Posted by: adventuressetravels | February 22, 2011

Aground

The seas were rough, not big waves, but choppy little daggers of waves slamming into our boat and shaking us til our teeth rattled.  We were sailing on a close reach, and unlike some boats, the Leeway really did not like sailing with the wind in front of her.  It had been like this all day.

I was in the galley throwing together some Indian-esque stirfry to go along with the crab and lobster we had pulled from the ocean the night before on our night diving expedition.

One minute I was sautéing garlic and onions and the next the squall was on us.  The sky had been grey and spitting mists and little droplets of rain all day, but with the night, it had worked up the courage and mustered a honest to goodness thunderstorm.  We leapt to dog (seal) the hatches as rain coursed down the boat.  Harder and harder it fell from the inky black sky as we cowered inside hoping it would end quickly.  It was the first real rainstorm we had sailed through.

The safest place to be in a lightning storm is on a boat, the captain had told us, but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to test that theory.

The stirfry was almost ready and I had grown accustomed to weathering the

Fathometer

storm, when out of nowhere I heard the captain’s panicked cry from the cockpit.

“7 feet … 6  5!  4! We’re hard aground.  Throw off the sheets!”

I stood there dumbly, the wooden spoon in my hand in that millisecond it took to sink in.  We had to get the sails down.

The two other crewmembers sprang into action, leaping out of their places lounging on the couch and barreled towards the door

“Throw off the sheets!!

I was already out the door.

The rain beat down relentlessly, coming from all directions, but we paid it no notice.  We were a mass of arms, legs, elbows, and hands; all slipping, sliding, sliding and scrambling  to get the sails down.   We couldn’t let the boat run any further onto the unmarked ground.

Within minutes the sails were down and we could relax enough to feel how bone-chillingly cold the Bahama January really was.  Shivering so hard we almost slipped on the wet deck our sodden clothes clung slimily to our bodies making us even colder.  But we were far from done.

We headed inside to grab the nearest flashlights. We had to find what it was we ran over.  Was it a sand bank?  The captain swore he had heard the crunch of coral on the bottom and Tony, the experienced sailor had backed him up.  Try as I might, I couldn’t feel the difference between waves crashing into the boat and us hitting the bottom, let alone distinguish what type of bottom we had hit.

The long beams of our flashlights pierced the night and turned the waters a eerie blue in the pitch black night. It only seemed like white-bottomed sand on every side of us which was good … and bad.  If we had hit something else, we couldn’t afford to run over it again.  Neither of the charts showed anything close to the surface or dangerous in the area, but clearly something was out there.  What if it was a rock wall?  What if an expansive coral reef had chosen to spring up and impale our boat?

Where was the place we had hit?  Try as I might, I couldn’t tell water depth to save my life with flashlights, let alone a darker coral patch.  In the night it all seemed the same to me

The captain slowly eased the motors on and picked our way out of the shoaly (shallow) waters to find a place to anchor.  If there was one uncharted point shallow enough to ground our boat we couldn’t afford to go on that night.

We had been lucky, the captain told us.  It could have been, should have been, so much worse.  This was how shipwrecks happened.  If there had been more rocks; if we had moved seconds slower; if the storm had lasted any longer, any number of ifs would have left our boat on the bottom.  16-foot seas may not seem that deep, but how well did I swim with 6-foot waves and rain pelting down?  We were 100 miles from land and hadn’t seen any boats in days.  We would have been shark bait.

But luck was on our side.  We made it to slightly deeper waters without incident.  Far enough away to anchor safely.

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Responses

  1. So what did you hit?
    Beautifully written.


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