Welcome to Windhaven 26 and a couple What if? Story Prompts for writers or the curious. This is a long post with a questionable number of Chapters. Blame Covid, the end of school, and doing another edit of Girl at Sea, which is continuing. I hope to be done with that quickly so I can return to Windhaven.
Remember, this is all First Draft. Little or no (mostly) editing has been done. The Second Draft is where EDITING rears its ugly, but so necessary, head.
If you want to know what school custodians do while you’re all snuggy at home with your pet or spouse check out The Custodian Stories.
I usually write about supernatural stuff or mystery/thrillers. Windhaven might have some thrills, but no mystery, except maybe who survives and who doesn’t, and no vampires or trips to hell.
Windhaven is a survival adventure that could happen any day now. I’m not doing official chapters every post, just whenever. The numbers are to keep it all in order, for you and me. Comments and suggestions are always welcome, and preferred.
WhatIf your partner stole all the company money and you were blamed for it, your wife left you, your kids hated you and your friends shunned you? You decided to kill yourself by jumping off a bridge. You do and you die. Your body drifts to shore and you wake up. Disorientated, you wander into a bad part of town. For no particular reason some locals beat the crap out of you and you die with a knife in your gut. You wake up. What the hell is happening? You have no money so you rob a store. The cops shoot you. You wake up in the morgue. Now you’re getting it. Escaping, you find a quiet place to sit and think, revenge for all the wrongs, perceived or real, on your mind.
WhatIf you and a couple friends steal millions of dollars from a drug cartel. You keep 2-3 million for yourselves and want to donate the rest to charities. But you can’t walk in and hand them a 100K in
cash. That sort of thing raises questions. You think you’re clever and try to clean the money. But you’re not. Now the cartel killers, the police and the FBI are after you. What do you do? Where do you go? What do you become?
A grey dawn slowly showed itself. The storm had not abated, though it had held steady at fifty to sixty knots for several hours with wave heights in the twenty-five to thirty foot heights. Leigh and Noah sat together by the helm, cold, wet and exhausted.
“Too bad you didn’t get to that self-steering,” Leigh shouted over the roar of waves and wind.
“Too bad a lot of things,” Noah said. “I have had time to figure it out. It’ll be awesome.”
“I’m sure it will be. Anyway we’re making some miles toward wherever.”
“I wish people would stop saying that: wherever, somewhere, nowhere.”
“Once we get the deck sorted out we need to sort out navigation.”
“Right. Let’s do two hour watches,” Noah said. “Go get some sleep.”
“Soon as I take care of the babies.”
“I already did that. Just kiss their foreheads and get some sleep.”
Noah just shooed her away.
By afternoon the storm had lost its fury with winds down to thirty-five to forty knots. Noah had let Leigh sleep for three hours. She did the same for him. Back on deck, Leigh stayed behind the helm as he worked on the new mainsail.
Taking the ruined mainsail that had been lashed down during the storm, Noah cut off the top twenty-five feet. He had to scramble over the deck as wind caught the remains. He ended up on his ass in the cockpit, grasping a small portion he’s saved as the as the rest blew into the water with a full spread display.
Leigh tried unsuccessfully to stifle her laugh.
Noah gave her a face and moved on. There was no good way to attach a sheet line used to control the sail from the cockpit. He didn’t have the equipment or expertise to add two inch grommet, but he did have the equipment to install several smaller grommets in a multilayered patch. He threaded the smaller sheet through the three grommets. With the sheets run through blocks close to a deck winch all he had to do was raise the sail.
With great fanfare and applause he cranked the sail up. Unfortunately he’d forgotten to secure the starboard sheet.
Fortunately Leigh was quick and grabbed it before it could fly off and wave in the wind out of reach.
Noah retrieved the line from her, ignoring her so-you-call-yourself-a-sailor look.
They both laughed when he almost raised his middle finger at her.
The wind continued to ease. With Leigh’s help he mounted a spinnaker pole as a boom for the new sail. Right away Windhaven took on a new character — Steadier, more responsive to the wheel. Though it flew only a small remnant of sail Windhaven surged ahead, happy to be doing what she was built to do.
The sun peeked out from under the clouds in the east by the time Noah had manipulated lines, blocks and bungee cords into a semblance of self-steering.
They stood together behind the helm their fingers twitching to grab it and correct their course. But they didn’t need to as the subtle change in pressure on the sail when it veered off course turned the wheel.
“It will take some tweaking,” Noah said. “But, not bad if I do say so. What do you think?”
“I’m going to sleep on my next watch.”
“Looks like we picked up a couple three, knots.”
“Now we can get nowhere faster.”
“Leigh, go down below and don’t bug me and my brilliant setup.”
Before dropping down the companionway Leigh gave him a thumbs up and said, “Rube Goldberg would be proud.”
“Thanks,” he replied after she was gone.
During the night the wind settled down to a steady twenty knots and the waves an easy five feet. Between minor tweaks to his new toy Noah thought about the navigation problem. He had a pretty good idea where they were, but wasn’t positive. The little handheld GPS hadn’t been giving many reasonable, or complete, positions lately.
So how were they to get home, meaning land anywhere? Home, where Linda was. Did she wait for him? Did she forget him? Did she assign him as a one-night-stand, though a pleasant one, he thought.
How long had it been — months. He tried to figure it out, but quickly found that he didn’t know the date, and wasn’t sure of the month. And, worst of all, he had to think hard to remember exactly what she looked like.
He didn’t sleep much that night on deck or in his bunk.
Noah dozed on his mid-morning watch when Leigh sat next to him, saying nothing and looking at nothing.
“I was giving Alain some water and he grabbed my arm.”
“Really? I thought….”
“Me too. He said something.” She looked off at the dark blue water that surrounded them.
“Je t’attends, Leigh. Dites Alice et Pauly je les aime.”
“I wait for you, Leigh. Tell Alice and Pauly I love them.”
“Christ. Sounds like a goodbye.”
“Yeah. He was a good sailor. Good crew. Didn’t like you much.”
“He was a little… aloof.”
Leigh chuckled. “You haven’t sailed the thousands of miles we all have.”
“How’d he become the supreme sailor?”
“Don’t be snarky, Noah. It doesn’t suit you.”
Noah just shrugged and studied his self-steering settings.
“Alice’s father is a delivery skipper. She’d sailed from day one. Alain met her at a yacht party. They hit it off. He’d never been on a boat so she took him sailing.” She chuckled. “He was terrified and seasick, but he liked her so he continued to sail and came to like, then love, it, and her. He did deliveries with her father and raced with her, eventually doing long distance racing. When Alice became pregnant she mostly stayed home, Alain didn’t.”
“And here we are.”
“Go to bed, Noah. You’re getting too cranky.”
“Me? Cranky? Try not to hit something and wake me up.”
Below, Noah checked in with Thomas propped up in his bunk, popping Tylenol and Advil, and reading a mostly dry book like he was on a tropical cruise.
“So your self-steering rig seems to work?” he asked.
“Seems to so far.”
“Were you talking about Alain out there? How’s he doing?”
“Not good. I doubt he’ll last much longer.”
“That sucks. He was a good guy once you got to know him.”
“That’s what I’m told.”
Thomas laughed to himself. “Yeah, you guys didn’t quite hit it off.”
“No. No. But I hate what’s happening to him. And I don’t have clue what to do for him short of putting a pillow over his face.”
“Sort of like Red.”
