Moira is a shambles. Everything is hot and wet. I feel like I have mold growing on my eyeballs. I ache everywhere. The typhoon has swept on up the Chinese coast and the rain quits for a few minutes every so often. Right now it is pouring again; drumming on the cabin top as if we were directly under a waterfall.
During the last rain break, I ventured outside to survey the damage and have a look ashore. The marina is in one of the little bays on the Hong Kong Peninsula. A friend mentioned it to us about a month ago, before we left. When the Typhoon blew us back to Hong Kong , it was the only place we could get to.
I walked down the rain-soaked planks of the marina dock to the office. There was no one there. I could see the rain coming again, a black wall of water in the gray sky, so I immediately headed back to Moira. In the slip just opposite the one we had lurched into during the storm, my eye caught the word "Antares" painted on the bows of a large motorboat. I stopped and stared at it, still groggy from the ordeal, thinking how curious it was I had never seen that name on another boat, other than my own Antares, until now.
The owner looked out the window and saw me standing there. He came out, and said, "Hi."
"Your boat has the same name as my last boat," I began, "Small world, huh?"
"Sure enough. Like to come in? Looks like it's going to pour again." I climbed aboard and went inside. His Antares was a real floating condo. Christie, his wife, fixed some coffee.
"What sort of boat was your Antares?" he asked.
"A 60 foot aluminum catamaran motorsailer. It looked like something Captain Nemo would have designed."
As we talked, the rain began to hammer the overhead and the world got smaller and smaller and smaller.
"Where you from, Richard?"
"Scarsdale, New York."
"Yeah? Really? Hay, how about that? I'm from White Plains. How old are you?"
"Me too. Christ, don't tell me you went to Scarsdale High?"
"No, Eastchester High."
Geff sat looking at me for some seconds, "You know, we must have seen each other at one of the football games. Damn, what a small world, huh? I mean here we are two kids from the same neighborhood, the same age, meeting up in Hong Kong on a boat with the same name as your last boat." He laughed and shook his head. "Well, if you think that's something, you are not going to believe my next surprise for you. I just came back from the U.S. You'll never guess who I was talking to three days ago."
"Who?" I accepted a cup of hot, freshly brewed coffee from Christie.
"Jack Kelly. That's who. I stopped in San Diego to see him because Christie and I are thinking of buying a Peterson 44. Like yours. Get this. I was thinking, when I flew in here a couple of days ago, how I'd love to have a sail on a Peterson 44 before buying one. Kind of try it out, you know. And wham, there you are, tied up right opposite me. What about that, huh? Is that amazing or what?"
"Fantastic," I grinned. "I was just thinking, when you told me you were a pilot for Pan Am, you would have great weather info. When we set sail from Hong Kong for the Philippines last week, I called the Royal Meteorological Observatory. The idiot I spoke to told me we would have a fine sail to Manila. Which might have been true except for the small matter of the typhoon."
"No problem, my friend. I have a flight route from here to Australia and back via the Philippines. I can get you the best possible weather info because I'll fly right over it and see what it is."
"Allright! Hey, why don't you and Christie join us on our sail to the Philippines?"
Geff came over to look at Moira. When he saw our storm soaked condition and the shambles on deck and below he kindly invited Freddy and me to dinner on Antares. Over dinner I told the story of experience in the typhoon.
"We were about 150 miles out when we saw a bank of ugly looking clouds ahead. It was still and hot, with that kind of haunted feeling that comes just before a storm. The blackest cloud dropped a funnel and Freddy and I just sat there feeling numb as it got bigger and bigger and began to spin. Another funnel seemed to leap up from the surface of the sea and there, not a mile off, was this gigantic waterspout. It twisted and looped like a living thing, then decided to slide off to our port, making this God-awful roaring sound. From then on things began to get worse.
"Leo, on Madame Butterfly, was about a day ahead of us. We had a radio schedule for 17:00 hours each day on the Ham Rig. We figured we could ask him what the weather conditions were ahead. Maybe the clouds were just a narrow squall line.
"But at 17:00, when we called, there was no answer. By then the wind was gusting to 50 knots and we had the main down to two reefs and no headsail. Finally, after beating hard into the giant waves for another hour, I decided to turn down wind. I started the engine, dropped the main and ran barestick before the wind, trying to avoid being rolled or pitch-poled by the growing seas. Now it was blasting at 60 knots plus and I knew we were in a typhoon."
As I talked, the scene came back to life. I was still tired and damp from the experience. The coffee seemed to boost me back into the storm.....
I look aft, watching the gigantic wave crest behind us, the top frothing, hissing, winddrift tearing from its edge, the spray cold and salty, stinging my face. The digital readout on the wind speed indicator reads 80 knots. Off to port, the wave seems humped, less likely to capsize, I slide Moira's bow down the long slope of the wave and to port, round her tight to starboard just as the wave breaks, smashing down onto the after cabin, instantly flooding the cockpit. The sea is warm after the icy rain and spray. I am twisted around, looking backwards, concentrating on the next big wave, trying to steer off the wind. Freddy is crouched next to me in her little yellow jacket. Our foul weather gear is crap. It leaks like a sieve. We are both wet to the skin.
