• Laura Owens

Surviving the storm

Updated: May 5

It’s not all sea creatures and sunsets you know

The camera doesn’t capture the visceral nature of the wind and waves

The pressure and gravity on your bones as the boat sways and lurches

Waves breaking against the hull, dumping icy water down your back

Salt spray stinging your eyes and cheeks

It doesn’t capture the white knuckles

The jamming of feet

Things taken for granted on solid ground

Like the comforting ritual of making tea

To warm your shivering soul at 2am

Becomes a practice of sheer will and Shiva-like skill

Four fingertips grasping the countertop

As you sway like a sober, drunken sailor

Leaving one hand to pour boiling water

Into a sliding cup in the dark

Drawers crash open

A kettle flies across space

Spilling its wares onto paper charts

You don’t know it yet, but when dawn breaks and the storm subsides

Hazily, you’ll pick your way through the dried seaweed and debris

Towards the sanctuary of your sodden bed

The camera can’t capture the sleep deprivation

The constant setting of alarms

The underlying anxiety of your only team mate falling over board

While you’re in a shadowy slumber

The dread of climbing the companionway stairs

To find no one there

The camera can’t reveal the intensity of watching instruments and waves

With hawk-like attention

Trying to find solace in predicting the un-predictable

Squinting at the tightly packed rows of coloured rope

Like criminals in a line up

Muted by the confusion of darkness

The wrong choice carrying deadly consequences

Trying desperately to block out the words

From countless books of disasters at sea

React fast, but don’t guillotine your fingers

In the heavily tensioned lines

Straining against the immense power of the wind

Imagine if you can, an endless, inky-thick darkness

Open ocean

No point of reference

Except the tiny red and green lights either side of the bow

All other light source killed to preserve night vision

Watching intently for shapes and lights

That might emerge from the shadowy night

Not only are you battling the elements

And battling to keep calm

You’re also tasked with not bowling headlong into another vessel

Impossible to make out

Amongst the white wash of bewildered waves

There’s a change in the energy

Two weather systems merging without warning

Sea water sloshing across the aft deck,

Into the footwell of the cockpit and down the hatchway stairs

The track on the old girl malfunctions

Glueing the sail halfway down

Increasing wind coming from all directions

Stubbornly pinning the troubled sail in place

The little boat heels all the way over

One way and then the other

Body tethered from lifejacket to boat by one small metal loop

Leaning back with all your might

Desperately holding on

Willpower and strength alone controlling the boom

As it smashes violently from side to side

The only way to handle the main sheet as it catches wind crazily from all angles

Knowing you’re 10 hours from land

10 hours from safety

The 10 tonne lead keel battles underwater

To keep us from capsizing

As the struggling rig above makes the noise of a caged beast

Trying to break free from its chains

Mind racing with safety procedures

Grasping the yellow, waterproof bag of flares

Catching each other wide-eyed

Trying to emit calm amongst the chaos

Whole body shaking,

not with cold

with fear.

Turning back to see two titanic lightening storms merging

Flash bangs of red and white against the black sky

Like a scene from a war film

Except it’s real and so close you feel drawn to its mighty power

Just two people, insignificant and alone

Silently whispering prayers to this 42 foot floating fibreglass ally

The only thing between you and the vast, tumultuous expanse of blackness below

That watery graveyard of sea creatures and shipwrecks

Sleep deprivation causing the squeaking of the rudder

To become an chorus of imaginary voices

Looking up to see the white light at the top of the mast

Swaying violently from side to side

In the gathering swells.

Hold on, just hold on.

A scattering of stars emerge

Welcome pinpricks of light

Cloud-covered moonrise

Reminding us we’re not really alone out here

Vast galaxies above

Gradually making way for

An uneasy sun to rise

Like the morning after heavy night,

Blurry and confused

A hazy, ethereal light emerges

The first promise of reckoning

In these lawless waters

Disbelieving eyes through heavy lids

Watching that long night

As it creeps away

Still rocking precariously in the following swell

Taking turns to snatch twenty minutes of coma-like sleep

Laying on opposite sides of exposed, salt-hardened benches

Exhausted, spent and amazed

Four hours till landfall

Sleepily adjusting the course

All remaining faith in the battered autopilot

Steering us to safety

This is offshore, night sailing

It’s exhilarating and it’s dangerous

And if you can hold your nerve

It’s the feeling of being fantastically, profoundly alive.

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