Storm Sail (Part 2 of 3)

Caught in a Vortex

Lo and behold, we reached the Atlantic Beach buoy… motoring the entire way. The main and jib remained up during the trip, however, given the absence of wind, they served no purpose. Frank reeled in the luffing jib. Joey lowered the main. Ahead, we could see the first actual company of our trip, two sailboats, also making their way towards the bridge. Each Captain knew, as customary, we’d have to gather before the drawbridge operator would open the bridge. Relieved, I turned to Frank, acknowledging that maybe I was being too nervous… when over his shoulder, I saw charcoal black. The sky sharply divided. Before us and overhead was normal, but behind us, a swirling, monstrous, darkness. As he rotated his body to look, a Skimmer darted by, not one bit interested in fishing. “Frank!,” I tried to get his attention. The second speedboat of the day, appeared out of nowhere, hammering past us, completely ignoring channel speed limits. Frank turned back towards the bow, just as a flock of Skimmers torpedoed by. No words were needed, energy was palpable. That lurking sensation was no longer coming – it was here. 

“Okay,” showing the first signs of concern. “Make sure the hatches are locked.” Reaching towards a seat cushion, “put everything below deck.” But before his sentence finished, an incredible gust sent cushions flapping. Managing to grab the first airborne with one hand, he kept the other on the steering wheel. All of us were scrambling. My mother had Alex awake and below deck. I was stuffing cushions and supplies through the galley doorway to Ronnie. Joey was checking hatches. 

Atmosphere – instantly charged. You could touch it. It was surely touching us! Every single hair follicle. Stilly waters, now angry whitecaps. The squalls leading edge was upon us with a harsh slap. Avalon heeled in submission. That loosely lowered main, was now our main issue. I had to figure out how to navigate the deck… my mother interrupted, “There’s water in the boat!” 

Water in the boat, trumped the sail, Frank ordered, “Go! Find out where the water is coming from!” I ran below, pulling up the floor board. Nothing – the bilge was dry. “Is it from the bathroom? Check the seacocks.” We had to yell over the engine and wind. Joey checked the bathroom seacocks, reporting loudly, “They’re closed.” 

I froze. What to do? This can’t be happening! Like an old time movie, everything slowed. I saw my mother, sitting with Alex, who was wide awake, legs dangling over the edge of the seat, his hands, palm-faced down, placed gently upon his knees. Completely, statuesque, in the midst of chaos. Grandma donning a life jacket, sat by his side. It was the briefest of moments, but a vision, to this day, burnt in my brain. 

My standstill sharply shifted… as a violent gust, slapped Avalon down. Joey was thrown, airborne, from the bathroom. His back hit the opposing wall with a resonating bang, arms and legs trailing straight out, like tails on a windblown kite. It seemed he levitated, immovable, with the exception of his head, which spun towards me. With dagger precision, and saucer-eyes appearing cartoonishly large, he screamed, “This is serious SHIT!” No one disagreed. Ronnie was behind me, holding overhead handrails. My mother and I locked eyes. My sweet son’s life was flashing before me. Joey scrambled off the floor, and headed my direction. Before I could speak, he grabbed my shoulders, shaking me, “Call in a mayday!” Yelling even closer, “Call in a MAYDAY!” Demanding of my attention, while my mind was caught in assessing. Where was the water coming from? What is most urgent?? My son….

Another gust buried the starboard rail. Avalon’s Portside windows saw only black sky, her starboard, was under water. Standing on the wall beneath the galley seat, I caught a glimpse out the galley door, Frank was struggling. When Avalon momentarily righted, he kept one hand on the wheel, and forcibly, full body, yanked lines with the other, wrapping as many times as he could about the jib, and as much as he could of the remainder about the winch, “We need to get the sails down.”

Hearing the concern in his voice set my direction. Wherever the water came from, it wasn’t actively coming in the boat. Avalon was doing everything she was supposed to do. Grabbing Joey’s shoulders, I yelled back, “No one can help us. There’s no mayday! Help is not coming!” At arms distance, brandishing each word, “There. Is. No. Mayday!” It was semi-registering, “There’s no mayday! Think about it. No one is gonna get to us in time.” To say I took the wind out of his proverbial sails, was an understatement. “We need to get the sail down. I’m not strong enough! Frank can’t control the boat. The wind gusts are too strong.  I need your muscle!” Our grip released, “I need your strength. It’s us.” Deflated, though his whole body nodded in agreement. A clap of thunder and lightning sparked so close it startled us. Rain turned to giant hail. Avalon was literally caught between the clouds, like that of two giant cymbals crashing about us. Grabbing a life jacket, I heaved them to Ronnie. “Everyone in a life jacket. Now. Get a yellow slicker on your brother. Help him so he doesn’t have to take his hands off the wheel. Get every moveable object, stuff it in the forward berth.” Off went a woman-on-a-mission. Turning to my Mom, who had one makeshift, seatbelt arm locked across Alex’s chest, the other clenched to a handrail, “You have Alex.” Her right leg braced halfway up the bathroom door-jam, the left pushed off the opposing seat. Alex, remained statuesque, his back so straight he appeared proper, had his hands, still, upon his lap. I knew he and Grandma would remain together – I had to believe. Turning to Joey, who now had a life vest on, “We need to address the sail.” Ready to do whatever needed, he followed up the stairs… Avalon was on her side again. Between the stair rails, and doorway jam, we hung on till she righted. I warned the obvious, “Whatever you do. Don’t. Fall. Off!” Every lesson from the day must have been replaying in this poor guy’s head. 


Storm Sail:

Part 1 of 3 – First Mate Disorderly

Part 2 of 3 – Caught in a Vortex

Part 3 of 3 – The answer my friend, is... Blowing in the Wind

{I think it’s safe to say, there was a fair amount of Triple L involved!}

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