The hollows between the waves had become like caverns. Wahini would crest a wave then plunge down into the trough with such speed that it seemed as if she would bury her bowsprit and keep on driving clear underwater. I could no longer trust my steering to prevent disaster. I had been up so long that I could hardly trust myself to stay awake. I had to put out the sea anchor.
It was a clumsy device of boards and welded chain that Will and I had fashioned months ago, hoping we would never need it. I turned the Wahini into the wind and dropped it off the bow on a long line. I paid out the warp until it coincided with the period of the waves and the Wahini settled into a wild but regular pattern of motion. The sea anchor dragged her bow around, holding Wahini’s head to the wind as she worked the waves. She seemed to move forward while actually sliding backward under the press of the gale. As we crested each wave, the sea anchor snubbed the bow down until green water came over and shot a thin sheet the length of the deck. Then the wind would catch the full height of the masts and Wahini would shake her head like a horse with a harsh bit in her mouth. Down the face of the wave then, nearly plunging through the swirling surface and on down to the sea floor miles below. In the trough, crashing into the face of the next wave; then struggling, shuddering, up to the next crest to repeat the cycle.
I lashed the wheel amidships and waited. I had been without sleep for thirty-seven grueling hours, but I had to stay long enough to know that I had done all I could for Wahini. Finally I slid the hatch back and went below.
All was chaos. The crazy motion had been magnified below decks. The latch on one of the food cabinets had broken and canned goods were rolling around underfoot. A bottle of ketchup had broken, turning the narrow deck into a smear of bloody-looking broken glass, mixed with grounds from the overturned coffee pot. The blanket I had wrapped up in was half soaked in the mixture. Raven was in her bunk again, clinging with both hands to keep from being thrown out as the boat shuddered and staggered from wave to wave. Her face was full of terror and seasickness.
I said, “Look,” and showed her how to adjust the canvas restraint that would pin her into her bunk so no motion, however violent, could throw her out. Then I replaced her seasickness patch and dug out a pair of chocolate bars. She refused hers, so I ate them both.
I shook the broken glass out of my blanket, wiped the worst of the ketchup and coffee grounds on the edge of the transom, crawled into the bunk opposite Raven’s, and fell instantly asleep.
# # #
My night was broken. Every hour – it seemed like every five minutes – Wahini’s wild motion would bring me to wakefulness and I would lie staring into the darkness, feeling her drunken dance with the storm and gauging her condition. Eventually I would drift off again, and an hour or so later wake again with that steel-twisted feeling of helpless. So it went, all night. I made no move to go on deck. Unless Wahini lost her sea anchor and I had to makeshift another one, there was absolutely nothing I could do to make things better. There was no reason to look out for other ships. If one were bearing down on us, there would be nothing I could do to avoid it. It was better to just sleep and wait. more tomorrow