5/17/2016 – The Rogue Wave
Last night I watched the movie, Abandoned, about four men lost at sea for more than 100 days after a rogue wave wrecked their sailboat. When they were finally rescued, the media expressed intense skepticism. People didn’t believe their story until a close examination of the wrecked boat proved the sailors told the truth.
The movie brought back memories of living on a motorsailer called the Hardtack for three years back in the seventies. A motorsailer is a hybrid between a sailboat and a powerboat. Our boat was a heavy, double-planked classic yacht designed by famed naval architect John Alden. The single mast was stepped to the full keel and 58 feet high. However, the boat also had a heavy-duty Caterpillar diesel engine.
The Hardtack was a comfortable, roomy boat for live-aboards with a large cockpit that served as a “playground” of sorts for our toddler daughter. It was also very forgiving, which saved our lives more than once.
One of the joys that came with that boat when we bought it was a library of nautical and nature books. However, these books included a pulse-stopping account of rogue waves and “ultimate storms.” I don’t remember the exact name of the book except that it was something like The Deadliest Wave, which gave me pause, I can tell you. We had many adventures on that boat, of varying degrees of terror.
I especially remember a time when we rounded a bend in a fast-moving river, met a barge and passed it with maybe an inch to spare. It was so close that the barge crew ran to the stern, expecting to see the splintered remains of our boat in the barge’s wake.
And then there was the time that we ran aground at night trying to find anchorage off the channel. The current was very swift with a nine-foot tidal range. That meant that once we ran aground, it was only a few minutes before our boat was on its side as the tide ran out. Not knowing what to expect when our boat tipped over, I took our daughter out in the dinghy. She looked back at the boat and said, “Look, Mommy, boat fall down.”
The most terrifying event happened the day we planned to cross the treacherous gulf stream from Miami to the Bahamas. The day started out beautifully, but around noon, I started below to fix lunch when I saw water gushing in. We could not find the leak and the sea was turning rough. Behind us, storm clouds were gathering. We radioed a “Mayday” to the Coast Guard, which saved our lives twice that day, once by pumping out the water and finding the leak and second by leading us back to Miami through a storm packed with ever higher waves and winds that toppled cranes off buildings on land.
Another book that came with the boat was called Dangerous Marine Animals, and I still have this one. It included numerous photos of shark victims with lacerated or missing limbs, deceased. Since I had seen the movie Jaws, the movie and the book kept me very cautious about entering the pristine clear waters off Miami and the Keys where I could see barracudas nosing around.
The nature books included the Euell Gibbons series on edible wild plants. I used that one and other sources to scavenge for berries, wild cherries, and greens to add to our meals.
Also on board were two volumes of the delightful Crunch and Des short stories by Philip Wylie. Crunch was a charter fishing boat captain and Des was his crew. Their fictional boat tied up at Pier 5 in Miami, a place I remembered visiting as a child.
But one of the nicest memories I have of living on the boat was reading The Complete Annotated Sherlock Holmes by the flame of a gimbaled kerosene lantern in a deserted cove off the waterway. Atmosphere? We had atmosphere.