Noah shook his head and blew out a deep breath. “Jesus, I don’t have a clue what to do for him, either. I feel helpless, you know?”
Thomas laid a hand on Noah’s shoulder. “You two are doing the best you can under shit circumstances. You knew what to do for me. Too bad you can’t call 911.”
Noah happened to be looking at the nave station when an idea flashed through his brain, and out again. “I gotta go, man. I’m beat.”
As he walked away Thomas said, “I’m feeling better, Noah. I’d like to go up on deck sometime soon.”
Waving acknowledgment Noah, Noah found his bunk and dropped into four hours of dreamless sleep.
Mostly awake, Noah made some coffee and checked on Alain. “Ah shit, man.”
On deck he gave Leigh her coffee and sat next to her. “Alain’s dead.”
She sighed deep and leaned on him. “I guess he saw it coming.”
“Mmmmm. We can’t leave him like Larry.”
“Tomorrow then. Too bad Alice can’t see him.”
“You know, I think a couple of the cell phones still have a charge. No bars, but the cameras might work.”
Late the next morning the sun managed to break through right when needed. Thomas sat propped in the companionway holding a cell phone with seventy-three percent charge. He snapped pictures as Noah and Leigh carried Alain’s sheet wrapped body along the deck to the lifeline gate. They laid him across, feet over the edge, body propped against the cockpit coming.
Noah asked, “Should we show his face? Will his wife want to see him? He doesn’t look very good.”
Leigh took the phone from Thomas and videoed Alain for fifteen seconds, then handed it back. “We can always cut it if necessary.”
Noah covered up Alain’s long pale face then looked at Leigh.
She sat on the coming half-facing Thomas. She squeezed her eyes shut, glanced at the phone and said, “Alice, I’m so sorry we could not bring Alain home. We did all we could for him. He was fighter, but finally had to let go. His last words were, ‘Dites Alice et Pauly je les aime.’ I know he did. He spoke of you often. I’m sorry.”
“I am sorry, Alice. I’m Noah. I didn’t know Alain well. He could be a bit prickly. But I liked him and he was good crew. Always ready to step up. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Thomas spun his finger – hurry up.
One on each side Noah and Leigh gently slide Alain into the cold gray water.
Leigh swiped away a tear. “Fair winds, Alain.”
They watched him until out of sight.
Face grim, Thomas watched the replay. Nodded okay.
“I hope Alice gets to see that,” Leigh said. She turned and sat behind the helm, head down, arms tight around her, signaling she wanted to be alone.
Below Noah helped Thomas into his bunk. “That sort of sucked.” He glanced in Red’s direction. “I hope we don’t have to do that again. I know Leigh knew him and his family, but she seemed uncharacteristically emotional. Do you think?”
Thomas lay back in his bunk. “You didn’t hear it from me, but she and Alain had a thing some years ago.”
They were stuck in Marseille for a week for boat repairs and weather. Apparently they were hot and heavy for that week.”
“They were both married at the time?”
“Now that you mention it they didn’t really interact much.” Noah glanced out at Leigh. She had hands on the wheel, but looked off to the side, attention sometime or somewhere else. “You think she’s feeling guilty, or remembering a special time that will never happen again?”
“I don’t know. I go from hoping she feels guilty to hoping she’s not.”
“Okay, you want to explain that?”
“Her husband is one of my best friends. I’d hate for him to find out. But Leigh is a good friend, too, and I have no doubt she hasn’t cheated since. I mean I can see how it might happen. Thrown together with nothing to do and they’re going to be at sea a long time….”
“Does he know?”
“Not from me.”
“Sounds like a scene from a book.”
“You taking notes? You writing anything right now?”
Noah’s lips turned down into a pensive frown as he too stared off into some other when or some other where, “Only in my head.”
Thomas, his usual observing self raised his eyebrows, and hummed to himself. “Better get some rest, Noah.”
“Huh. Yeah.” He patted Thomas’s shoulder and walked away.
Weeks went by. They flew a small jib which helped some with speed, five knots on a good wind day, but caused Noah to almost daily tweak his self steering. Daily he struggled with the handheld GPS unit to get a reasonable position. Some days he became so frustrated he shoved it at Leigh. “You navigate with the damned thing,” then go on deck to walk it off. Leigh could barely suppress a laugh whenever she got a decent reading.
They fell into a rhythm, standing watches, cooking, looking after Red who would burst into lucidity asking what the hell was going on, why was he still in his bunk, where was Ricky his first mate for years, and complaining about his headache. He made more or less sense for five minutes or five hours before his headache came on strong and he would be in real pain until he lapsed into unconsciousness.
They developed a leak they couldn’t find exactly. It came from the engine room, most likely from under the generator which was knocked off its mounts by the big wave and jammed against the main engine. Noah and Leigh attempted to push, pull, kick, lever, lift the generator but it may as well have been welded to the engine for all their efforts. Ten minutes, twice a day they had to pump to keep the bilges in reasonable dryness.
A storm caught up with them. Not a bad storm, fifty to fifty-five knot winds, not bad for the higher latitudes. But it lasted for almost five days, the mainsail ripped in half destroying Noah’s self steering rig. They had to stand watches constantly. When the storm blew itself out winds dropped to ten–fifteen knots.
Exhausted, it took Noah and Leigh two days to raise a two hundred square foot main. Their daily distance dropped to fifty-sixty nautical miles with two thousand plus miles to go the Chilean coast.
Noah didn’t care. The weather was mild for the Southern Ocean: light winds, some real sun, fifty-five degrees. It wouldn’t last, but they were determined to enjoy the quiet time. Noah and Leigh helped Thomas to the helm where he couldn’t stop smiling to be outside after weeks of pain and boredom. They were afraid to move Red because of his back. All they could do was open some hatches to air out the interior.
Leigh and Noah sat on the cockpit floor head tilted back to the sun enjoying the moment.
After some time Leigh said, “Can we call home and have them come get us after this?”
“Sure, you have any bars.”
“Any day now. You going to call your girl?”
Big sigh. “She’s probably given me up for dead by now.”
“But you haven’t given her up, have you?”
Silence, then, “No.”
“You wondering what she’s doing right now?”
“Yeah. You wondering what your husband is doing right now?”
“I know what he’s doing, and right now I am totally jealous. He’s skippering a fifty-five foot sailboat in the Caribbean for the season.”
“Ha. Warm water, balmy breezes, bikinis and lounging in the hammock.”
“Well, no bikinis.”
“What’s he thinking about your absence?”
“He hasn’t given up.”
“He knows you, so probably not. Couple months from now you’ll walk in the door and he’ll say, “Hi Hon, you’re late for diner.”
“It’ll be take-out from Luigi’s, spinach lasagna, chicken parmesan and the best fresh baked bread.”
“Damn, I wish you hadn’t said that.”
“Me, too. Your girl cook?”
“I don’t know.”
Linda stirred the spaghetti sauce she was semi-famous for, at sixteen she won a pasta cook-off at the county fair, and second place at the state fair. She wondered if Noah would like it. She wasn’t ready to say, “Might have liked it.”
Briefly she thought of saving the spaghetti and sauce so when she saw him again he’d have a good meal to celebrate his homecoming. But she wasn’t that far gone. She’d eat it herself and share some with her wheelchair bound neighbor who knew more about loss than any one person should.
Thirty days tomorrow. Not that long. She’d read several books about people spending way more than that in a liferaft. It could be. Or…, she stopped stirring, closed her eyes and forced a few deep breaths.
