Wahini was laying over too far. I could feel it even below decks, and as soon as I could, I disengaged myself from Raven, put on a sweater under my oilskins, and went on deck. Once I let Wahini fall another point off the wind, the pressure on her storm trysail eased and her masts came back closer to perpendicular.
I watched her and felt her motions for a while. She was still laboring. Even under that single small sail, she was sailing too fast. Her broad, blunt bow was crashing into the waves, sending shudders through her massive hull, and showers of spray cascading over the decks.
The wind was force eight and still rising. I released the lashings on the wheel and eased her into the wind as she approached the next wave. This time she took it obliquely, slid sideways as she went up the back of the wave, and slipped down the far side with a twisting, corkscrew motion.
For the next hour I steered her over the waves, letting her slip away to lessen their force. Eventually, I had to take down the last sail, change course, and run her off under bare poles. The masts and rigging alone were enough to carry her downwind as fast as I dared to let her go.
Once Raven stuck her head out of the hatch, looked around her, and slammed the hatch closed again. I didn’t blame her.
Wahini was not a typical yacht. She was a replica of Captain Joshua Slocum’s Spray, built to plans reproduced by Pete Culler. Slocum had been the first man to sail around the world alone in 1895, and ever since, dreamers have been building replicas of his ship.
I had inherited my Wahini, left half-built in the corner of a trucking yard in the industrial district of San Francisco. When I had first seen her there, forlorn and abandoned, I had been bitten by the same sea fever. Over the next three years, Will Hayden and I had finished and launched her.
Slocum had twenty years of experience as a professional seaman when he circled the globe, but even still, he and the Spray had gone missing on a later voyage. The original Spray had been too shoal, too wide, and inadequately ballasted for her length and sail plan. She was extremely stable, up to a point, but if she lay too far over, she would just keep going until she reached her new position of stability – upside down.
When I inherited the Wahini, I had known none of this. By the time I found out, it was to late. I was committed. So I stayed at the wheel for the next fourteen hours, corkscrewing up and down the waves, and worrying.
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Exhaustion, the pounding, twisting, heaving motion of the Wahini, the howl of the wind, an unseasonable cold punctuated by salt spray working its way down from the neck of my oilskins, drove all thought of Raven from my mind. But even fear can become numbed in time. By the third hour I was flogging my mind to remain on task; by the fourth my responses had become automatic while I dreamed awake. more tomorrow