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Sailboat II

My last five days on the sailboat

©2005 by Susan Cramer Peter

Friday, August 19
Day 11
9 am

It is the end of my 6–9am watch. I have, on my own initiative, adjusted our heading, the better to improve the angle of the wind to our sails and therefore our speed in the water. I’ve done this a couple of times changing overall our heading 40° perhaps, from East Northeast to North Northeast. Our autopilot makes this easy, just a push or two on the left or right buttons adjusts the rudder. One push gives one beep equal to 1 degree; hold the button for a double beep and you gain 10 degrees in that direction.

I am still reading Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, about “The Age of Exploration” that would be more appropriately sub–titled “The Age of Exploitation.” And, per this book, while the Spanish and Portuguese were ruthless, a hundred years later when the English and Dutch had displaced them as leaders in the Spice Trade competition, the Dutch were far more ruthless.

More forcefully than I have ever heard before, this book says the exploration of America was only because it was in the way and most explorers were trying to get through, around, or over it. It was seen as having no value. Trading posts and colonization were definitely afterthoughts and activities of very minor importance — at least until it looked like the “other guys” were going to lay claim to it. Reports of lush forests and rich soils were irrelevant compared to the instant wealth that spices could bring. Some spices, such as nutmeg, were considered medicinal. It was said to protect from the Plague.

11:20 am

Our breeze from the Northwest (oops, not our Northwest. This northwest wind is really from the Far East. It is amazing how truly confusing this east/west thing is for me, a geography major!) Try that again. Our breeze from the northwest has picked up considerably. Captain says it is a 10 knot wind and the sea is appropriately choppy, though the sailing is still smooth enough. We had to put a reef in the sail (mainsail of course) to keep the boat from heeling over so far; now clipping along at 5.2 knots.

One might think that reefing the sail would result in reduced speed because of the reduced sail size. But Captain says that because the reefed sail causes the boat to heel less, there is more verticality to the sail, thus a better and more effective surface for catching the wind that drives the boat.

I smell food. Call it lunch, brunch, or breakfast, I’m glad I ate a can of corn and two seasoned zwieback crackers at 8 am. Did I say these people only eat twice a day? Plus their beer, which, calorically functions as another meal: Miller for Rob, Bud for Jessica and Captain. I thought of “The beer and boat crowd” as our former neighbor, Joe Cavet called the Cyrs when they bought his property across the street from us.

Saturday, August 20
Day 12
A blur of bad feelings

A blur of bad feelings … and sea sickness?

It was my turn to call Joe last night with the noon report. I started the call by very quietly singing a line of music; “If ever I should leave you, it wouldn’t be for a sailor.” We ended up talking about thirty minutes. Rob was nearby, listening in, and from the look on his face found our conversation inappropriate, but I didn’t know why.

As soon as I’d hung up I remembered I wanted to tell Joe that, contrary to regulations, my life jacket has no light on it. This would only be relevant under dire circumstances, but still I wanted the search crews who might be looking for me to know this, in that unlikely future. So I called him right back.

Apparently Jessica had been listening in around the corner as well. The moment I was on the phone she went rushing up to the deck to tattle on me to the captain. This second call lasted maybe a minute. I was off by the time she was back and she gave me a little lecture about the cost of the phone and how my behavior was inappropriate. I assured her I had the money to pay for it.

All this was last night night. As you may have noticed, I am not always able to record events in “real time.” I usually write in my journal during my watch, recording then what has happened in the previous twelve hours.


Scarce power? Not until late Saturday night, actually early Sunday morning, more than a full day later, did I find out they don’t like to use their scarce power to recharge the phone. Actually, that was the first time I heard that power was scarce.

Mid-Day Watch,
The flexible shift

It was a very stormy, gale–force–winds day. The captain had been up all night and he, Rob and I were in the cockpit. The captain had said that as long as this strong wind was blowing he was going to stay up and assist on watches. I appreciated this level of concern and responsibility. I also figured he was going to crash soon and I needed to be well rested when that happened. I also was fairly exhausted from lack of sleep.

The captain told me on the first day of the trip that mid-day shifts are flexible since the majority of us will usually chose to be in the cockpit during the day anyway. In my blur of sleepiness I suddenly saw that I was superfluous. I was getting splashed as the third person in the cockpit and, at almost 2 pm of my 9 to 3 mid–day watch, I decided to go below and catch a few winks.

