There’s a fine balancing trick between succumbing to the overwhelming power of the wind a sea and harnessing it for survival, utility and pleasure. It’s a hot flame to play with though: the ramifications of each action can be absolute. The ocean is both indiscriminant ruthless.
Imagine waking up in the morning and finding your car had disappeared because you didn’t park it correctly. Or imagine going to bed at night, only to be woken up just before your house smashes into you neighbors’ or a mountainside or off some cliff because you didn’t carefully check the foundation to make sure it would be secure in an unforeseen change in the weather.
All of those things have happened to us. That last one, three times.
Once, on my birthday, I looked out of the window to see some idiot motoring WAY too close to us. I looked again in a few moments and thought he was about to hit us, so I quickly dressed (nothing like deciding whether or not to put on pants when you know every seconds counts) and ran up to fend him off. In a few rough seconds, my universe was flipped upside-down when I realized he was happily on a mooring and we were drifting into him. Jackie and I managed to get the boat started up and out of the way just in time to avoid the collision. Somehow, our mooring line unclipped itself just as the sun was rising.
The second time we had been at anchor for 12 hours and it had been a strange night with strong gusts mixed with complete calm. Just enough to keep us from sleeping soundly. Jackie looked out an hour before first light and noticed a fishing boat was where a sailboat used to be. Strange. This time we had drifted 300-yards through the anchorage and around to the other side of the fishing boat without touching anything. This one was especially disconcerting as I dove on the anchor and made sure it was dug in deep. Seems another boat upset our anchor in the middle of the night and forgot to tell us.
The latest time (with luck, also the last) we anchored just after dark after sailing for 12 hours in 30+knots of wind. We were tired and happy to be somewhere we could rest. At 3 a.m. we woke up with that awful feeling. Sure enough, we had drifted, but as we are always improving, this time it was for a good mile offshore. When we pulled up the nearly 180-feet of chain that was dangling freely beneath us, I found a crankshaft settled nicely on the flukes, preventing it from digging in. This one was easier to take, as it was too dark to see the bottom when we dropped the hook, let alone dive down to make sure it was set properly.
There’s been other incidents as well. Like the time anchored to have coffee on another boat when a gale blew in so fast and hard, the dingy we rode in on was literally flapping in the breeze, making it impossible to return. We could only watch in horror as the jib (the sail on the front), which was NOT secured for a storm, started to ride up the forestay, threatening to sail away without us. Nine long hours later we managed to make it back to our boat in tact.
Even small things like setting something down in the cockpit, like a folded up sail, for example, only to find it gone from an errant line that pulled it overboard, never to be seen again.
But these small reminders of what’s really in charge as washed away when we manage to set the sails just so and pick a course that allows us to surf into the double digits with a terrific following sea, on a warm tropical breeze, sailing past island after island not wanting to stop because it feels so good, finally deciding to stop at a brilliant white beach with nobody around, offloading the kids and toys for another adventure.