Or he’s dead. The boat hit something, something hit them, they had a leak, a big wave swamped them, sending the boat, sending Windhaven, to the bottom with all hands. And so she would never see him again. Never feel him again.
Linda swiped a tear and continued stirring.
Sitting together at the bar it felt right, he even smelled right. She hadn’t been looking for anyone and she sometimes joked about being a spinster. Noah was a surprise. She hadn’t thought of him as more than a one night stand. Since he went missing she had wondered more than once if he, like her, hadn’t realized he was lonely until the possibility arose that he didn’t have to be.
How long had she known him? Thirteen hours and thirteen minutes. Christ, no wonder he’s gone. But he fit. That first kiss on his boat they fit together. She knew it, she felt it, and so did he. And in bed, on her, between her legs, in her, it all… fit.
And now he’s gone. How could she ever find another man who fit her like that? Those jokes about spinsterhood may not turn out to be so funny.
The next day thirty-five to forty knot winds returned with gray skies and gray water. Twelve to fifteen foot rollers sent Windhaven surfing then falling down the backside then waiting for the next one while occasional cross waves smacked the hull sending cutting spray over everything.
Even flying a small jib and what was left of the main they made five knots, sis or seven surfing. The motion was too much for Thomas so Noah and Leigh stood two hour watches.
Noah had done his mid-morning watch and fifteen minutes of bilge pumping. He helped Thomas to the head, heated some hot chocolate, helped Thomas back to his bunk, checked on Red and wondered if they were waiting for him to die. Most of the time he lay still, eyes bare slits, presumably unconscious. Occasionally he woke up and seemed rational, until the headache made his words slur and then devolve into moans then heart rendering whimpers then an uncomfortable unconsciousness.
“Man, you’re lucky,” Thomas informed Noah. “You get to go on deck and freeze your ass off while I have to listen to his moans and groans.”
“Yeah, lucky me.”
“You think he’ll make it? I like the guy and all but I almost wish he would pass. He’s in such pain, I hate to hear him suffer like that. You guys have any ideas to help him?”
Noah shrugged and looked Red’s way. “No. Not a clue except get him to eat and drink when he’s lucid. Otherwise….”
“Too bad you can’t phone home and get a telemed appointment with a head doc.”
Noah sat at the nav station to try and get a lucid reading from the GPS. Phone home. He glanced at the satellite phone hanging from the side of the electric cabinet. Hmmm. He reached for it.
Weeks before the phone had been full of water. Noah shook out more water as he examined it. He found a small container of small tools in a small drawer. He removed a few screws and exposed the damp interior. The battery came loose still attached to the unit.
In earlier searches he’d found a volt meter filled with water. Maybe it was dried out. He tried it on the phone battery – nothing. The unit had it’s own battery for the OHM meter section. Took it out, tried it. Nothing.
With lips tight and forehead furrowed he stared at the disassembled phone. Now what? He had heard of people putting a cell phone into a bowl of uncooked rice to dry out. They had rice on the boat. Though they had to ration their food he thought a handful could be spared.
The port side suddenly rose up.
“Hang on!” Leigh yelled.
Bang. A waved smacked the hull, dumping Noah to the floor, sending a shudder throughout Windhaven. The cabin top deflected as hard water dumped on it. Spray hissed. Water ran through the companionway.
“Damn it. What now?” He threw on his foul weather jacket and raced up the ladder.
When he popped his head up he jerked back. During his short time below deck the gray clouds had lowered and the wind and waves had risen. “What the hell did you do, Leigh?”
She threw a finger to the main sail, or what was left of it.
Noah cursed intensely to himself. What was left of the mainsail they had labored so hard to repair and modify had ripped loose from the clew and now flew free – useless and dangerous. The forty knot plus winds had wrapped the sail around the rear shroud holding up the mast. The free end snapped and beat hard against the forward shroud. The top full size batten of the sail had caught the spreader tip which had ripped a hole in the sail.
“Get that thing down, Noah,” Leigh shouted. “The boat is too squirrely. We need to slow down.”
Noah stood with his feet spread looking up and shaking his head.
Cursing under his breath, he climbed over the coaming onto the side deck. One hand gripped the handrail on the cabin top as he attempted to stay upright and on the boat. Battling the bitter cold spray and water running down the deck he made his way close to the mast. He climbed onto the top and reached for the mast.
“Noah. Clip on!”
Wide eyed he glanced up. With barely a second to spare he snapped his safety harness on a heavy safety wire. A wave smacked the windward side, rolling Windhaven until the mast top almost hit the water. Solid water swept Noah off his feet and flung him hard against the lifelines while near freezing seawater rushed into his jacket like cold tentacles. His lungs froze. On his knees he gasped for breath as he clutched at the handrail.
The water drained away, but he stayed on deck, head bowed. He couldn’t take it anymore. The constant effort was too much for him. Exhausted, frustrated, scared, and hopeless, he just wanted to curl up in his bunk and not care. Let Leigh struggle with the injured and the weather.
Leigh waited for Noah to get up and take the sail down. She knew he’d taken a hit, but the present situation called for action, now. She had enough experience with long voyages and bad weather to know what he was going through.
On her second Atlantic crossing, not the first, that had been too exciting – a milk run from the Med to the Caribbean – she felt the same a Noah. The weather had been rough for weeks. It seemed as if gale force winds were going to follow them all the way to France. They were all wet, tired and bruised. Leigh had looked out a narrow cabin side window. A wave, like a huge claw, seemed to rise up in front of her. The wave crashed like an explosion, sending a shudder throughout the boat. The window she looked out cracked and cold North Atlantic seawater spit in her face.
That was it, all she could take. She curled up in her bunk, knowing the gales would never stop until a bigger wave took them down and drowned them. It was too much. Humans weren’t meant to endure at sea. Especially her. The other crew, all with much more experience, knew what she felt, they’d been there, too. They talked to her, reassured her. Within an hour her natural toughness pulled her out of her despair.
Windhaven couldn’t wait an hour for Noah to pull himself out of his funk.
“Noah! God damn it. Get up!”
Noah continued to grip the handrail, while rolling his head back and forth – NoNoNo.
Leigh muttered, “YesYesYes,” and few other words lost to the wind. “Get up Noah,” she shouted uselessly. She waited for a wave to pass then jumped over the cockpit coaming and ran in a crouch along the deck to Noah.
She yanked his arm. “Noah God damn it I want to see my husband again. You want to see your girl. Thomas and Red want to see their families again. We can’t do that with out you. We freaking need you. Get up and get that damn sail down. Linda wants to see you. Get up.”
Leigh felt a big wave coming. She raced back to the helm just in time to keep Windhaven from broaching.
Noah struggled to stand up. This is stupid, he thought. He had heard Leigh shouting, but what got him up was Linda’s name, not anything the others wanted. Stupid. He didn’t know if she wanted to see him, but he wanted to see her and he couldn’t do that from the bottom of the Southern Ocean.
He used his lifeline to pull himself to the mast. He glanced at Leigh. She stared at him from under the hood of her foul weather jacket like the evil sorceress from a fantasy movie.
He released the main halyard and slowly let the tension off. The sail slipped six inches down the track and stopped. He yanked the sail. It came down a few more inches then bounced back up.
“Noah,” Leigh shouted over the chaotic crashing waves and screeching wind. She pointed up.
Struggling to keep on his feet, Noah backed away from the mast and looked up. It felt like his chest had emptied leaving a cavity that would never be filled. Ignoring the icy spray, he looked down and shook his head. He should have taken an easy cruise to Mexico.
