Flashback 3 – The Wall

The steady monotony of the Northern trade winds had worn us down to the bones by the tenth day out of Miloli’i, Hawai’i. Beating stubbornly into the oncoming wave trains by hugging the hissing wind just tight enough to keep up Aluna’s speed however had become second nature by now. I dare to say that we are more susceptible to habit forming out there on the water. Anything that repeats is a welcome relief from the chaos all around, and since there are preciously few things that naturally repeat, you’re painfully aware that if you don’t create any sort of framework for a routine there’s nothing to hold onto. Unless of course you’re one of those few who can be happy with constant change! The endless up and down and being thrown about has in itself the quality of lulling you into an island of relative comfort within this sea of pain. Your muscles are always trying to sense a rhythm in the vast unpredictability of the boat dancing on the waves. If you don’t think too much it can actually work for a while and you manage to reduce the times when you’re body is thrown off balance enough to bang and bruise. Thinking not too much is generally a virtue worthwhile of practicing, on land and even more so on the sea. A state of mental numbness helps you most of the time to keep your brain from running away with the latest theory of the life clasped tightly in hand, but then a minimum of functional thinking needs to be maintained unless you’re content with drifting aimlessly through space. How long is this all going to take?, is one of the most nagging questions knocking at the doors of consciousness, and any soothing estimate requires a minimum of information to be processed.  Tracking speed, daily distance covered, feeling the weather and comparing it with your mental model of global circulation patterns are but a few examples of the disciplines of the maritime mind. And then there are the split second decisions you need to make before there’s any time for reasoning.

For a day and a half the wind had been gentle enough to have the big main sail up, although it was borderline with the upper crescent of the crab claw fluttering wildly whenever falling of a wave crest into the following trough. But it was a big improvement from just a couple days ago when the wind was so strong to make us take even the mizzen sail down and put up the tiny heavy weather sail I had put together in Miloli’i during those last days right before sailing off. Scanning the horizon I realized now a slightly different cloud formation coming up on the horizon. It was still too far away to cause anything but curiosity. Its color was different however. The trade wind puffy cotton clouds are always bright white, and if they darken at all their grays tend to pull towards the bluish. This one was grey with a hint of yellow in it and coming closer I realized how big it was. It slowly built into a solid wall of grey, hovering only a couple inches above the surface of the sea, or so it seemed. The structure of the cloud was compact, no shredding of the fringes, no tearing away of the tops, nothing. Solid, thick, impenetrable gray and we’re about to sail straight into it. The grayness had engulfed us for barely a minute when all hell broke loose. Pouring rain came at us horizontally from all direction driven by gusts of considerable strength. The sails flapped violently back and forth, gibing from side to side with every shift of the wind. I shouted a desperate all crew on board into the chaos and we struggled to bring the big main sail down before the gusts tore it to pieces. We were about to get to work on lowering the mizzen sail too, when the wind all of a sudden died. As fast as it had come upon us it was gone, and now it was eerily quiet. The drops of rainwater falling into the sea from Aluna’s deck were the lonely noise, accompanied by the ever present creaking of the beams. The rain had also disappeared with the wind, but now it was coming back. It stared pouring as if the floodgates in heaven had opened at once. With only the mizzen sail up we were conveniently hove to as you would do in bad weather when you don’t want your boat to move to wait out a storm. We pulled the cover over the cockpit and huddled under it the three of us. Listening to the symphony of raindrops splashing onto the tarp a couple inches away from our ears we looked at each other in disbelief. Did we enter the doldrums already? Is this what the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone looked and felt like? But we were still over ten degrees North of the Equator!

It was by now five in the afternoon and soon it would get dark. There was no sense in doing much else and since we were all tired this was our chance to get a good night sleep. Well that night it poured and poured and poured. By daybreak I poked my head out of the hatch. The rain had stopped, but the buckets on deck had at least two inches in them and two inches of rain in a single night is some serious downpour. The sea was glassy, Aluna barely bobbing up and down on the remnants of some almost forgotten swell. The textbook picture of the doldrums and what a drastic change from the torture of beating into the trade winds! We had breakfast on the foredeck, which was dry and comfortable. Enough so to take out the charts Malinda had brought along, but we had not yet had a chance to have a peek at them. They were all nicely rolled up inside a mailing tube and charted the waters of the many exotic places we were about to visit on our journey towards the horizons of our world. Wet beddings, pants, shirts and underwear were all soon out on deck with us, shedding some of its dampness in the sun. Eventually towards the early afternoon the wind came back, first slowly in short huffs and puffs, barely rippling the glassy surface and just barely lasting long enough to fill the sails. Soon enough though we were once again riding along nicely. By nightfall it was all back to the good old routine of close hauled pointing and whitewater was again spraying the decks with Aluna’s bows parting yet another crest of wet while pounding into the swell.

The spell had been broken though. We knew now that the end was near and the struggle of keeping Aluna close to the wind would come to an end pretty soon. Still there were four more days of it before the Northern trades had blown themselves out and we did enter the convergence zone for good. And it was like stepping into yet another completely different world.


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