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  • Laura Owens

Surviving the storm

Updated: Jul 19


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

and jamming of feet


Things taken for granted on solid ground - the comforting ritual of making tea

to warm your shivering soul

turns into a practice of sheer will

and Shiva-like skill


Fingertips grasp 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 through space

spilling its wares onto paper charts


You don’t know it yet,

but when dawn breaks

and the storm subsides

you’ll pick your way hazily

through the dried seaweed and debris

towards the sanctuary of your sodden bed


The camera can’t communicate

the stolen sleep that

leaves your body jittery like a

and your mind as clear as tar


The suppressed anxiety

of your only crew mate falling over board

while you’re below deck

in a shadowy slumber


The dread of climbing

the companionway stairs

to take up your watch

to find no one there


The camera can’t convey

the intensity it takes to watch

instruments and waves

with hawk-like attention,

striving to find solace in

predicting the un-predictable


Squinting at the tightly packed

rows of coloured rope

muted by the confusion of darkness,

like criminals in a line up

the wrong choice could bear

deadly consequences


Trying hopelessly

to block out tales

from countless books

of disasters at sea


React quickly but carefully,

don’t guillotine your fingers

in the heavily tensioned lines

that strain 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

up ahead, 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

you’re also tasked with not slamming headlong into another vessel

or floating jetsom

that could entangle the prop

and leave you entirely

at the mercy of the storm

-

both almost impossible to make out

amongst the white wash of

bewildered waves


A change in the energy

two weather systems merge

without warning

sea water sloshes across the aft deck

creeping into the footwell of the cockpit

and down the hatchway stairs


The track on the old girl malfunctions

glueing the main sail halfway down

wind building erratically

from all directions

pinning the stricken/ 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 hanging on,

willpower and strength alone

controlling the unruly boom

as it smashes violently from side to side - the main sheet relentlessly pummelled

by the wind from every angle


The 10 tonne lead keel battles underwater

to keep us from capsizing

as the struggling rig above

makes the eery sound of a caged beast

trying to break free from its chains


Knowing you’re 10 hours from land

10 hours from safety


Mind racing with safety procedures

cut, stream, close, maintain -

wide-eyed, jaws clenched

whole body shaking,

not with cold

with fear.


Glanced looks,

unspoken words

silently transmitting

camaraderie amongst the chaos


Off the stern,

two titanic lightening storms merge

flash bangs of red and white

against an inky 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 us

and the vast, tumultuous

expanse of blackness below

a watery graveyard of

sea creatures and shipwrecks


Sleep deprivation

causes the squeaking of the rudder

to morph into a chorus of imaginary voices

as the tiny white light at the top of the mast

sways violently from side to side

in the gathering swells


Hold on, just hold on.

A scattering of stars emerge,

welcome pinpricks of light

a cloud-covered moonrise

reminds us we’re never really alone


Vast galaxies above

gradually make 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


The boat and it’s weary inhabitants

still rocking precariously

in the following swell

taking turns to snatch moments

of coma-like sleep

laying on opposite sides of exposed,

salt-hardened wooden benches

exhausted, spent and amazed


Four hours till landfall

absently adjusting the course

all remaining faith in the battered autopilot

steering us to safety


This is offshore, night sailing in a storm

it’s exhilarating and it’s dangerous

and if you can hold your nerve

it’s a feeling

of being fantastically, profoundly alive.




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