There are some similarities between operating room nursing and sailing in emergency conditions, even if you don't know what you're doing.
Help in any way you can.
Don't drop anything (in the sea or outside the sterile field)
Don't get hurt.
And number one: hope that whoever you're with does the same, is good in a fight, and has the knowledge, talent, temperament and whatever else it takes to get you out of this mess.
I don't know if it was David's rapid footsteps above me on deck, or the violent, sudden movement of the boat itself that woke me, but for a moment I was disoriented. I heard David yell. "Mora get up!" and I was out of bed climbing the steps out of the companionway to see what was going on. I remembered where we were as I made out the small beach in the dark, flanked by rocky shore. The rain was driving sideways and the sand and rocks appeared closer than they should have.
We knew weather was coming and had sailed in to Portinatx to take shelter from a northerly bluster predicted to come the next day. David's service said gusts up to 36 mph, but I didn't believe it. It hadn't been accurate so far.
"We'll be ok" I said. "If we're not ok, it just means we're not done yet".
David seems to think I tempt fate with statements like this, and had remarked several times about me asking if his boat had ever hit another, a few days prior, as if the question itself had made boats around us collide. My superstitious sailor.
Portinatx appeared to have a more sheltered cove on the map than it actually did. We didn't like the first anchoring option and moved on to a second inlet. When we found an anchoring spot as close to the beach as a boat could get we decided to drop anchor. It's a pretty spot, with gorgeous water, and we hoped, just the right angle to protect us.
I got on some clothes and glanced at the clock. It was quarter to midnight. David rushed down and began dressing too. He had been forward, securing the dingy. Whatever gust of wind that had woken him had been so strong that it flung our dingy over the side of the boat.
I stuck my head out in time for the first lightning strike. In the electrical flash, as bright as day, I saw the catamaran anchored a couple hundred yards away slam into a monohull beside it, men scrambling on deck.
David told me to get the life jackets and then he buckled me in. The howling wind and rain where deafening. We had to yell at each other to be heard. He told me the boat was drifting towards the shore, driven by the gale and rising seas. On the violently rocking boat we climbed on deck and were instantly drenched. He told me to keep my eyes on him as he went forward to assess the anchor. Shalona was healing over in the screeching wind, and was laying at a weird angle. In my frantic attempt to keep my eyes on David I didn't pay attention to the boom and got a sudden crack on the head sending my face flying into a winch and got a bloody lip. Rookie move.
The force of the wind had lifted the boat so violently that the anchor was yanked out of the sand and the roller things on the prow were torn off. The only thing keeping Shalona, and us, from being crashed onto the rocks were the line of mooring balls surrounding the swimming area. The boat's rudder or keel seemed to be tangeled up in them. Thus the weird angle we were lying.
We scampered about the slippery, moving boat, first lifting the anchor, then attempting to see what else could be done. The lightning was awesome and terrifying. I found myself ducking instinctually and was sure some one would be struck as it lit up the sky and touched down right beside us. I could see people on the other boats moving about too, as we all got tossed on the raging sea.
David wanted to cut the line of mooring balls that held us, but I wanted to wait. He asked me to get the knife from the galley. He managed to yank the rope onto our cleat as I held the flashlight in the pouring rain. We both asked the storm to stop!
From what I could see the cat was still tangled up with the smaller monohull, and they seemed to be blowing closer to us. There was another yacht being pushed towards the rocky cliff, and the last crewed boat in our little bay looked like it was crashing into a small anchored speedboat. It was chaos and mayhem!
David asked me to come forward and hold the flashlight so he could find the line in the water, yank it up, and fasten it to our forward cleat. He reinforced the stays on the dingy. As I made my way back to the cockpit, gripping the shrouds, barefoot and fatigued, my vision completely blurred by the driving rain on my glasses, the boat lunged and I lurched over the side. But nothing was going to make my hand release its grip on that shroud, and I righted myself. Mistakes can happen when you're tired, I reminded myself, and carefully maneuvered myself into the cockpit.
I was making my case for staying wrapped up in the mooring line, yelling over the cracking thunder. I wanted to stay where we seemed not to be moving, close to the shore. If we cut the line and took off would it wrap the propeller? Where would we go in the dark stormy sea?
Suddenly the decision was made for us, or it was made for David, who had the experienced eyes that gave him a vision for what was happening that I couldn't see.
On the aft cleat, the line that he had dragged up and secured on to the boat, suddenly snapped. The cat seemed to be tangled in the same line and the strain and tension of both boats pulling on it was too much. David asked me for the knife, took it forward, and had me ready to put the engine in gear. I waited for his word, watching the instruments. I couldn't see what he was doing up there but as another lightning strike illuminated the sea, I saw our boat was turning, free of that line that had held us. The depth of the water was decreasing as we were pushed to the shore and I willed David to give me the word to steer us out of there.
I yelled at him that we were in five feet of water when I saw him coming towards me, screaming to put the boat in gear. I yanked the engine into forward and we both felt and heard the keel hit the bottom. 3.7 feet.
I learned later that David had cut the line, pulled it out from the keel and rudder, and somehow threw it far away enough so that the propeller was free. As Shalona moved forward we maneuvered our way through the other tossing boats, and further out into the bay. I was so relived not to crash on the rocks! But where would we go? In the darkness I shone the flashlight but could barely see a few feet in front of us. I was worried that our anchor wouldn't dig in over seaweed and grass, but David soon found a spot, dropped anchor and secured us with all the chain and rope the boat had on board. We were sufficiently away from the other boats, cliffs and shore.
When I next looked at the clock it was 1:36am. The wind seem to be decreasing a bit and the lightning was moving south over the island. The boat was still swinging dramatically, anchored in 35 feet of water, but we felt secure enough to go below and get some dry clothes.
I mopped up the cabin, made coffee and watched David change into his sailing weather gear. "Lord almighty!" he said in his best American accent, dimples flashing. He told me to take a nap as he kept an eye out on the other boats, our anchor, and the weather. I asked him to not go forward on the boat without letting me know, and he agreed. I didn't mean to, but I slept till 5am.
Now it's noon the next day. The sea is still angry and tossing us about, the wind howling by. But our anchor has held and David is finally sleeping. He has been on boats all his life and has worked on them in many different places around the world. When he says the wind was gusting at least 70 mph, I believe him. The famous Mistrael from France paid us a visit, and we survived!
If there's anyone I want in my foxhole when things go bad, it's Dave Gardner.