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Sailing On...Still

By Capt. Douglas Malat

"Hey boys, that's it for me"....I wake out of my light sleep, wondering why it felt so short. "Hey guys... it's getting scary out here". Was it me? I didn't feel the boat being tossed a matter of fact, it felt smooth, with a slight heel to starboard. Trying to focus in the red night lighting and rethinking the past statements that were just said, made no sense. Am I dreaming? Sitting up on the starboard settee confirmed our smooth motion. "You've got to see what's coming boys", said Paul, as his head stuck through the hatchway. Usually humorous, Paul had not a note of humor this time. We were almost two days out of Bermuda with good wind and seas. A close reach had us moving steadily westward toward our Beaufort, North Carolina, destination. We were into our routine of watches by this time, so the anxiety of Paul's voice was slightly alarming. I see a body moving past me in the dim light and head on deck. "Yeah, Doug, you've got to see this"..

The voice is, of course, Emory, a dedicated sailor. I met him many years ago at a marina I stayed at. I needed to go aloft and replace a sheave at the top of the mast. Emory had been checking his father's boat and was curious why I had supplies at the base of my mast. Making a long story short... I was at the top of the mast with Emory below tending to my safety. We went for a sail afterwards checking things out, and I noted that Emory was one step ahead of me...I would see a line loose and before I took a step, he would be there. Our minds seemed to be one when out on the water. It was a compliment to me having him as crew whenever or wherever I was going.

The breeze hitting my back as I came on deck was warm...damn warm...strange. This warm?...It must be the middle of the night, I thought. Our stern wake was lit up brightly and you could see it trail off. As I turned forward, I could see small flashes low in the horizon. Dead ahead, the frequency of these were almost continuous. They were way off, but you could see the black clouds from where the lightning was coming from to the sea below it. If you put your hand sideways, and stuck out your pinky, the lightning was just shy of that width. I looked behind again and gazed into our luminous stern wake. I then gazed ahead, noticing there was not much light difference. "See you boys", Paul said, as he went below. Emory took the wheel, I the sails. I trimmed to his steering and found ourselves prancing through the water at quite a speed. Our bow would cut through the waves ahead. They were not large, but instead of going up and over briefly, we would split the waves in two with no diminishing in speed. Emory's eyes were wide and alive. Both his hands were on the wheel with little adjusting side to side. We both felt we were in a 12 meter America's Cup boat parting the waves ahead. Our speed increased minute by minute, with very little heel...I got up on one knee to get a better look forward and knew I had to hold on from our acceleration. Emory said aloud, "This is sailing!" We were running with a full main and a 110% jib. As we kept cutting those waves ahead, my curiosity got the best of me, and I went below. "Be right back, Emory", I said as I darted below. Moving forward, I reached the "V" bunk area (very front of boat from the inside) to hear the tremendous echoing of water rushing past either side. This boat had the outer hull with an inner fiberglass shell. I moved aft to the nav station and pulled out a flashlight. Again, moving forward, I turned on the flashlight to notice Bill sleeping, but find the hull's sides pressing in! On each wave that we literally cut thru, you could actually see the "V" berth getting smaller! It seemed surreal....CRAP!!... Bill wakes up and says, "What?" I didn't realize I said that aloud. I took myself and the flashlight back on deck. I could see Emory was in his element...we were going like a locomotive out of control!...We were all speed, with a hint of heel, but No crashing around...Being in the cockpit felt as if I was standing in a convertible going down the highway. "We got to fall off the wind and cut the speed a bit, Emory" as I yelled over the roaring of the water passing by so quickly. "The hull is flexing as we cut through these waves". You could see his disappointment because it is unusual to blast through waves without having the boat heaving and crashing around . I eased the main and jib as Emory pulled off the wind. I looked over the cabin top again seeing the lightning getting closer and brighter.

The wind velocity was increasing...not dramatically, but with the weather ahead, I decided to reef (take in some sail) the main. Heading forward on deck, I was amazed how steady the boat was handling, even with all this speed. "Emory," I said..."Keep her like this." I reached the mast and hooked my harness to the Spinaker pole holder on the front side of the Mast. I was pleased I had the Sailmaker put in a 3rd reef point in the Main. It was a deep one and really only left a small amount of sail area out. So if anything, it would steady the boat in big blows. I ease the Main Halyard (what holds the Main up) and hook in the 3rd reef point eyelet to the reefing hook. The boat slows considerably as I secure the tie-offs along the Boom. The boat feels more, well....conservative if you know what I mean. No more Ferrari....just a Chevy Impala. With this amount of sail out, we had to fall off even more to keep what little of the main we had out, filled. Back in the cockpit and looking forward at the sails you couldn't help but see the ever closer front moving toward us. The lightning was growing taller yet. Looking back at Emory steering, I saw his facial expressions. There was no Fun in his eyes....there was no more chatter of talk below decks either. I think they all knew the worst was still to come....But we must, Sail on.