"A Trip to Maui"
April 14th, 2018 - by Bish Wheeler
We were on our way to Maui one year on the Victoria to Maui sailboat race. There were six of us on board and at the start we had great wind which stood us 700 miles out to sea in about four days. For a 37 foot sailbaot that was moving right along. The wind was on the starboard (right) aft quarter as were the seas which made for a very comfortable and fast ride. I thought at the time "If this keeps up we are going to have a very fast passage", but of course weather is never constant and things began to change. Over the next 24 hours the wind shifted about 60 degrees forward which put it forward of the beam and increased in velocity from about 15 knots to 35 knots. We had to put up a much smaller head sail and reef the main which kept the boat from being over powered. In order to maintain our course we were now sailing more into the wind When you sail into the wind it makes the boat "heel" over more which makes the boat a lot more uncomfortable also the seas had followed the wind forward so we were now not only sailing into the wind, were also sailing into the seas which were running at about 8 feet. When the seas smacked into the bow of the boat a great deal of spray would splash up and the wind would grab it and throw it over the boat and back into the cockpit and right into the face of the helmsman.. This went on for two days and by the end of the first day we were beginning to get very tired, not to mention we were constantly wet in spite of the fact we were all wearing foul weather gear.
We had divided the crew into three two man watches Each watch would be "on" for four hours and off for eight, but with the deteriorating weather everyone was getting too tired, so we switched to two three man watches We were on for four hours an off for four. That may seem like it would be worse, but the hardest part of standing watch was steering which just beat the heck out of you in the heavy seas. So by having three handling the steering you had to have the spray in your face for a shorter time. To add to discomfort everything was wet below deck. It was impossible to keep from getting things wet when we came off watch and went below. Bedding got wet and all or our clothes were damp with salt water. It's impossible to get things dry that have salt in them since salt absorbs water It was miserable, but we could do nothing but keep on truckin' knowing that sooner or later the weather would get better.
At sea, there is not a lot to do when you are off watch so reading became the major pass time and as luck would have it we were reading a book called "Survive the Savage Sea", a book about a family cruising the sailboat in the Pacific who had to misfortune to "bump" into a whale and really piss it off. So much so that is turned and rammed the boat and sank it. The family survived in a dinghy and a life raft for 50 days before they were finally picked up. We all joked about the book and nervously speculated about what we would do if it happened to us. It was a little spooky with the goofy weather and fatigue, but it was a good sea story.
On the third day of this damn blow the helmsman, Scotty, started hollering and it sounded for all the world like he was yelling "WHALE"! As it happened, he was alone on deck as the other two watch mates had gone below for a cup of coffee. That put five of us below and when we heard him yell those words we all tried to get up the ladder and on deck at the same time. I'm sure it would have been funny at another time, but it was really scary with the helmsman yelling and us all trying to climb the ladder. When we finally got on deck we looked where Scotty was pointing which was directly to the right and there, not ten feet from the side of the boat was an eye the size of a dinner plate and that eye was attached to the biggest damn Humpback whale the world has ever known!
You have heard about time standing still, well let me tell, time stood still. There we were, all six of us frozen stiff, waiting to see if we were going to end up in a life boat or worse. And there swam the whale, that big eye looking at us like something out of a Jules Verne novel. But nothing happened except the bit by bit the whale gradually moved forward. After what seemed like and hour (I'm sure it was about five minutes) the creature was ahead of us and majestically sounded and the last we saw of it was it's huge tail fins high above the waves that then disappeared below the surface. We brave sailors all remained frozen waiting to see if we had pissed the beast off and were going to be rammed. When it became obvious that we were not going to die, we breathed again and I suggested that we break out the rum!
In hindsight, I'm pretty sure that the whale was just curious about this funny little boat that was way out in it's world. It just cruised by for a look and went on it's way. Had we not been so beat up and tired from the lousy weather and had we not been spooked by the damn book we may have viewed the whole thing in a different light. But we survived and can now "Yarn" with the best of them.
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