The force of the wind had not only hard-pressed the sail against the rigging it forced it up just enough for the top batten, which helped hold the shape of the sail, to catch on the spreader and for the spreader tip to wear a small hole in the sail. Both Leigh and Noah knew instantly that the only way to get the sail free would be to turn Windhaven broadside to the wind and waves so the wind could blow the sail free.
They also knew turning Windhaven broadside was a huge risk. They’d only have seconds to get the sail unstuck and down before the next fifteen foot wave rolled over. It would take two to take the sail down, but someone had to be on the helm.
There was only one option. While Leigh fought the helm Noah dropped through the companionway. “Thomas. We need you right now.”
“I figured you might.” Thomas leaned against his bunk struggling to stay upright as he struggled into his modified foul weather gear. “We’re in trouble, aren’t we?”
“Yep. The main is caught on the spreader. We’ll have to turn broadside to get it loose,” he said while helping him into his gear.
“Shit. Broadside in this weather? That’s a hell of a risk.”
“Ya think? I’m open to suggestions. Meanwhile you’re on the helm.”
Noah supported Thomas as he pulled himself up the ladder. Once in the cockpit, companionway secured, arms around each other, they made for the helm. Halfway across a wave broke over the side sweeping them off their feet. Together they crawled to Leigh who helped Thomas up and onto the helms man’s seat.
The three sat together shoulder to shoulder, supporting Thomas between them.
Leigh showed Thomas the problem and and had to shout to explain what had to happen.
“Christ, Leigh, in this weather, that sounds like a death sentence,” Thomas shouted back.
“Even with that little bit of sail up we’re going much too fast. The boat wants to round up on its own. If it does we’ll broach, probably roll over and fucking die. We can do this. Just don’t turn up until I signal. You ready?”
“Fuck it. Let’s rock and roll.”
They took a minute to make sure Thomas could steady himself with his one leg.
Leigh and Thomas waded across the cockpit that was continually awash. Before they separated, Noah to the mast and Leigh to the deck where she could grasp the sail to pull it down once it was free, she gripped Noah’s arm and shouted in his ear, “Are you okay with this? We need you.”
Noah glanced up at the offending sail. “I have to say I’m sacred as hell, but like the man said, ‘Let’s rock and roll.’”
“Me too,” Leigh said and stepped over the coaming onto the deck.
Once secured in position, holding tight to the luff, Leigh looked back at the barely visible waves. She wasn’t so much looking at them as feeling the rhythm of Windhaven with the waves. She’d been on watch for a long time. As the wind and waves grew she had become attuned to the rhythm – The rise, the rush of a breaking passing wave, the short relatively smooth trough before the next one. Knew that after every third wave there was a trough two or three seconds longer. Critical seconds.
Six inches of water spilled over the side tried to knock her down. Leigh held tight. She held up one finger to Thomas. All he could do was nod, his arms working the helm to keep control.
The third wave passed amidships.
Thomas spun the wheel.
Nimble for a seventy footer, Windhaven snapped to port.
All eyes rose to the spreaders. The sail seemed glued to the rigging and spreader.
As Windhaven slid down the back of the third wave she continued to turn broadside to the coming wave already breaking.
With no warning the trapped sail flapped. Immediately Leigh yanked hard on the luff. Nothing happened. Through the continuous spray she caught the alarm in Noah’s eyes. Together they yanked again and the sail came loose.
Immediately Thomas spun the wheel to starboard. Windhaven began turning, but not fast enough. The next wave was already breaking as it lifted the boat. Before Windhaven could complete its turn to full stern facing the wild weather the breaking wave caught its aft quarter.
Solid water washed across the stern quarter, slamming Thomas against the wheel. The water filled the cockpit. When it hit the back of the cabin with a thump heard above the screaming wind, hissing spray and roaring water it was catapulted up where wind caught it and swept Noah off his feet and washed down on Leigh.
Like a bulldozer the water wanted to push the stern back around so it could broach the boat then roll it then capsize it and it and its crew to the bottom.
As Windhaven slid diagonally down the ever rising twenty foot wave, fighting for its life, Thomas, on his knees, clung to the spokes of the wheel spun full starboard. Totally soaked with forty degree water he scrambled to stand on his leg. For a few seconds he saw the biting hard spray knock Noah to down again. The spray continued to Leigh blocking her from sight as a foot of water combined with it in the sea’s attempt to wash her overboard and claim another life.
But the sea was not claiming any lives at that time. At the last moment before Windhaven‘s rudder rose out of the water, she came around stern to.
Thomas, still on his knees, centered the wheel to keep the boat on track.
Noah, soaked, freezing, and bruised had his arms around the mast as the water drained away. He glanced toward Thomas struggling to stand. He felt the slight decrease of the wind and the easing of Windhaven’s motion. By the relaxing of the tension in his gut and the ability to breathe again he felt that maybe they might survive another night.
Leigh, soaked and freezing, lay flat on the side deck with one arm and one leg hanging over the side. The other hand gripped her lifeline stretched taught when the sea tried to pull her overboard. It had saved her life. Breathing deep, she patted the strip of nylon. “Good lifeline. Good lifeline.” She kicked away the folds of the sail that they had partially pulled down. On her knees she hung on to the cabin handrail in the same spot Noah had not too long before. He steadied himself with the mast. When he saw her he threw her thumbs up.
She returned it, looked to Thomas.
He had made it to the helmsman’s seat. He shook his head, let out a wild victory cry and threw her a thumbs up.
She returned the gesture, then, though in the middle of one of the worst storm they’d had – fifty to sixty knot winds and twenty to twenty five foot waves – they all laughed out loud with relief and not a little bit of Tension.
Then they got o work. Noah and Leigh dragged the rest of the sail down and lashed it to the handrail. They considered taking down the small jib, but neither wanted to go forward and fight the wind for it. Instead they tightened up the sheet to present a smaller surface area to the storm.
Thomas confirmed that Windhaven was much easier to control with the main down. The three sat for a few minutes behind the helm, saying nothing, bonding like they hadn’t before, glad to be alive. Noah and Thomas sent Leigh below to get dry, warm and rest. “… and maybe some hot chocolate?”
“I’ll expect one hell of a tip.”
The storm abated throughout the next day. At sunset the Southern Ocean treated them to a rare sunset. Leigh and Noah were exhausted. Thomas, too, but in the early morning a sideways wave had tripped him up and he landed on his leg stump. The pain near paralyzed him. The others, mostly Noah, had had to drag him to his bunk. They gave him two vicodin from their small remaining supply.
The almost unrecognizable mainsail still lay lashed to the cabin top. No one could muster the physical or mental energy to tackle some sort of repair. The trusty jib continued to pull Windhaven through the water at five knots, give or take. A descent speed for a small cruising sailboat. With a full crew and sails, Windhaven could do ten, twelve, fifteen knots.
For days they went about the business of survival with little interaction. They fell into a rhythm – who’s on watch, who cooks, who looks after Red? Occasionally Noah looked at the mainsail, maybe picked through it, but just couldn’t work up the will to do anything about it. The same with self steering. Without the main he had no way to rig something up. He did think about it sometimes while on watch, but the miasma that had settled over all of them prevented him from trying out any possibilities.