Captain’s watch follows my watch. I figured I might soon be doing his 3–6 pm watch; the seas were calming down. Certainly it would be more logical for me, who had no active responsibility on a 9 - 3 watch, to take this following watch than Jessica or Rob who had night watches coming up. I was sleepy, so instead of enunciating all that, which shouldn’t have been necessary anyway since the captain and Rob were there in the cockpit claiming the primo seats, I went below and laid down in my berth. That would also give Captain room to stretch out a little if he wanted to sleep up there. (I’m not comfortable trying to sleep in the cockpit, but Jessica says she’s done it, and I’ve noticed Captain often rests his eyes up there, even during his watch.)

Since the seas are so high, it is necessary to have all the windows (even the bathroom window), and the hatch cover and doors closed all the time. The cabin is hot and sticky, and stinky. This is not a primo location.

A Failed Head

The head has failed in a major way. The chlorinator/processor has not worked since before we left Lihue. It does grind up the solids, but does not chlorinate anything, and it does not expel the waste into the sea. It leaks back into the toilet. It is necessary to stuff the toilet with a sponge to retard its re–filling with thick brown water. In order to use it we have to reach our hand in the thick brown water to pull the sponge and place it in the sink. After we’re done with our deposit we stuff the sponge back into the toilet drain. We have had several variations on this since the trip started, but at this point there seems very little point to any of it. The thick brown water fills the bowl, spills over the bowl, floods the floor, and sloshes on our pant legs and feet when we enter the room. Whether the sponge is there or not. The sink is temporary container for the feces–filled sponge and you can’t even wash your hands between these various procedures before handling your clothes or toilet paper. The captain explains that if none of us have any communicable diseases, we’re ok.

My eyes were closed

A very few minutes after I left the captain and Rob in the cockpit, hoping for a short nap, I heard Rob come down the ladder. My eyes were closed. I waited a moment to see if he’d come and address me by name, something I’ve noticed he doesn’t do. I expect him to say something about me going up for the rest of my watch. This was about 2 pm; one hour before my six–hour watch was officially over. Instead, he and Jessica, who had been in her bunk for maybe an hour, stood over my bed and started this conversation: “You know, I think even Anna Lee was better than this. At least she was responsible about her watches instead of just blowing them off.” “Yeah, and she was interested in what was going on and asked questions to learn things.”

They continued in this vein for a little while until I sat up and explained “In fact, I have asked lots of questions of the captain, but you weren’t around. I do stand my watches and more. I let him sleep instead of waking him when it’s time for his watch, if I’m feeling ok to sit up a little longer. Just now I had laid down to rest since I was superfluous at the moment in the cockpit, and expected to do the captain’s afternoon watch for him since it looked like he was likely to crash soon.” At this point Jessica interrupted to say that she planned to take the captain’s afternoon watch and that I certainly didn’t need to bother myself.

Then I went up to the cockpit where the captain was still sitting, apparently waiting for me. He made some gruff remark about me “finally being there so he could go below and get some sleep.” He’d been awake for 24 hours; I didn’t take his irritation to heart. Though it did make me wonder if there had been some misunderstanding. Jessica came up about 3:00, insisting that she was the one taking the captain’s watch. But, she said she’d be happy for me to stay and visit.

Sex and St. Francis

A fine little visit we had too. A long conversation about sex and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. Jessica quoted a line of song from it, about “all the precious little sperms that shouldn’t go to waste.” I recognized it from Dr. Daniel Maguire’s lecture we attended a year or so ago about religious laws concerning abortion. He’s a theology professor at Marquette University and he referenced a quote like this from St. Francis of Assisi. It was fun to recognize the line and know where it came from, but I also wanted Jessica to know that successful people in theater are often more educated than possibly she, or any us, sometimes realize. (She is reluctant to continue college.) Anyway, it was quite a fine little conversation. It ended when the captain stuck his head up and let us know he’d been listening to us. He was smiling though and surprised me by saying things that made me believe he wasn't in disagreement with what he had overheard.