In my peripheral vision I see the wind vane jerk over to one side. The wave which broke over us must have done something to it. "Take over Freddy," I shout in the wind. She grabs the big wheel and I unsnap my safety line and refasten it to the working line on deck. I begin to climb out of the cockpit.
"Rick, leave it alone! Don't go back there!"
"Don't worry, I'm just going to have a look." I work my way aft, crouched low on the deck, holding on with both hands, fighting against the wind, watching for another breaker amid the wind crazed seas. I lean over the stern. All but two of the bolts holding the wind vane have let go. The two still holding are on the lower strut. I lash the frame to the stainless railing and edge back to the cockpit. "I can't leave it like that. It might come loose and hole the transom. Can you hold her?" I shout in her ear.
"For a while. It's really hard." She is straining to keep Moira headed downwind.
"Come to port a bit. Quarter the seas on the port." I slide the companionway hatch open and lever myself inside. It is a mess below, everything strewn about and wet. Looks bad. I grab two wrenches from the engine room wall and climb out again into the shrieking wind.
"What are you going to do?" Freddy looks very scared.
"Take off the wind vane," I shout, snapping my safety line onto the runner.
"Be careful, please be careful," her voice a tiny ripple in the pounding rain and howling wind. Do it now, can't do it in the dark. Kick down the ladder and climb over the rail. The sea hisses below my feet as we surf down a wave. Concentrate. Don't look back, just undo the bolts. The wind vane shakes and vibrates like a captured beast. I hold on to the pushpit rail with both hands until Moira starts up the back of another swell and slows down again. I glance back. A white blizzard of rain and spray surrounds me. I can't see any ocean, just frantic spinning foam. Wonderful.
Moira lifts to another wave and I resume. Slowly, steadily the bolt turns. It's out. One more. I begin to turn it, but it sticks. I turn harder and harder and Moira skids down another ocean slope. Water roars up from her stern, the wind vane twists hard. The bolt explodes and the wind vane leaps sideways. I scramble back aboard.
Now, carefully, I let go the line holding the wind vane and it slides aft into the sea. It is an expensive bit of gear, all stainless, it weighs maybe 140 pounds. It skips along the surface flipping this way and that. A wave could carry it aboard. It could slam into the hull and hole us. I could let it go. I should let it go. But impulsively, stupidly, I grab the line and haul the maze of steel back to the transom and, as Moira's stern drops down, I heave it aboard. It is a tangle of steel and wood around me as I lash it down. Shaking and weak, I work my way back to the cockpit and relieve Freddy at the helm.
She collapses onto the cockpit seat by my side. It is getting dark. The wind speed indicator glows an evil 87 knots. The roar is deafening, appalling, terrifying. We are heading due north, quartering the southwesterly winds, bearing down on the rocky, uncharted coast of Red China. We are lost. No sights for more than 12 hours and the erratic course we steer, to work the waves, makes dead reckoning hopeless. Still, I estimate we must be averaging north.
I keep an eye on the fathometer. When it reaches 300 feet I'll turn to port and follow the 300 foot line until we reach the Hong Kong Peninsula. I can't see anything in the darkness, but, with this rain, we'll be flying blind sun or no sun.
At exactly midnight the fathometer says 300 feet. I heave the wheel to port until she comes to a more westerly heading. Now we are making into the wind at about 75 to 80º. Our speed drops to less than two knots. I wake Freddy. While she holds the course I go on deck and crawl along the wind and wave swept deck with the tiny storm jib under one arm. I hank it on the headstay and haul it up.
The wind has slacked to 70 knots - from horrifying to terrifying - but now, in the shallower water, the waves are sharp and steep. Moira slides along from trough to crest to trough to crest, the little sail cracking and shaking, the wind a howling demented beast of the night. The HISSSSS of approaching waves becomes a steady nightmare the breath of the beast before it launches itself at us, landing with a crashing thunder of millions of tons of seawater. Each hisssss shows the beast's grin; a looming white line of cresting foam which I use to steer by, turning slightly into it or off it, moving into the lee of this wave then falling off onto the back of that wave, then missing and having the white glow change into a yawning black cavern of liquid jaws, engulfing us, swirling and pulling at our bodies.
The automatic radio direction finder can't decide if Hong Kong is straight ahead or straight behind us. I am so tired I can't think what to do but stick to the earlier decision made when I was less tired. We keep going west.
It is three in the morning. I am numb. Steering mechanically. The waves are higher and steeper. We are not holding the 300 foot depth line. The depth is now 240 feet. I stare at the numbers glowing in the darkness. 2 4 0. 2 3 9. We are being pushed into shallower water by the storm. The waves feel the bottom now. They catch their giant feet in the sand and rear up high above us. We climb them in the darkness, up and up, Moira feeling her way by touch. The white teeth of a titan breaker foams under Moira's keel, opens wide, Moira slips, falls. There is an awful moment of emptiness then her keel splits the trough and her hull slams into the sea. I feel the curve of the wave towering to port and then it falls on us. We are underwater.
