It had been a long day of working and a relaxing dinner with Benji was overdue. We put away our projects, cleared the small table, and began to unload the icebox to see what ingredients we had for a meal. With the clouds filling the sky blocking any power from being generated by a sunbathing solar panel, I had to turn the refrigerator off. The two bags of ice were melting, filling the icebox so that the lettuce, jar of pickled okra, dark chocolate bar, clementines, and other food items were bobbing up and down in the pool of melted ice.
Benji emptied the icebox and bailed out the water with a small cup. Then, carefully replacing the items in the icebox, he left on the counter those that would make a dinner. Lettuce, tomato, a lemon, garlic, parsley, tahini, honey, an onion, and raw goat cheese. Salad topped with my special homemade dressing.
While Benji was chopping the lettuce, I began pulling in my inflatable kayak. The weatherman predicted a lot of rain tonight and I didn’t want it to fill with water. I could put it in the cockpit of Daphne turned over like the last time it rained, so that the water would drip off the hull. But instead, I deflated the entire kayak, folded it, and stuffed it low into the cockpit, a decision that would ultimately save the kayak.
I glanced to the west. “Here comes the rain,” I said to Benji. He poked his head out of the companionway doors. We watched the rain approach, and as it came closer and closer it began to appear more and more strange. We heard the rain before we felt it. We could see the wall of water streaking across the sky in horizontal sprays creating a perfect squall line like a curtain of weather. We were on one side of the curtain. The safe side. The dry side.
I watched in awe as the squall moved toward us at a quickening pace. Then, in an instant it hit. Wind, water, and wave all at the same time. Daphne heeled over in reverence to the incredible force of nature. “What’s going on?” I shouted to Benji. Nothing made sense. Never has Daphne behaved like that while at anchor. Her gunwale dipped into the ocean scooping water into the cockpit. The bicycle on my cabin top blew from the deck. I thought for a moment it would be blown overboard, but the shrouds stopped its momentum.
I looked off to starboard at the large blue-hulled cutter anchored next to me. We were facing each other. Bow to bow. “Why are our boats sitting opposite like this?” I shouted. Again, nothing made sense. “I have to get to my boat.” Ben yelled. The rain was beating down loudly and I was soaked through and shivering. But my adrenaline, running as high as giraffe’s eye, kept me going without noticing my discomfort.
I helped Ben pull his dinghy closer and hold her steady as he lowered himself in. Through the corner of my eye I saw the blue-hulled boat moving rapidly, like she was underway and heading out to sea. In a matter of seconds, she had turned and drifted over one-hundred yards. Ahead of me, another sailboat, over twice the size of Daphne drifted toward me.
“Cast me off.” Benji yelled. “You are!” I lied. I wanted to see Benji row before I tossed the painter into his dinghy. I needed assurance that he could row in this wind. Flashing in my mind’s eye was Ben and his dinghy, blown far away from shore, lost, cold, and in danger. The story of Howard Blackburn’s bravery while lost at sea in his dory is my favorite tale to tell, but I didn’t want to be telling a similar yarn about Benji. “Cast me off!” He yelled again. “You are,” I shouted back. I could see he was struggling to row, but with almost superhuman effort he began making forward progress. I cast him his line and turned away to tend to Daphne.
I grabbed the keys to my engine and put them in the ignition. Moving quickly, I pulled down the bimini, which was catching to much wind sending Daphne on a crazed chase as she sailed, tacking back and forth on her anchor. Wadding it into a ball I shoved it into the head. A single jerry jug rapidly floated away. After I had checked Daphne’s anchor and made sure she was clear of any drifting boats, at least for the moment, I began preparing for the rest of the evening and more winds to come.
But something wasn’t right. Where was Dory? Like a good sailor in an intense moment my first thought was to secure the boat. “Take care of the boat, and she will take care of the crew” in some way is every good sailor’s motto. But after Daphne was secure, I began to worry about Dory. He likes to sunbath on the cabin top, but there had been no sun. When it rains he hides under the dodger, but before the squall hit there had been no rain. For a brief moment I wondered if the wind had carried him away. Brushing that thought aside, I looked in the head which happens to be his favorite and secure place to hunker down, second only to the aft cabin which was closed tightly. That is where I found him. I slipped the cover over the kitty door and locked the head so that Dory could not get out. Knowing he was secure, and the weather was finally giving quarter, I continued my work of cleaning up the mess and preparing Daphne for the next blow.
If more boats were going to drag, I needed to be prepared to stay warm and dry while working on deck. I envisioned myself weighing the anchor with panic in my eyes as the boat ahead of me dragged closer. With that in mind, I pulled layers of fleece, wool socks, hats, mittens, and a blanket from the aft cabin and stowed them forward. I stripped off my soaked clothes and layered on long underwear and a wool sweater under my foul weather gear. Then went on deck to survey the situation.
I could hear sirens coming from shore. I could see people in their dinghies collecting items that had gone adrift. A catamaran pulled into the anchorage with shredded sails. I noticed the boat ahead of me was firmly aground and the tide was falling. It offered some security that it wouldn’t drag on top of me. Down below dinner was everywhere. I scooped it up from the cabin sole, shoved it into the sink and dialed my friends aboard the blue-hulled boat. “How are you doing?” I sung out. My voice was as turbulent as the weather. “Are you guys ok?” She answered me calmly, “Yea, we’re ashore having dinner with our friends.” I was surprised. I thought they were on their boat. In an instant I recounted the entire story and suggested they get to their boat soon. I had just hung up the phone when I saw their tender en route. Then I hailed Benji on the radio.
The next day we learned that all over the city the winds in those few minutes were recorded at speeds from 60 to 70 mph. If I had been out to sea, surely I would be returning with shredded sails like the catamaran I saw. No one expected the wind would be that strong. We were all taken aback by the sudden blow. NOAA radio predicted as much as 30 knots but it was almost twice that speed. Daphne’s anchor held fast.
I have been challenged many times before. And in my excitement, even in those moments when I am worried for my boat, myself, and my cat, I know that this is exactly what I sought when I gave up my life of comfort and security. While others were in their homes, warm and dry, I was shivering and soaked. A shiver more authentic than one felt when selecting ice cream at the supermarket. A soaking more deep than a splash in a cold bath. But I don’t want a life aboard with only fair winds and calm seas, and I can only pray that the challenges I am given are ones that I am prepared for and that I have my camera on and ready!
Thoreau went into the woods because he “wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if he could not learn what it had to teach.” His cabin in the woods is like my Daphne.