He’s been forced through circumstances and guilt, whether warranted or not, to be responsible for Windhaven and the crew. Before this opportunity he’d been used to being responsible only for himself. Then he’d met Linda. That brief encounter brought him to think that maybe having someone else in his life might be… pleasant. The possibility of seeing her slightly lopsided smile or touching her face gave him hope enough to lift the hopelessness from his shoulders. If he could just summon the energy.
Leigh, when not taking care of “chores” spent much of her time lying in her bunk with an arm over her eyes to hide the feeling of hopelessness that had infected them all. She wanted to see her husband again. She loved him, plain and simple. And he loved her. In any year they might, if they worked at it, spend two months total together.
Neither one was ready to settle down to lifelong domestic bliss. Though when they were together in their cozy waterfront cottage, that’s just what they did. Cook, clean, shop together. Breakfast on the deck, walking hand in hand after lunch, snuggling on the couch at night, watching a movie.
Despite her reputation for toughness and competence in any situation, she had to admit to herself that domestic bliss seemed like a pretty damn good idea right then. Together, they were the perfect example of domesticity. Strong and confident. A team. Apart, they were on their own, but with the other always there for support.
She’d come to depend on Noah. His semi-breakdown shook her. She really didn’t want to be the only mobile person on Windhaven. She really did need him, as much as she had ever needed anyone, and that shook her as well. Her husband’s psychic support was always with her, but there, at that time, Noah, and somewhat Thomas, were the team she needed in real time.
Linda, too, felt a cloak of hopelessness settle over her. It had been over a month since the last communication from Windhaven. They weren’t ready to declare the boat lost with all hands, but extended search had been called off. Ships were still advised of the situation. Most families had accepted the loss of their loved ones and began to move on.
Not Linda. She just had a feeling. Maureen told her she had that feeling, also. They had become phone friends, talking once or twice a week. Maureen gave her updates on the race. Of the seven boats that started four were still racing. One had been demasted west of Australia, one had a loose keel off of South Africa, one was missing.
“Windhaven would have been up there with the leaders,” Maureen told her.
“Officially they think they’re gone, don’t they?”
“Oh, Linda. Deep down… yes. Do you still have that feeling that all is not lost?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I’ll go with that. ‘Hope springs eternal’ and all.”
Finally, Noah worked up the energy and the will to do something extra.
The four hundred and fifty square foot jib been the workhorse sail for since well before the wave. It looked fine from the cockpit sixty feet away. Noah had been laying on his bunk thinking about everything and nothing when he realized he hadn’t been forward of the mast in a month. That led to the jib that had been the unsung hero who brought Windhaven to its current position, wherever that was. He really needed to find their position, not that it mattered.
But the jib mattered.
Noah rolled out of his bunk and shrugged into his foul weather gear. He could tell the weather by the boat’s motion and sound. The wind was coming up and besides the usual long rollers waves from some far off storm were smacking Windhaven amidships.
He checked on Red still in his latest comma, losing way too much weight, the fingers on his left hand playing an unseen piano. Red was one of the more frustrating problems they had. Neither Noah nor Leigh nor the remnants of the medical emergency book had any idea of how to help him, short of making him eat and drink and changing his sheets. Leigh and Noah were getting tired of it.
Noah Passed Thomas who had pretty much shut down. He was no help at all.
In the cockpit Noah said to Leigh, “We need to check that jib. It’s been months since anybody checked it out.”
“By ‘We,’ you mean you. I hate to admit it, but I’m exhausted. We haven’t done shit in, what? three or four days, and I’m more tired than when we were balls out racing.”
“I know what you mean. I just got tired of laying on my bunk. So, I’m going up to the bow and look around.” He studied the darker gray clouds creeping up astern. “More weather coming I suppose.”
“As always in the Southern Ocean.”
“Yeah. Do you think we’re north of forty degrees?”
“Aren’t you the navigator?”
Noah swung a finger back and forth between them as he said, “I am one of the navigators. Tomorrow, I’ll take my turn. We really do need to know where the hell we are.”
Safety tether in hand Noah made his way forward. He snapped onto fixed safety lines moved forward and snapped on to another line. He stepped around the main sail still lashed down and tried to ignore the fact that they needed to do something with it, soon.
Forward, he checked the clew where the sheet was attached with a bowline knot, a sailor’s favorite. The sail itself appeared in good shape, dirty, a bit worn, but not bad for thousands of stormy sea miles. The sheet itself was not so good. It had frayed where it rubbed against the clew grommet for all those miles. It needed to be replaced because right then the sheet was one of the most important items on the boat.
To check the outside of the jib Noah ducked under the sail’s foot. The tack, the point where the sail attaches to the bow of the boat, had a few threads loose, was dirty and shiny but looked okay. The shackle that held it all together did not. It was worn and the pin had loosened. Gripping the jury-rigged forestay with the hand holding his lifeline clip, he leaned down to get a better look.
Windhaven’s bow dipped into a wave trough then rose up, fast, and lurched to port while Noah lost his balance and tumbled overboard. In the split second between Noah’s life or death he stretched out his arm and clipped on to the top lifeline.
The lifeline was original equipment on Windhaven. It hadn’t been properly inspected in years. In the tumult of preparing the boat by a deadline it had been missed. One end terminated at a stanchion that made up one side of the gate amidships. A screw on circular terminal held it in place. But, over time, that fitting had unscrewed.
When Noah’s full weight yanked on the lifeline the terminal popped off and began running through the stanchions. The forty-five degree water immediately sapped his strength as it dragged him toward the stern, the loop of wire growing bigger as the lifeline ran through. Once free, if Noah couldn’t grab it and keep it from slipping through his hands, he’d be left behind with little chance of rescue.
The cold water took his breath away, paralyzed him. He glanced up at his tether saw that he had clipped on. Then he saw the lifeline slipping out and knew what it meant. Windhaven dragged him through the water. A wave engulfed him. He had to breathe. He emerged coughing, fighting for air, his cry for help a piteously audible croak.
The lifeline ran out of the last stanchion. Noah grabbed the slippery coated wire with cold hands. He finally found his voice. “Leigh! Leigh! Help!”
A wave broke over him, pulling him under. The pressure of the water drug him back. The lifeline slipped through his shaking hands.
Leigh leaped over the cockpit coming and ran down the deck. “Noah! Look at me.” She dropped onto her stomach by the open gate. One hand gripping a stanchion, she leaned half her body over the edge arm outstretched.
Noah, felt the end of the lifeline slip through his hand, leaving him untethered to Windhaven. He rolled over and stretched an arm out to Leigh. Not close enough.
As if knowing this was Noah’s last chance, Windhaven surged toward him. Their fingers touched. Leigh, with only a leg pressed against the right stanchion let go the left stanchion and grabbed the toe rail. Those few inches allowed her to grasp Noah’s wrist. He swung against the hull, one second hanging straight down, the next rising up as a wave passed.
“Grab the toe rail,” Leigh ordered.
On the next rise Noah twisted over to grab a hold. But as he did that he twisted out of Leigh’s grip. Immediately she reached around and pressed her hand on his.
Windhaven rolled to starboard allowing a wave to spill onto the deck. A foot of water swept up the deck slamming into Leigh, doing its best to push her overboard. Her hip and thigh wrapped around the stanchion all that kept her aboard.
“Noah, reach for me.”
Too cold and scared to speak he reached out and they managed a solid wrist to wrist hold.
“Keep hold of the toe rail.”