Moira heaves off the sea and with slow, graceful pride, climbs the next wave. Over and over I croon, "Christ, what a beautiful boat," I steer her as carefully and as kindly as the seas and darkness will allow. On and on we go into the night and then...
The grass is green and soft. There is a little stone border around the lawn with red and yellow flowers in neat rows just behind it. The late afternoon sun is warm and yellow and I feel very free and happy. I amble along, looking down, feeling the new cut grass move like green silk between my toes. Birds are singing. I feel like lying down but I can't do that. It's OK to walk but I have to keep standing because you can't....you can't...
The night wind tears at my soaked jacket and the hissss of a breaking wave makes me heave the wheel to port. Can't take that one on the beam. Plow into it. We are buried. Freddy gasps and chokes. She rolls out of the sodden blankets.
"Freddy. Take the wheel! I'm hallucinating. I'm passing out." I feel her body slam up against mine as she grabs the wheel, her tiny hand icy cold on mine. The wind pulls her hood from her head, water streams from her luminous white face in the darkness. I am falling.....
"You OK fella?" A warm baritone voice squeezes into where I am. I lift my head from my hands and look up. It's a cop. He looks concerned, not mad or anything.
"Yes sir, I'm OK. Just daydreaming." He gazes at me for a moment, like he was thinking, then he walks off looking up at the trees with his hands behind his back. He could have told me to get off the grass. I thought he might. God the lawn smells so good. I lay back and feel the warm grass and the sun on my face and smell the greenness and the flowers.
"Rick! Please Rick, wake up. Rick, I can't hold her anymore. Rick, Please wake up." I leap to my feet, feeling Moira heave, drop, and thunder into the sea. Wind speed 85 knots. Time 4:05. I have slept about 5 minutes yet I feel strangely refreshed. I take the wheel and play the waves. We are in 300 feet of water again.
About 20 minutes go by and I smell flowers, like I was lying in the grass with a flower just a little way from my nose.
"Freddy!" I call, but I am falling. I roll over and look up through the branches at a deep blue spring sky and Freddy shakes me and I am fighting the storm again.
The sky is gray. It must be daytime. Ahead we see a rock jutting up from the sea. I go below and fumble through the wet charts and locate what might be the rock. If it is, we will probably make Hong Kong before dark.
"Rick, a boat!" Freddy shouts and I wake up.
I stood up and saw a Red Chinese gun boat about 100 meters to leeward pacing us. A man opened the wheelhouse door and gestured for us to follow him. I screamed into the wind and gave him the finger and he cut in close astern.
"Amazing" Geff shakes his head, "Right in the middle of the storm? Did you follow him?"
"No. We kept on trucking for Hong Kong as it wasn't too far."
"What did he do?"
"He kept trying to get us to follow him but we had enough experience with pirates to know better than let him lead us who knows where." I reply. "He circled us a few times and made as if to come alongside but of course it was impossible in those seas and he finally decided I knew it as well as he did so he quit and vanished into the rain."
"What...uh. I mean, if it isn't too... Well, why are you headed to the Solomons?" Christie asks.
I wonder, for a moment if I should tell her..'Oh, I'm following a vision I had one night while looking into the eyes of a big steel devil in Key West.' But, if I do, they probably wouldn't want to sail with us. And actually, I'm not sure that's the real reason we are out here. I give her our alternative reason. "I'll be joining another marine biologist and working on the social behavior of wild dolphin populations."
"Oh, wow, that sounds really interesting." She smiles. Shortly, Freddy and I return to our sodden Moira. Christie's question bugs me. Why are we out here, battling pirates and typhoons? What are we really looking for? In a way, I guess we - or maybe I should say I - am escaping from what became an impossible position back in the States. Starting again, or maybe giving up. I could go into a long discourse, I suppose, about working on environmental problems in the U.S.
I could tell stories about the people in the E.P.A. and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Stories about developers and industrialists and courts and trials which were anything but just to either side. Sure. But what for? To me, it seemed the entire problem of environmental degradation in the U.S. was embedded in a terrible error, a philosophical glitch. There is something wrong with the way we think about our world. Something basic and important. It's so basic and so important that we can't see it. So, no matter how many court cases we fight, no matter how much research we do, we will never solve the basic crisis engulfing us.
I like to think, by beating a leisurely retreat to the middle of the South Pacific, I might gain perspective. Maybe even figure out a way to say what I can only barely feel.
Or maybe the real reason actually was that devil cut out of steel with its star-eyes spanning the years......The devil and the Moirae. I have to admit, Geff's string of coincidences make it seem like I'm still being lead along, following a trail of little cosmic signposts of coincidences, heading towards something interesting.