William Thomas

From the Crow’s Nest

Seal of Approval

Nine days and nights out of Coronado, Thea and I have no past lives. We are simply here, the dead wake of our passage vanishing twenty yards astern. Just as Saharan caravans must surrender in spirit to trackless, shifting dunes, so must we commit to this great blue desert of the open sea.

And because our lives are always at hazard, clipped-on sailors read the sky as avidly as roped-up mountaineers.

Farmers look up, too, as we plow furrows across our respective domains – one to fill the belly, the other to feed the soul. But while the farmhouse sits unmoving amidst familiar landmarks, our swooping abode dares a trackless realm that shifts and looms, heaps up, charges and goes on, thumping all three hulls and morphing hues under an ever-changing sky.

Astride a foundling rescued from a Gabriola forest clearing, the watchkeeper tastes the breeze and scans the weather horizon.

“It’s your watch,” she calls down to her captain, wedged into the settee with safety harness still fastened, eyes shut in an exhausted altered state that dips and sways with the pitch and roll of the cabin. “Let’s put another reef in the main.”

Day becomes night becomes daylight again. The accelerated northeast trades climb from 25 knots to gale force, shoving the seas into high cresting curlers.

Forget martinis at sunset. Once again, I take the next three-hour watch in a relentless rotation surely prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

Wearily, warily, I assess the next contender rearing up astern. While ‘glassing the underwings on Gabriola, I never imagined gazing up at a backlit wave of liquid turquoise translucent as stained glass.

Celerity is a beachball balanced on a seal’s nose. Braced against the cabin, I face aft, parrying each onrushing breaker with quick jabs of the tiller to keep us tracking straight.

When I get it right, we ski steepening slopes in long sibilant rushes. When I don’t, overtaking breakers take command, slewing the boat into wild spin-outs that elicit loud complaints above the crash of unsecured gear below.

Speed is our solace. My last sextant fix shows 185 miles run noon to noon. That’s good going, double-reefed on a 30-foot waterline.

Mother Ocean wants to play. The breeze backs a point, sending cross-seas to rush our starboard quarter with the hiss and roar of strafing jets.

Each sideways slap shoves our light-displacement trimaran out of alignment with the heavier break. This ups the ante and doubles my workload. Now, to keep the ball centered, the seal must swivel to meet each crossing crest… then quickly reverse to surf the primary swell.

Enough of this! Reaching outside the cockpit coaming, I unlash the drogue. When the next avalanche breaks, twin half-inch warps, led in a “V” from each outrigger transom to a weighted Mini tire skipping astern, alternately slacken and go taut with each incipient skid – pulling us back inline.

If we can keep on keeping on, south by east, who knows? In another eighteen days and nights, we might raise Nuku Hiva from the endless breaking blue ahead.

©2019 William Thomas. willthomasonline.net