Removing her hand from his she scooted around with her back to the cabin side and feet against the rail. When the next rail lifted Noah up she pulled his shoulders over the rail. With his free hand he gripped the stanchion and when the next wave, a big one washing up the deck, rose up Leigh pulled him halfway over the rail. Not waiting for another wave she leaned over grabbed the seat of his foul weather pants hauled him on board like fish. They ended up in a jumble, but onboard.
Cold and exhausted, hearts racing they took a minute to catch their breath.
Between breaths Noah, said, “I… thought… that….”
“Yeah, me too.”
“I told you I didn’t want to have to run this boat by myself.”
“Then I don’t have anything to worry about.”
“Then don’t piss me off. Come on, you need to get warm.”
Fifteen minutes later Noah emerged dry and warm with a large covered coffee mug and sat shoulder to shoulder with Leigh. They ignored the wind that took tops of waves and waves big enough for a seventy-boat to surf down.
He touched her hand on the wheel. “You’re shaking. Go and get warm and dry. There’s coffee.”
“You scared the crap out of me, Noah.”
“I know. Me too.”
Twenty minutes later she returned with her own coffee mug.
“Don’t do that again, okay.”
“Is this the way it’s going to be? One potential disaster after another? We should have our shit together by now.”
“I agree. I mean, we’ve always known what we’re dealing with, but now, I think, we ‘Know’ what we’re dealing with. Almost dying will do that.”
“Right. We need to get organized. I guess we have our routine, but the first project is do something with that main, fix it or chuck it. Then figure out where we are. How many times have we started on that little problem with no solution?”
“I know we’ve fallen into a routine, but what about Red? Is he gonna die? Live? Fall into permanent coma? How the fuck will we feed him, give him water? You have any ideas?”
“No more than the last hundred times you’ve asked me. We’re not a Hospital ship. We do what we can. And what about Thomas? He needs to get his ass out of that bunk and help. Right now all he does is ask for pain pills which are not for any pain.”
“I’ve noticed. So tomorrow, assuming no crises before then, all hands on deck. Shipshape and all that. Just because we might die of thirst, starvation or drowning soon doesn’t mean Windhaven can’t be all shipshape and Bristol.”
“On that happy note I’m going to get some sleep. You and the weather have a good night.”
Noah let Leigh sleep an extra hour and a little. She did for real save his life, an extra hour was the least he could do. When she finally sat next to him she handed over coffee. They attempted to divine the weather.
“So, Mister Navigator, surely we’re North of 40 degrees by now. Into better weather.”
“Don’t you know? You’ve been here before.”
“Back then we were looking for wind. Here, not so much.”
“Larry told me that the South Pacific High may dip down a lot farther this year. Right now blue skies, no wind and calm water sounds pretty damn good.”
“Yeah but we don’t want to get caught there. We could sit for weeks and not go anywhere.” Leigh paused, let out an unhumerous chuckle. “I’m worried about our water. We’re close to a ‘Water water everywhere nor any drop to drink,’ situation.”
“I have to admit I… well, I didn’t want to think about that. But, yeah, that should go on the to-do list.”
“The top.” She yawned. “You okay to stand watch?” She bumped his shoulder. “You did just cheat death.”
He bumped her back. “Well, I had help, so wasn’t that big of a deal.”
She stood. “We’re agreed, then. We really do need to get our shit together, or we’re not going to make it.”
“Agreed. Now go away.”
“Don’t go near the edge.”
“Wake up, Thomas.” A kick to the bunk earned Noah a go-away-grunt from the sleeping lump. “Time to earn your keep.”
“I’m in pain, man.”
“No you’re not. Get up if you want to live.”
Thomas rolled his head to squint at Noah. “What’s happened?”
“Shit happened.” Noah held his thumb and forefinger a nickel’s width apart right in Thomas’s face. “I came this close to dying yesterday. This close. Which you might have known if you were at least semi-conscious.”
“Hey, come on. That freaking missing leg hurts.”
“Thomas, really? You were fine a few days ago. I know about phantom leg pain, but we’re in a fragile situation here. We need to have our collective shit together, which we don’t now. All hands up, including yours.”
Thomas flopped back. “What can I do? I can barely stand.” He held out a trembling hand. “The rest of me isn’t much better.”
“Are you kidding? You did great during the mainsail fiasco. Besides, what are you going to do when the pain meds run out? I didn’t think we had that many.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I’ll have Leigh drag you on deck by your foot.”
Thomas managed a slim smile and eye roll. “She could do it, too. Breakfast?”
Thomas sat at the helm with his coffee while watching Noah and Leigh wrestle with the mainsail remains. The first day, between turns at the helm, feeding those who could eat, and taking care of Red, they managed to cut the useable top off the sail, fold some of the remaining material and stuff it into the lazarette hatch.
The second day they managed to mend rips with sticky sail repair tape. As well, they beefed up the one batten pocket.
The third day they spent hand-sewing the repair tape to keep it in place against the relentless wind. Blood spots attested that it was a tough job, pushing large three-sided needles through multiple layers of thick sailcloth. This was where Thomas stepped up as a competent sail tailor, maybe unconsciously attempting to compensate for his missing leg.
The weather held steady for the days: twenty to thirty knot winds, actual blue sky visible much of the time, relatively calm seas of four to eight feet. During the day it seemed to them that the wind had lost its chill.
This brought discussions about where they were. Noah felt they had probably crossed the fortieth parallel, the official northern boundary of the Southern Ocean.
Leigh, who had sailed the Southern Ocean before, warned him not to let the benign weather fool him into a false sense of security.
“Ha. Calm seas and balmy breezes from now on,” Noah predicted.
“I think you swallowed too much sea water the other day. It’s affecting you brain.”
Thomas said, “His brain was already infected before he joined us. He met this girl and he still came with us.”
“I bet he’s regretting that decision now,” Leigh said with a smile.
“Aren’t we all.”
“Thanks for bringing her up, Thomas. Now all I want to do is go cry into my pillow.”
“Don’t we all,” Thomas said.
That brought a long pensive silence.
Not for the first time Noah wondered what if he hadn’t taken the offer to be a last minute crew. Would he and Linda have hit it off? He liked to think so and if he survived he intended to find out. What he tried not to think about was why he agreed to leave everything that had lately been going quite well to sail in the most dangerous waters on the globe. It took a brave man or woman to do that. Cowards were not asked. Yet he was.
But he wasn’t brave. Everyone thought he was, but JV died because of Noah’s cowardice. He could have, should have, told what really happened that night during the Bermuda race. He persuaded himself that telling wouldn’t bring JV back. He had several chances to tell the truth, but didn’t, and it became easier to keep the truth to himself at each opportunity. He wanted to tell Leigh and Thomas, but what good would come of the telling? He needed their trust. If they survived, he’d tell them. If they didn’t…?
“Hey, Noah. You still with us?” Thomas nudged him with his good foot.
“Yes, like it or not, take that any way you want, I am here with no regrets in sight.” As he said Noah knew that to be true.
With the mainsail repaired and modified and with Thomas at the helm the next project was to raise the sail maybe Noah could figure out some sort of self steering configuration.
Surprising them all, the process went smoothly and by the end of the day Noah had, after two plus hours of testing and rigging, a working self-steering configuration.
After Windhaven steered herself for fifteen minutes Leigh said, Damn Noah. My hero.”
Noah and Leigh sat shoulder to shoulder on the helmsman’s seat. Letting himself smile and enjoy the compliment he bumped her shoulder. “You sound like I did it just for you. Believe me, I’m as tired of those long steering watches as you.”
She bumped him back. “Mr. Humble. Okay, we’ve wasted enough time on this. Tomorrow: Water, food, position, not necessarily in that order.
