Where’s Lizzy: Notes from the crossing

posted by / News / June 27, 2007


Hello friends…

Well, the report from Swell is swell, swell, and more swell. On the afternoon of the 8th day, sets from a storm off Peru began to funnel in from behind us. The ‘bus driver’ has totally lost control and has been bouncing off snow banks on either side of the road. We have been forced off course to the north as to maintain the most tolerable position to the seas. The waves are tightly-packed and confused with fingers of the twenty knot winds wrinkling their already distorted surface. Some come in from the south and wedge into intimidating peaks behind the stern. Others sneak across from the north to tangle and complicate the determined lines of westbound water. To me, it’s an unfamiliar ocean. I don’t know it and it doesn’t seem to know me. Its face is twisted and scattered, unavailable for negotiation. It’s reckless soldiers just march right through us, knocking us about as if not to notice us at all. Like a lost tourist on a busy New York City sidewalk, we are doing our best to be unnoticed, maintain the flow, and stay out of the way of this powerful flood of indifference.

It makes even the smallest tasks aboard Swell challenging. Each step is a gamble when you aren’t sure which way the floor will fall or turn beneath your feet. Then just when you think you made it to your destination, you find yourself slammed up against an unforgiving piece of teak or stainless. A day or two of living in this ‘fun house’ and there may have been hope of hanging on to that humor that had accompanied us on Day 6, but we are now into the fourth solid day. The humor fell overboard days ago.

On our eighth night I received a weather report from my dad saying, ‘the swells are going to get bigger and steeper. It looks like they will last through Sunday. Hunker down and heave to if you have to.” I spent that night curled on the settee due to the light rain. The pit in my stomach seized tighter every time Swell’s stern was lifted, whitewater crashing up her against her flanks before she spun into a tail slide, tossing my stiff body one way and then the other in her self-righting retaliation. Swell and her cargo thudded and groaned. Cups clanged, teak joints whined, halyards slapped, and the sea roared loudly passed my head. In between my every twenty-minute peek at the horizon (which seemed rather useless considering I could not see past the swollen sea just a hundred feet from the bow), I dreamed that I’d found an uncharted island chain to tuck behind for shelter. Then I dreamed I pulled Swell into the Santa Barbara harbor, to be denied shelter for a lack of guest slips. The next time I peeked my head out a small light bounced up and down on the horizon far to the south. I called them on the radio just to see if they were listening, but there was no response. Everything seemed to have taken on the sea’s unfriendly demeanor. Even my headlamp squeezed my temples more uncomfortably than usual.

Days 9 and 10 brought little relief. The swells grew taller and closer together. Poor poor Mom∑she has decided that she cannot look outside, the sight of the “ugly, roiling, steely-grey sea” and the daunting approach of the watery towers and is just too frightening. It’s much easier to stay below and stare at the cozy blue walls despite knowing deep down that there is only an inch of fiberglass sheltering us.

My feelings drift between frustration, irritation, awe, and occasionally, fear. I wanted to spend quality time with my mother. I wanted to show her the beauty and magic of the world I have been living in. There has been little beauty or magic in these last few days. My list of projects to be completed underway remains in tact. I am forced to remain idle against my will–something I am not good at. Going on deck to reef I have felt an unusual flash of fear. When I see the boiling rush of water going by, it gives me that same feeling as when you stand too close the edge of a cliff.

Despite waking to the fourth morning (today, Day 11) of unchanged conditions, Mom is less afraid, now that Swell has proven herself worthy of keeping us dry and upright. Her courage and tolerance are amazing, and she has made the best of the hostage-like situation. And so, as we continue to toil through crossword puzzles and meal-making, the hours bounce on sort of like a bad dream you can’t wake up from. I just wish Swell could spread wings like the flying fish and skip her way across the tops of these beasts rather than wallow and pitch amongst them.

But there is a part of me that looks out at this feral sea and delights in the fact that there are still parts of nature we cannot control or manipulate. For me, this wildness holds a certain charm, although I cannot fully appreciate in this moment. Maybe it’s because I see the same untamable spirit in myself. Try as it may with each nauseating roll or jaw clenching heave, it will not turn me away.

Our current position is {{{S4}}} 04′, W111 19′. Hopefully a more upbeat report soon

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