Thursday, November 30, 2006

The History of AA "part 8"

......To make matters worse, the wind had been picking up very slowly as the sun went down, and by the time it went dark i had to slow her down quite a bit. We were slamming down off the waves, and the worst part was that i couldn't see them. When it’s rough during the day i can speed up in between waves and maintain a good average speed. I just keep my hands on the throttles and "work" them, but at night this didn't work. In the end i had to slow her down to 15 knots and even then it was scary. My brother loves to describe that night. He does a better job than i do because most of the time i was driving i was concentrating so hard i didn't have time to absorb the experience. I will try to describe it like he goes:
"It was so rough that we were doing between 12 and 15 knots going directly into the waves. We couldn't see them but they were obviously huge as we would climb up them and then free fall crashing back down into the dark sea".
It was scary....very scary. When it’s dark at sea on a calm night your mind can run all over the place, but when it’s as rough as it was that night you think terrible things. After an hour or two i started to think about how much more fuel we must be burning since at 12-15 knots we were surely not being efficient. We burned less fuel per mile going 25-30 mph, so i began to worry about our range. At this rate of probable fuel burn we may not make it to San Juan. I told ali to take the helm and to slow down while i looked at the chart to see if there was another port closer to us. We were out in the middle of nowhere 1/2 way between Grand Turk and San Juan in a terrible unfriendly angry ocean. Of course cell phones don't work out there and neither would a VHF radio at that range. Nobody to ask for advice, and if anything were to happen to would just be the EPIRB that would save us. I had packed a "grab bag" which contained a waterproof VHF handheld radio, the EPIRB, four life jackets, a gallon of water, a flare kit, and a hand held GPS. It wasn't much but i kept looking back at it during the night to make sure it hadn't moved from where i left it.
I saw that Mayaguez on the West coast was a bit closer to us than San Juan was. It was also a better angle against the waves for us. Going there would put us back as much as a 1/2 a day possibly but i knew we would get there. Getting safely to San Juan was not looking great. Doubting yourself out there is a terrible feeling, but i am glad i did. We made the wise choice and started heading towards Mayaguez. Just at that moment we started seeing the lightning just off our right side. GREAT! Windy, rough, incredibly wet and cold, and now thunderstorms were coming. It got rougher...........and waves crashed occasionally into the boat.
It was about midnight and i had been driving since early that morning with only a short break in Grand Turk. I was totally exhausted, cold, and stressed out. Ali was not much different, but he had to drive as i was falling asleep standing up. He was cold and miserable but took over without complaining. I lay down behind him with half my body on the cooler and the other half on one of the two person seats. I was shaking with cold and clenching my teeth with stress and the cold. I think i actually may have slept for 30 minutes during the hour or two that i lay there which was plenty. Ali later told me that he would look back every few minutes to make sure i was still there. He said he was terrified he would look back and not see me, and he even said that if that happened he would just have jumped over too. Weird huh, but when you sit there in the darkness cold, wet, scared, tired, and stressed you think about all kinds of things. When a wave broke into the boat practically landing on was time to get up. Ali was happy to sit back down and hug his knees to try to warm up. We were not in the rain but the lightning was getting closer, and i was worried about how bad it could get. We were now in hurricane season and the weather can change pretty quickly. My mind started to wander. I though about my life up until that point, the places i had been, the things i had seen, the experiences i have had.........I though about my family, girlfriend, and friends. I thought about the young people in my life who died too young. I thought about the things they missed out on. I thought about my high school classmates: Kieth Scotland, Brian Dailey, and Mervin Barns who all died in a terrible car accident during our final semester at school. I thought about my two young aunts who were claimed by cancer. I thought about Inigo Ross who co-founded Wadadli Catamarans. He was lost at sea on a rough day between St. Vincent and St. Lucia. I think about these people often and that night out there I though about them again. What should i do if i make it back alive? What do i need to change in my life? I don't think i prayed, but i did lots of reflection. It was not a good night.....or maybe it was. It made me think about my life and that can be good sometimes i guess.
Anyway, the GPS said we had 40 miles to go and i could see the glow coming from the city of Mayaguez. At night in the Caribbean you can usually see the glow coming from the next island's lights, and finally this was a slight comfort. At this point i started hearing the US Coast Guard speaking to a boat somewhere that was in distress. Fifteen minutes later they made a report about another boat off the North Coast of PR that had made a single distress call. They advised boats too look out for any sign of that boat. Anyway, i kept on going and when we got closer the seas started to drop down. When we were about 8 miles away it started getting calm. At about 3 miles away it got glass calm as we were now in the behind the protection of West coastline. Ali moved to the front of the boat to lay flat on one of the bench seats, and immediately fell asleep. The sky had colour in it now and slowed for a second to take a photo. It was 4:38 am on June 8th according to the digital image i have on my computer and you can see the sunlight and ali sleeping in his wet clothes in the front of the boat. I will put that up at the top when i am done. Finally i cruised into what the GPS said was the harbour. It was still not light enough to see where i was, but i knew it was calm enough and shallow enough to anchor. We would rest a bit and then go look for customs and immigration, and then fuel. My fuel light was flashing and we had less than 60 gallons left in the extra plastic tanks. We may have made it to San Juan, but i am not so sure. It was a good thing we changed course. My dad and Steve Mendes had done this same trip before in similar conditions and had run out of fuel off san Juan. they were towed in luckily.
Anyway, after dropping anchor, i woke up ali to move him into the cabin and fell asleep in my wet and salty clothes.....thank God we were safe!