Today, I will clean my teetch, pluck my eyebrows, rub cream into the skin of my legs and hang my shoes above my head to dry. Today I am human again. Yesterday, for many hours, I was just being. My last entry in our log noted the sea was bouncy! With that exclamation mark. In fact, the sea was pouring and chopping at us from all directions, wave heights 4, 5, 6 and more feet, a little wind still coming from the NE – our direction of travel. The beast still roared triumphant in his padded cell, taking us towards Brazil Roc off the SE corner of Nova Scotia. It would have been about 10-11? in the morning. I was on watch, but Jack was still up and about. He checked a weather forecast – gale warnings for that evening and night. We contemplated the charts, Jack having visited here some times before. But it wasn’t until he proposed lighting the cabin heater that I knew I might have a problem.
“If you don’t want me to be sick, please keep it off,” I begged. “I’ll go and sit on deck.”
He put on another pullover, but I still went and sat beneath the dodger/sprayhood, at the top of the cabin steps. I’m always a warm person – the cool air was refreshing and then I was OK. I could also watch the radar from here – we were dipping in and out of – mainly in – fog patches – and I could come below and plot the course ½ hourly. I put on my shoes and waterproof jacket against the chilly wind. J unearthed great slabs of charts from the chart table, from beneath buns, finding ones he needed. By this time he had decided to make for early shelter – the Port la Tour – just past the Cape Sable on the SE point of NS. Port! Ah! Docksides. Dry land. People!
By now, and this must be mid-afternoon, but I have lost track of time, the ‘bouncing’ has become too much. J down below, and I above drift in and out of sleep, minutes, seconds at a time. The cushion I am sitting on is a puddle, soaking through trousers and pants. I am numb with cold. I have to go below. I’m slightly worried about hypothermia.
“Are you OK?” asks Jack, who has been up for 12 straight hours, by this time. Conditions are worsening – waves higher, foaming, wind rising, rain starting to fall. Thankfully, no fog.
This time, instead of a cheery ‘yes’, I can only mumble “No”, as I grab pillow and blankets and huddle on the cabin sole, our row of fresh water containers curled into my stomach. The boat races on, thudding into solid water, as she rears and falls, corkscrews and falls, rolls and falls. I feel really badly for Jack, as he tries to carry on round me.
“Sorry,” he says as his foot nudges in passing. He’s sorry? I pull a piece of blanket over my face and moan at each jolt. At least Jack can’t hear that. Water drips freezing on my head.
The boat seems to hurtle on – why aren’t we near this port yet? We must have gone far enough up the channel? The noise is terrific – terrifying – everything escapes from its lashings and hurls around the cabin, back and forth – there is the sound of glass splintering – glass? – but it’s only the metal coffee pots and cups flying across the cabin. The cage of the beast has come open – roar, muffled, roar again, muffled, on and on and on, as the boat swings way over to port, and up and over to port again, and to starboard. Everywhere is drenched – me, the rug, the sole, the bunks, the charts. Jack is in the cockpit in his foul weather gear.
‘Susy!” he yells – and I think he’s being encouraging. I turn away, and am promptly sick in my hand. It was so quick, I could do nothing, and throw up again, this time all over myself. I grab the nearest thing – the rough haired horse blanket I was wrapped in, and dab feebly at the damage. But I keep on vomiting – how far can a single banana, eaten 11 hours ago, go? Both the blanket and I are in a sorry and disgusting state. At last it stops. I want to change my clothes, wash, feel clean, normal – but it’s impossible in this mad fairground ride.
“Susy, you’ve gotta help me!” yells Jack – ah – not encouragement, then, urgency.
“I’ve been sick,” I whine selfishly.
“That doesn’t matter. You’ve got to come on deck. Get your foul gear on!” It’s an order. So, on go the waterproofs over the smelly damage underneath. See to that later.
Up on deck, the seas – seas, not sea – are enormous, green-gray-black, mountains heaving and heaving. Waves are crashing over the bows, the foredeck, the dodger – sweeping across the boat altogether. As we plunge yet again, the propellor, now out of the water, spins madly out of its element, and the boat falters. Gratefully, the prop grips the sea, as we buckjump back. Jack needs to check our position. He goes below, and falls heavily backwards as the boat lurches again. Please God, gods, anyone, is he alright? Oh, yes, yes, oh, thank you.