“You’re the boss.”
Leigh bumped him.
“And I totally agree. I just love freeze dried everything. I hope we find lots more.”
“You bumped your head at some point, didn’t you?”
That night they all managed to get some sleep. Noah and Leigh dozed in a comfortable corner of the cockpit. Every couple hours they had to adjust the setting, but it was a welcome respite from continuous steering.
A hazy daylight brought some light to the galley. Noah, for some unknown reason, wanted oatmeal for breakfast. He knew they had some, but couldn’t find it. By the time Leigh found him on his knees half into an under seat locker all the storage spaces were open and half empty.
“Oatmeal?” he asked, arms spread in supplication.
“It’s in ahh…,” she said opening a high cabinet. It wasn’t.
Three hours later the three of them had dug out all the food, made a list and stowed it away – Rice, beans, pasta, freeze- dried entrees, pouches and cans. Seventeen cans had no labels. They each bet five dollars then wrote their guesses of the contents on the can. Whoever correctly guessed the most won the fifteen dollars. Despite not having as much food as they would like, they actually laughed as somebody found a favorite or non-favorite food.
Finished, they had oatmeal for lunch.
As they ate Thomas asked, “What about Red? We can’t just let him just fade away, can we?”
All eyes contemplated the remnants of their oatmeal.
Before the silence became excessively uncomfortable, Leigh said, “We take care of him as much as possible. I don’t know if he’ll die or be in this coma, if that’s what it is, forever. If we lift him up, he drinks water or the protein drink. When he occasionally becomes lucid, he’ll eat. Otherwise, we keep him clean and change his sheets and clothes.”
Noah said, “You have any better ideas, glad to hear them.”
“No. Yes. Maybe. He’s been lying there like he’s already dead for weeks. What if we take him outside? Maybe wake him up?”
Noah and Leigh traded shrugs and raise eyebrows.
Noah said, “The only reason I can think of to not do that is his back. We assume it’s broken. If we move him it might make it worse, or permanent. Or, it may not matter at this point.”
Leigh slumped back on the settee. “I agree with both of you. But we have other chores to do right now. Either of you know where all the water tanks are?”
“Not a clue.”
“I do so that’s on me. I think we should break out the manual watermaker. You know we ran the boat’s watermaker, which was a good one, when we ran the engine for battery charging. We haven’t been doing that, but we’ve been using water like we have.”
“So no more long soaking baths while sipping our vast store of champagne?” Thomas said while shaking his head at the sacrifices he has to make.
“Sorry, your Highness, from now on it’s a sponge and cold saltwater from a bucket.”
Thomas leaned toward Noah. “I think we should get off the cruise at the next stop.”
“I’m with ya, friend. But, I suppose I ought to look into where that might be and how far it is.”
“Speaking of baths, I guess I’ll check on Red. He’s about due by the aroma in his area.”
Noah sat at the nav station and studied the paper chart of the whole South Pacific Ocean. He looked at their last known position, almost a thousand miles East of New Zealand, and speculated on their present position. Figuring what he thought might be their average speed and what might have been their course, about in the middle between New Zealand and Chile at forty degrees South latitude. Only two thousand miles to go.
He picked up the GPS unit, tapped it lightly to let it know it had to work, and turned it on.
The unit showed nothing but zeros until Noah shook it. He knew exactly where the position on the screen showed — Three hundred miles East of Tahiti. The damn thing had an affinity for the island. Well, Noah would too if he had a choice. Five attempts, shaking, on/off, holding it out the companionway, only took him to places they couldn’t possibly be.
“Noah, can you lend me a hand, and a foot?”
Seriously contemplating throwing the GPS unit to the floor and stomping on it, Noah set it down gently and went to help Thomas.
“I can give you a hand but the foot gonna have to wait. But, whatever you need, Thomas, can’t be as frustrating as that devil’s torture instrument. “According to that damn thing we’ve been sailing through random wormholes to random places, all of which I’d rather be at then here.”
“Great. Well, while you are here help me turn Red over so I can change this makeshift diaper and wipe his ass.” “Grinning, he said, “If he survives and learns of this he’s going to be so embarrassed.”
“You’d never sail with him again.”
“That’s okay. I’m thinking of taking up desert farming.”
“Aren’t we all.”
Noah returned to the nav station and glanced at the GPS unit then, shaking his head, looked away. What the hell could he try next? He thought about taking the damn thing apart and praying over the innards, or…, wait a minute. He slid the GPS over and studied the numbers. “Holy shit, Batman.”
He forced his hand to not shake as he plotted the positions. His chest seemed to expand as he leaned back and took in the whole chart around the little X located at 123.05º W Longitude and 42.55º S. Latitude.
“Hey guys, not that it helps our situation but I know where we are.”
Arms across her chest Leigh leaned against the companionway ladder. Tommy peered over the now useless electronics.
“So?” Leigh said.
“We are literally in the middle of nowhere. That old cliché ‘A thousand miles from anywhere’ has nothing on us.”
“Noah, I could have told you that,” Thomas said.
Noah held up a now dried page from a rescued notebook. “But I know exactly where in nowhere we are.”
Thomas held out a hand so Leigh could help him move around to sit next to Noah. Leigh stood hip to shoulder beside him.
Noah stabbed at the tiny X on the chart.
The others studied the chart.
“Shit,” Thomas muttered.
“How far to South America?”
“Two thousand miles, give or take.”
“How far have we come?”
“From new Zealand, two thousand miles, give or take.”
“So what does that mean?” Thomas asked. “I mean how is this going to change my daily routine?”
“It doesn’t.” Leigh squeezed his shoulder. “For now we just keep going. Keep making what miles we can. Been pretty consistent lately, four five knots.”
Noah sat back, arms crossed over his chest. “That’s all good, but what about the water?”
“Not so good, but not too bad. The main tank has about a hundred gallons, one of the auxiliary tanks has nothing because it’s cracked. The other tank has about twenty-five gallons. However, it might be tainted. We have a manual filter and some stuff to pour in that’s supposed to help. We’ll see. I would suggest we get familiar with our manual watermaker which looks like it still works. Taking turns we might get a half-gallon a day.”
“Great. I took this trip to get away from the gym.” His smile vanished and his face tightened as if holding back pain. His voice, too, tightened, any humor gone. “While we’re on the general subject of survival, what about the Pacific high? What exactly did Larry say? That’d take longer to get anywhere, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes it would,” Noah said. He glanced down at Thomas clutching his trembling hands. He glanced at Leigh who had noticed them, too. “Thomas, you okay?”
Leigh placed a hand on his.
Thomas jerked his head around, looking for a way out, knowing there was none. He slumped back.
“I found some vicodin. Been taking them.”
“I thought you had been a bit mellow lately,” Leigh said.
“There aren’t any left though, are there?”
Thomas shook his head.
Noah said, “We don’t have any to give you.”
“Yeah you do, but you just want to keep them for yourselves.”
Thomas’s anger flared like an explosion. “Don’t, “Thomas, hey,” me. If you knew how to handle a real boat I wouldn’t have to need those pills. You cut off my fucking leg. It’s your fault. Should have been someone else on the helm, someone with some experience. Not a day sailor wanna be like you.”
Leigh gripped his shoulder. “You know better. You were his watch partner. He saved us that night.”
Thomas threw her hand off. “What do you know, damn hot-shot female sailor. You barely talked to him, or me. Go back to your kitchen. You don’t deserve to be here.”
