Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Almost Run Over
Listening to the slap-slap of wavelets against the hull, my eyes were just starting to close when I began to hear a disconcerting but vaguely familiar hum. I lay ensconced in my bunk in the forward cabin, wrapped in nothing but a sweaty sheet, smelling the mildew on my pillow that has marked the homey smell of boats since I was a boy. Ian had just started the first watch of the night and his 21-year-old girlfriend Hilary lay reading a book in her bunk in the aft cabin. The three of us were sailing down the Brazilian coast on my 40-foot ketch Condesa. The wind was light, the weather was calm and clear, and the coffee was on. Just another night at sea.
“Hey Clark, get up here, fast.”
I was a little irritated because Ian tends to be overcautious, but I slipped out of my bunk and wrapped a beach towel around my naked body. I sprung up the companionway and saw Ian’s worried face in the greenish LCD glow of the cockpit gadgets. But Ian wasn’t looking at the depthsounder, the GPS, or the VHF; he was looking up at the new lights that were entering our world. Against a backdrop of lights from dozens of fishing boats and faraway lights on shore, Ian pointed to the two mast head lights and the red running light of what I knew to be a gigantic freighter on our starboard side.
“Oh shit, he’s close.”
“He’s been weaving all over the place. First he was taking our stern, now he’s turned to starboard again.”
I then knew the source of my hum. The configuration of the lights made the ship seem sure to cross our bow a hundred yards or so ahead—still too close for comfort–but it took me a few seconds to get a feel for the ship’s motion. After these few seconds I could see that yes, it was at the right angle to cross our bow but was turning to port again, towards us.
“Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit!”
We turned on our spreader lights, which light Condesa up like a Christmas tree.
We had turned down the volume on the VHF because the hundreds of Brazilian fishermen in the area were driving us crazy. It was a few days before the start of the World Cup and channel 16 was a cacophony of chants, singing, music from a commercial radio station, and confused chatter in Portuguese.
Be sure to checkout some of the other cool stories on Clark's blog as he circles the planet. They are on the right side of his page.