He checks the soggy chart – “Go to 330!” he yells. All day the autohelm has done its work, now I pull the wheel to free it, and the boat turns to port. Waves take us broadside on. The boat rolls, rolls, rolls, as the bows try to turn us towards them. Broach – no, she a drowned vessel below, but she’s built for this, and she comes back, time after time after time. J sets the autohelm on its new course. He is saturated, the rain and the waves pouring from him. He asks me to look for marks. I’m still confused and misunderstand – I look at the radar, and where we are, a bright green star in the centre, is now a splatted starburst. What does he want me to do? Ah – sit in my old place beneath the dodger and look out for land, buoys, anything that will match the chart. We must get in before dark; the sky has already darkened rapidly with the storm.
It’s easier to hold on to the dodger tubes and stand and go with the movements of sea and boat. I have never seen, been out in, such massive elemental forces. I feel – no frightened, not sick – somehow part of it. And as I peer through encroaching gloom – glasses discarded in favour of unaided eyesight – I am humming. This will make my children laugh. For I am doing what I have done all their childhood – the song subconsciously matches a mood – and it’s no, nay, never, no, nay, never, no more, will I play the Wild Rover, no, never, no more!
For I had contemplated leaving the boat when we got to port – I can’t take this weather all summer. But here, under the dodger, waves crashing over us, despite the seasickness and the words of the song, I have a place here, thanks to a sturdy boat and an indefatigable sailor.
Over to port, a darker gray, low hump appears. Land! I scream to J over the howl of the wind and he comes up to check. “Good.” Then after a while, more land to starboard. I am commanded to look for a buy – and all at once, through the slashing rain, it appears on the port side.
“Now tell me what it has on it.” All buoys are named or numbered. I try with the binoculars – please, again I pray, let me see. I have trouble with binoculars – the optician’s diagnosis of a wandering squint? I only use one lens. Daren’t tell J the problem, daren’t miss the number. I try with and without the bins. Everything is jumping and out of focus. And then, miracle! The bins and I agree to agree – and I see the letter N white against the dark background, clear and sharp. And a bell. I shout this down to Jack.
“There’s another one, beyond!” I yell. J adjusts the autohelm repeater by the chart table a few degrees to port and we head for the second, red, marker. Unlike the UK, the system here is Red, Right, Returning; we have to keep this one to starboard.
J comes up, a book, a pilot book, in his hand, and shoves it at me. “Tell me the directions!” and grasps the wheel. Rain falls across the pages, smudging some earlier red pen markings. There is a green marker, too, on a rocky outcrop. We must go between them and make for a bay guarded by white wharves on each side. J steers – quite dark now – but we can just see enough. Past a small harbour entrance to starboard, then straight into the bay – wooded, grassy, a group of white wooden buildings. We head towards them, into the wind; the waves are quietened here, though still quite a fetch. J gets the anchor ready, lets it go, the boat snubs up as it holds, our stern towards a little island in the middle of the bay. Fortune curtsies, and begins her dance to the wind, rain and waves. The beast is silenced. We have stopped.
Down below is wetness, no, water, rubbish, charts, sail bags, my book – all thrown about by a giant child in a tantrum. I sort a bit out, J sorts a bit out. He has soup straight from the saucepan, leaning over the sink. I bag up the vile blanket and my clothes.
J rings – a phone, a modern marvel – in this chaos, a link to a different real world. We are in Canada, “forced into Port la Tour by the weather” J explains to a cheery Customs man, who takes our details – bureaucracy among the basics. I hear history echo in his description of us – he is an American citizen, I am a British subject! I can hear the Customs man is warm, dry and stationary. We are soon warm, if not dry, when J lights the cabin heater – that same one I asked him not to light so many hours ago. It’s 9 oclock at night, black dark. The wind rattles the rigging and the rain hammers on the hatches. My bunk, a small precious marvel, is merely damp, and J’s berth cushions are dry.
I don’t get up till one oclock in the afternoon of the next day.