Squalls, etc.

We had two options:  leave Providencia on Monday and hope that the nasty forecast would be “doable” or wait it out until Friday without any guarantee that the forecast wouldn’t change again for the worse.  We had to make a choice, and captain Josh had the final say.  Really, it would only be three days–a straight shot due South–and we would be there, in Bocas del Toro, our final destination.  But the weather wasn’t on our side.

We spent the morning studying the forecast, and discussing our options.  Ultimately, it wouldn’t be a matter of danger, so much as comfort and enjoyment.   We all agreed that waiting five days wouldn’t give us any greater sense of certainty, as we had learned through the past week that a forecast for a couple days ahead was about as accurate as predicting the gender of a baby on the day of conception. We decided to chance it.  By three that afternoon we were signed out by the customs officials and had the dinghy loaded on board Khuela.  It was a much later start than we had hoped for, but to hell with schedules.

No more than an after we set off, the sky began to darken; with it, so did the sea.  A light drizzle began to dampen the deck and moisten our skin, and looking South we couldn’t help but notice the massive storm coming our way.

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Soon, the ocean was no longer a welcoming and pristine glassy blue, but a turbid and angry mixture of gray and white foam, enormous swells rising up around us.  The boat was rocking and tipping like never before as the water moved with powerful determination beneath its hull.  Josh, with senses tuned perfectly, started into action.  I was holding on for dear life, thinking quite simple, yet alarming thoughts: holy shit…everything’s gray!  Isn’t this unusual!  Jesus this is dangerous!

“Squall’s coming!  Let’s furl the jib!”  Ahh, I thought, the old furling of the jib.  I can do that.

But this wasn’t your average jib furling conditions.  I could feel the front moving in above us and the wind slamming against the boat from the starboard side.  Getting from the stern of the boat to the bow felt like walking on a tightrope in a hurricane.  I was trying to be as helpful as possible, but the wind was howling, muffling all of Josh’s directions and intensifying the danger of my every move.  The horizon line between the water and sky blurred like a camera out of focus, as the sky opened up and dumped rain; I’ve never seen anything like it.  I had been reading about sea-farers facing storms of much greater magnitude in A Voyage for Madmen, so finally my imagination got to conjure up a bit of the heart-racing adrenaline rush my heroes had written of.  They say that the size of a swell looks ten times larger from the vantage point of a sailboat, and I have to believe it now because it seemed that some of the waves were massive compared to the height of our little Khuela.

As we were scrambling in the chaos to get the sails in order, I realized something terrible was happening to me.   With an unmistakable green tint in my face, I began to feel awfully sea sick.

I scrambled to the port side of the boat, clinging tightly to the metal bars and lifelines just as Josh and Jason made their way back from their mission on the bow.  Josh took one look at me, pathetically hanging on the edge trying to find a horizon line to stare at.

“Just don’t puke into the wind,” he said, over the roaring winds as he rushed to the steering wheel.  I was focused on not puking, but that only made the event more imminent.

“Which way is into the wind?”

And these were my famous last words.

I didn’t have much time or consciousness to discover systematically which way the wind was blowing; instead, my inquiry was answered when my face was covered in vomit moments later.  Ahh, I see.  The wind blowing on my face means that I was facing into the wind.  Noted.

“All better,” I said with a shy smile, wiping the little chunklettes from my face.  I was horribly embarassed, but I did feel better.  Better out than in, that’s what I always say.

By now, it was dark and well past dinner time; the storm was still raging, and our stomachs were following suit. Of course, no one wanted to do the cooking, as that would mean subjecting yourself to the unreasonable tantrums of gravity down in the cabin.  At this point, all of us were a bit green in the face, and no one was really talking as the wind was actively dominating the scene.  I volunteered to cook; someone had to do it, and my episode of seasickness had left me feeling guilty for not pulling my weight and helping through the squall.

I went down into the cabin, feeling brave and stupid at the same time.  I knew what I was in for.  Sure enough, as soon as I began to think about what to make, my stomach arrived in my throat.  Choke it down, girl, this isn’t the worst yet.

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It was a terrible task that I had taken on.

Lesson learned:  going into the cabin of a violently rocking boat and filling said cabin with food aromas is a recipe for disaster.  Things were flying everywhere.  I mean, everywhere.   Everything, at one point or another, relocated itself to a place it didn’t belong.  The garlic cloves ended up in the shelves, the sauce can managed to fly over to the couch, and the box of pasta made its way to the floor.  It was like babysitting six toddlers, except instead of toddlers, I was dealing with inanimate objects of equally destructive properties in the context of this immaculately clean boat.  I thought I had learned by now to always keep a hand free for the boat, but it seemed every time I wasn’t holding onto something, I was flailing awkwardly into something.  Strapped into a little belt thing by the stove, to keep me from flying everywhere, I began cooking.  Keep it simple, I told myself, nobody needs a hero right now.  So I made some pasta with red sauce.

I feel pathetic writing “I made some pasta with red sauce” to describe that woesome and ridiculous experience.  It was truly the worst.  It was an arduous process that took probably 45 minutes of intense struggle to simply keep things where they needed to be and not everywhere else.  As time was passing and the battle between food and gravity waged on, I tried my best to fight the nausea that was becoming overwhelming.  The window above the stove showed the unruly ocean above eye level, and that was spinning my stomach into chaos.

I wasn’t hungry.  I couldn’t fathom putting a single bite in my mouth.  Since it was too tumultuous below the deck, I brought the finished pot and two bowls up above to dish it out for the boys, who had been fighting with the sails in the unrelenting rain.  I left my portion in the pot, thinking I might have an appetite later on night watch.  I just wanted food to be out of my mind, as it was slowly creeping up my esophagus again.  So I started down the stairs again, into the cabin, to put the pot somewhere safe.  This is when I made the fatal fucking mistake…you guessed it:  I had both hands on the pot, and no hands for the boat.

Oh how it flew.

I mean, that pot of pasta and red sauce took off out of my hands, over my head, into the cabin and right onto the lovely blue carpet that Josh keeps spotless. I watched the whole scene unfold in slow-motion, horror overtaking me worse than the sea-sickness.

The story doesn’t really go on from here.  I mean, it truly couldn’t have been any worse.

In the next scene, picture me on all fours, picking up penne pasta piece by piece, scrubbing the tomato sauce out of the baby blue upholstery, and taking breaks from the scrubbing only to hurl into the pasta pot beside me.  Josh was beside me at this point, clearly handling his rage like a champ, while Jason manned the cockpit.  They urged me to just crawl into my bed, and let them handle it, but I was riddled with shame and determination to clean up the mess I’d made.  Very good job, Anoush.  

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The weather continued on through the night, and I finally gave in and stopped “helping.”  They had it under control, and my bouts of sickness wasn’t making the scenario any more pleasant.  We had cleaned up my mess sufficiently, and I had effectively dehydrated myself to diziness in the process.  I  I crawled into my little hole and padded myself on each side with pillows so the slamming into walls didn’t hurt as bad while I slept off my embarrassment.

One Response to Squalls, etc.

  1. Tina Dadian

    Great story, I enjoyed every bit of it. Very glad to be able to read your writing again. So glad.

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