This was sometime around 8:00 pm and we’d still had nothing but a cup of soup all day. Jessica suggested that I go below and sleep before my midnight to 3 am watch. I took her advice, first opening a can of corn surreptitiously so Rob won’t be offended, and ate about half of it. But my stomach was queasy, so I found a plastic bag for the rest of it, figuring I’d eat it later. The gale had increased; outside there were Blue Mountain waves, 10 to 12 feet from trough to peak, so I thought I might be seasick. Maybe I used one of my old outdated scopolamine patches and it wasn’t working. Or maybe this reaction was lack of food; maybe lack of toilet facilities.

I had barely laid down when I vomited up the corn I’d eaten. Getting part of the vomit on my bedding and towel, eventually I worked my way to the galley and actually got part of it in the wastebasket. I dared not go into the head for reasons previously mentioned.

Water, Water,
but …

I tried to get water from the galley foot pump to rinse out my mouth. It didn’t work and I remembered that I hadn’t been successful with it all day; the captain thought there was maybe a kink in the line. My water bottle was empty by now, partly because I had used what little I had during the day, partly because I never kept much in it; the feeble galley pump was so difficult to use. The hand pump in the head worked much better, normally, though for the last week, the idea of bringing my water bottle in there to share a sink with the feces–filled sponge seemed suicidal. In desperation however I had done just that earlier in the day, only to discover that it was also not working.

I laid back down and listened to the hull breaching the waves. The Skipper Saver booklet I read before the trip, from US Power Squadrons, says this is dangerous, the waves should be slid up diagonally. Each time the boat breached, it landed with a thump. The hundreds of cans of soda and juice under my bed fell and then bounced and fell again, acting as a battering ram against the hull. A double, Wham Wham!…. Wham Wham!…. Wham Wham!….

It was hard to sleep. And it gave me time to think. The storm sails put up last night have never been used before. (I think this was just last night, I am so disoriented about the passage of time.) Apparently in the twenty years Captain has owned this boat he has never sailed in a storm this bad. And it doesn’t even seem like a bad storm. This cannot possibly be true, but how could it be he hasn’t used storm sails before? So I have to question his experience. Did I tell you he’s a cowboy? Unable to accept responsibility for his own shortcomings? Everything is somebody else’s fault: stupid computers, stupid autopilot, stupid telephone, stupid weather service, stupid original owner and builder of this boat! Jessica parrots him. If I read his face correctly, Rob thinks they are both fools.

A Phone Call

By 10:30 pm the sound was disconcerting, especially in conjunction with these other thoughts; I decided to call Joe. I got out the phone; the antenna was disconnected (please God, not broken!). I was trying to figure out how to reconnect it in the dark, using my dim little head–lamp. It took until 11 pm, 2 am his time, before I reached him. I told Joe I wanted him to call the Coast Guard and find out how I could get off the boat. That I was terribly sick and lacked food, and there was no water to even rinse my mouth after vomiting because our fresh water system was broken in addition to the toilet. There was more I wanted to tell him but I had an audience and it seemed imprudent. So I gave him our satellite number, which as far as I know has been given to no one, and dialing instructions and said I’d call him in a half hour. When I hung up I saw the “low battery” readout on the phone, so I turned it off.

I called him back after the thirty minutes had passed and spoke with him again very briefly. He told me that since Jack, one of our regular contacts and the s/v Magnolia website webmaster, hadn’t received our 8 pm report, he had called the Coast Guard earlier in the evening. The Coast Guard told Joe we were too far away for a helicopter rescue, and if the ship was foundering they could fly over and drop a raft. The nearest ship to do a rescue was 13 hours away from us, and it might be bound for Japan! Then the battery died.

I struggled to hook the battery charger to the phone for several minutes using the dim light of my fading headlamp. Finally I gave up and turned on the sacred overhead light and was able to connect it in a moment. I then unplugged the desk computer and plugged in the satellite phone. Rob was quick to tell me it wouldn’t charge until the engine was turned on … tomorrow sometime. The display said it was charging though, so I was not as downhearted as he hoped I would be. I was not anxious for him to know this of course, so I stayed silent. It was now time for me to relieve Rob and stand the midnight watch. I went out to the cockpit, expecting the fresh air to revive me. It didn’t. For two hours I felt very sick, though I didn’t vomit. I couldn’t turn my heard to watch for traffic or to stand up to read the compass without a wave of nausea and headache. It did not feel safe, but at least I was able to be by myself.

