into flight again.
We corrected our course and this time as we swung through the wind we furled in our main and set course with just 60% of the Yankee flying to give control in what was now becoming 40knots of serious weather.
As we each did our watch through the night we all kept an eye on the new member of our team.As the night progressed he fluttered and grasped to another perch on a tighter, line even closer to the deck but in the shadow of the coach work partly out of the sucking cloying 40 knot Troll that was now living in shadows on the slippery downwind side of the boat.
The sea gods continued to amuse themselves with our plight as we reach mid point furthest from land. One massaged the waves into 15 ft lumbering giants fed by the 40 knot winds from the North, while another player breathed life into the previously dead 10 ft rollers of the old eastern regime and arranged for them to collide at our exact location in the ocean. For Daisy this means she is surrounded by confused seas and breaking waves. Several times I corrected our course veering away from foaming seas boiling up to run down our decks by doing so encouraging them to slide off, without leaving behind any aftermath of
just a glancing blow. But each time we ship water on the port side, I looked to see if our passenger has been able to hang on through the sluicing torrent of water.
Later when things seemed to have quietened down, I was sat at the nav station at the foot of the companionway to write the log. Paul is not on watch, but instead comatose, draped over the end of a sofa in the salon. I have left Edd clipped in, in the cockpit. He is sharing the watch with me.
I hear the crash and feel the shudder, then hear, feel and taste the cube of sea water cascading down the companionway stairs, then as Daisy lurches and rolls heavily I hear another solid mass of water lancing through open orifaces, then airborne as a block, then crashing and swirling and rolling over and down every surface in the galley. I am on my feet, I know we are not sinking, so clearly we have been pooped by one of the breaking giants and taken on huge quantities of sea, not only over the outer aft and side decks, but right up and over the center cockpit of our fortress where I had left my son not 3 minutes ago.
Milliseconds stretch to eternity in heart stopping, breath robbing, adrenalin overdose as I spin and lurch for the companion way, calling Edds name and waiting for a response.
He responds anxiously that his tether is trapped in the galley port, sucked there by the wall of water and he can’t get it free to close the hatch and prevent further inrush of water as Daisy rolls with the weight of her new cargo slopping from side to side in the cockpit. I don’t care about the water coming in, he is safe! Alls ok, so now let’s sort out the mess.
The major immediate jobs consisted of lifting the Cabin sole to aid the sea water running away into the bilge, then sponging out the water from each of the work surface tops, where the finger rail around each surface has retained the falling water and turned each into their own mini swimming pool. Drying walls and all surfaces as everything had momentarily been under the solid wall of falling water. The thing that really pissed me off was the saucepan of Thai peanut sauce that I had leftover from dinner, and that I intended to put in the fridge and use as a dressing with wraps tomorrow,now had extra salt added,about 3pints,in solution, or however much up to the brim of the saucepan represented. Throughout this period of threat and response, slumbering Paul had bolted upright in response to the shudder, eyes transfixed at the wall of water falling into the living quarters of our sanctuary and then rolled over, snuggled down and
returned to his real world of sleep and tranquility as the seawater slopped around his feet on the cabin sole.
It was then that I remembered the other ward that I had under my protection when the wave hit. I rushed up on deck. Peered through the darkness on the port side deck and could just make out a bedraggled mass of feathers, he had hung on and was going to make it through the night.
At about this point the Sea Gods must have been distracted by some other facett of their game and forgetfully left us facing off to the duel forces of the 40kt winds and the lumbering giants clashing from the North and East, but as pawns, so went the night.
I stayed up all night, partnering Edd and then Paul of the green hue, as they did their watches. Checking our new recruit became part of the pattern and at about 03:00 opened a tin of sardines for Eddie to see if he could entice him to replace some of the energy his efforts had consumed. I wasn’t quite sure what the regulations were for aiding and abetting one indigenous wild creature to leave his home country and establish himself in a new country, but I knew that if he rode our sanctuary until he could see and smell the heavily forested coast of mainland San Blas, there were lots of fish full riverlets that would provide a new home for our stowaway.
We could not encourage him to eat in the dark, but Ed and I also noted that the big waves were depositing more than normal flying fish on our decks and in the morning they may make the perfect repas for our fish eating friend.
The day break was spectacular, the skies cleared to a holiday makers blue and the waves and wind had moderated to the normal 3 meters and 25-30kts that was comfortable under just the headsail. So we were all set for remaining hundred mile canter into the San Blas. Just before 07:30 I checked in on our kingfisher and noted the magnificents of his plumage in the warming sun, so went below to get my video camera to get some film offering him some flying fish to steel him for the rest of the voyage. Camera in hand I peered around the port combing to see, just empty deck and bird poop.
So I am left with 3 corpses that I know did not make it though the night and no longer likely to fulfill their destiny of being part of the food chain for our
kingfisher. I surmise the warmth and rest turned his mind to fish and he has flown off to do what he was so marvellously created to do. As I write this tale about the night he has not yet returned from his expedition, but we keep looking in the rigging and on the spars for his return. We helped him make it through the night. He can fly and he can fish, but he is no storm weathered crusty old seabird, who can soar and glide across miles of open ocean. Closest land is 100 miles away and we are the only vessel showing on 80 miles of radar. I write and I wait.