Leigh knuckled the side of his head.
“Don’t touch me, God damn it.”
“You’re the one who doesn’t know shit, Thomas.” She pushed him hard. “Big talker, big drinker. I saw–.”
Near tears, he spat, “Don’t touch me, damn it.”
“I saw you before we left. You–.”
“Shut up. Shut up!” He swung out at her. Missed, and slipped off the seat landing with a jolt on the floor. The anger left as quick as it had arrived. He curled up on the cabin sole, sobbing quietly.
Taken aback, Noah looks to Leigh. Lips tight, she slowly shakes her head. Together they helped him to his bunk where he turned his back to them.
“You sure you don’t have anymore?” Leigh asked.
Thomas nodded and buried his face in his pillow. Leigh and Noah left him and went into the cockpit. After checking the self-steering settings and checking the sea for a miraculous rescue boat they settled onto the cockpit sole.
“What the hell?” Noah asked. “You didn’t seem too surprised.”
“Before we slipped the lines there was a lot of dinners or parties with a lot of drinking. Thomas was always there drinking the most. Working on the boat he always had a beer close. Remember when he whined so much for the pills and we both commented that it wasn’t for the pain anymore.”
“I have to say now that he did seem a bit erratic lately. Well, whatever, what are, or can, we do about it? How many do we have left, three? He won’t be any better off if he had them. It’s not like there’s a pharmacy around the corner.”
“Nothing. He’ll have to work through it by himself.”
Noah stared at his thumbs pressing together on his lap. “That’s not so easy, you know.”
Leigh regarded him for a long moment. “That sounds like you have some experience with that.”
His cheeks puffed out as he blew out a deep breath. “You know that Bermuda race I did with Red? Where everybody said I wasn’t to blame for JV’s death, I was brave for trying to rescue him?”
“I know the story.”
“It was my fault, because I was a coward and a liar.”
“Noah, you don’t have to say anything. You’ve more than proved yourself in the last months.”
“I’m glad you think so. I’ve never told this to anybody. I want, need, to tell it.”
“It was a storm. JV and I were on watch, we had to come about, but the sheet on the windward side had got hung up. He told me to go forward and fix it. I was too scared to go. I just couldn’t. JV had some choice words about that, so he went. A big ass wave rolled up the deck and swept him overboard.
“I yelled ‘Man over board,’ then rushed to the deck edge and on my stomach, much like you did, reached out, but he was gone.
“I never told anybody what happened, but I knew, and I couldn’t forget, and it ate me up, and booze did not help. I spiraled down fast. Lost my wife, house and publisher. One day, drunk, I took the boat out for the first time in months. I thought I could prove to myself that I was not a coward. I hit a dock, another boat just leaving, then hit a buoy and almost sank.
“That was my bottom. I tried to stay sober on my own, but eventually got a sponsor. About a year and a half sober now. But it was hard, is hard.”
He dared a glance at Leigh. She, too seemed to be staring into the past. “I was fat when I was a kid. Could not fix it myself. I needed help.” She held her arms out. “Thirty some years thin.”
“And looking good, too, though we’re all getting thin these days.”
“Yeah, well…. So does that story have anything to do with why you’re here?”
“When Red called I said to myself, Hell yeah I want to sail around the world. It would prove to me that I wasn’t a coward. I packed up and got bills and all taken care of and the night before I caught the plane I went to a little Jazz club I like. The bartender knows not to give me any alcohol. While I sat there nursing my Pepsi, I lost my nerve. Who was I kidding that I could do something so dangerous? I was going to call Red when the band took a break.
“Then in walks this woman. Very pretty, but nobody would say she was gorgeous or stunning or anything. Pretty. I don’t really believe in Love at first sight, or soul mates or even Lust at first sight, but there was something about her.
“The one you talked to during the live streaming. Yep, pretty.”
“She sat a stool away from me. Bartender knew her, told her to have a ‘Have a good trip,’ drink with me because I was going to sail around the world. She knew something about sailing. We got to talking, then spent a very pleasant night on my boat and the next thing I knew I’d forgotten to call Red she was driving me to the airport.” He spread his arms out. “And here I am. Lost at sea and missing a woman I barely know.”
“As good a reason as any, I guess.”
Linda liked this guy, John, she sat opposite from in Applebee’s. She had considered sleeping with him, but Noah kept getting in the way. She just couldn’t imagine sex being as good with John as with Noah. There had been another guy, Jim, whom she’d seriously considered, but, no.
It was ridiculous, she knew. Noah was dead, he wasn’t coming back. She had to move on. But, she had a feeling, maybe real or maybe manufactured by her brain, or heart, as an excuse not to “move on” that something might happen.
Maureen at the race office said she had the same feeling about her brother, Ricky. Closure she said. He wasn’t dead until she had proof.
For Linda, Noah wasn’t dead because he was coming back.
For a week Noah talked with Thomas, encouraged him, tried to keep him busy. Thomas had some bad days, but fair weather and long stints pumping the manual watermaker helped keep his mind off what his body wanted.
Noah and Leigh fell into routine, standing watch, cooking with rationing their food supplies in mind, taking care of Red, pumping the bilge. Noah figured out that they were almost on top of 40º South latitude, the Northern border of the Southern Ocean. The winds lightened up a bit and the seas became relatively calmer. But with lighter winds came slower speed, Windhaven rarely made five knots, usually three, maybe four. They needed to make a hundred miles a day, fifty or sixty wouldn’t cut it. Nobody wanted to turn South to find the Southern Ocean winds again.
So they had allowed themselves to fall into a routine consisting mostly of standing watch, cooking, and sleeping. Noah didn’t bother with any navigation. As long as they headed East, what did it matter? Leigh, by far the most experienced sailor, knew they should head South in search of wind, but Windhaven’s easy motion and a deep fatigue persuaded her that sleep was preferable to anything. After all, though it was two thousand miles away, they were headed toward land. They’d get there.
At sunrise days latter, “Getting there” became a bit problematic.
Noah shook Leigh’s shoulder. “Leigh, wake up. We have a problem.”
In a half-asleep voice, she said, “Are you just now figuring that out?”
“Funny. Can you hear the wind? Feel us surfing down the waves?”
“No.” She opened her eyes and studied Noah’s raised eyebrows as she took stock of her very still surroundings. “We’re in the High, aren’t we? Not moving.”
Later, Noah, Leigh and Thomas, still feeling the emptiness need but knowing there was no way to fill it, sat in the cockpit, taking in the calm water, puffy clouds, and blue sky.
Leigh said, “More than once in the last months I longed for weather like this. Now that we’re in it, I’m getting scared.”
Noah moved to the stern. Holding the makeshift back stay, he found no wake. “We could be stuck here for awhile. I would think there’ll be squalls with rain. If our watermaker goes–.”
“Don’t say it,” Thomas said. “You’ll jinks it.” Noah Waved okay. “So what do we do?”
“I say we take advantage of any little breeze and head south,” Leigh said. “For all we know the bottom of this thing is only a few miles south. Plus, this High won’t stay down here forever. Maybe it will dip down into the real weather and do something smart, like get the hell out.”
Noah plopped down beside her. “We have some light air sails, don’t we? I suggest we drag one out and set it as best we can.”
By the end of the day they had a small spinnaker up and a South South East course set. All they needed was enough wind to move Windhaven.
Thanks for reading Windhaven 26. Comments and suggestions are always welcome. firstname.lastname@example.org
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