Through all this gale we’ve been traveling only 3 knots or so. We have thirty–five mile per hour gusts and a wind that sings in the rigging — an indication of a 20 knot wind. Our storm sails are necessarily small though and climbing these mountainous waves takes a lot of energy apparently.

At 2 am, two–thirds of the way through my watch I went back into the cabin to call Joe again and see if he’d found out any more. I told him, “I don’t mind going to Japan. I can fly home from there. Please. I beg you. Please get me out of here. I am sick. I need water. I need to come home.” All of this in front of the captain and Rob, and Jessica too, I thought. I told him only about being sick because I didn’t want to say anything that would insult the captain and crew. Joe responded by saying I should talk to the captain and tell him I was too sick to stand the rest of my watch. It seemed dangerous to Joe and unnecessary that I should be out there in the cockpit alone when I was sick.

Joe said I should call him tomorrow to let him know how I was. So, because Joe had insisted, I told Captain I was too sick to finish my watch. This made the captain very angry with me and he started muttering things. Then he threw Jessica’s unused, but full, water bottle at me. “Here. Water.” He growled as I caught it. He said now he’d have to call the Coast Guard and let them know everything was all right. I told him, “No. Joe already talked to them, and they now know that the boat is all right. It was because Jack hadn’t heard from us that Jack called the Coast Guard. It isn’t Joe’s fault that the Coast Guard was involved.” I don’t know if Rob or Jessica ever understood this. It was clear that the captain had no desire to understand it.

After the captain was gone I sat up and bed and applied a scopolamine patch with a “for sure” current date on it. I fell asleep quite soundly for the first time in what seemed like a long time.

A Note Added
two weeks later
when my brain
has cooled off

I may have misunderstood the captain. Maybe he was offering to call the Coast Guard on my behalf for a medical evacuation. I don’t think this is true, as later events indicate, but it is at least possible.

What I did not understand at this time was that the USCG cannot take action on a medical emergency unless the captain of the vessel calls and makes the request.

Sunday, August 21
Day 13

I woke up pleasantly enough and forgot for a moment where I was. It was the sound of the 6 am watch change that woke me. If Captain was going off watch, Jessica should have been coming on, but it must have been Rob instead.

Through the open hatchway I heard Captain saying we could have a burial at sea. Then I heard other things that were about me. The other person laughed and agreed with words like “how long do we have to wait?” This should have been Jessica’s voice, but it sounded like Rob talking with the captain.

I thought how they could actually do that. Certainly if a person died, you’d be reluctant to keep their body in the cabin. Who would be able to prove I wasn’t dead when they threw me overboard? I put my life jacket on and went back to sleep. This sounds like a pretty nonchalant response on my part, but it did take a while to drift off. I also realized that if I was going swimming, I'd better be well–rested. I had not a prayer of saving myself.

At about 10:30 am I went up on deck, figuring I should act like nothing had happened during the night, and that I had heard nothing this morning. Jessica was in the cockpit with the captain. This should have been Rob’s watch, but he was asleep below, so perhaps that is more evidence he and Jessica switched their night watches; maybe it was indeed Rob’s voice I heard at 6am. Jessica looked at me very seriously and said in her best First Mate Voice, “The captain has something to say.” I responded cheerfully, and politely, “Well, when doesn’t he? The captain always has something interesting to say.”

I turned to him; he very seriously started talking about what a hardship it will be on Jessica’s parents to pay for all this extravagant, and wasteful, telephone time. I responded that I had already told Jessica, Joe and I would pay for our phone bill. This was a non–issue. Then he talked about use of cabin lights and electricity. And how we don’t actually have enough electricity to use our running lights. And only barely enough fuel to recharge our batteries for the necessary number of days.

I said I wasn’t aware of that. I understood he him to say we had double the necessary amount of food and fuel for the trip. Four weeks, plus four weeks reserve. That we never even used the third solar charger, apparently because we didn’t need it.

Incorrect. The third solar charger is only for the head processor. Since it is out of commission we haven’t been using it, nor therefore needing recharge. He also said, “We do not have spare fuel. No one could carry that much spare fuel.”

I told him I now understood what I had not before. And thanked him for the information. I did not say, “Well, by not having enough electricity for the running lights, and by providing me with an unlighted life jacket you are breaking the law twice over.” Thinking of the crashing of the soda cans, I did ask whether this boat has a double hull. “No, no ships or boats ever do. Virtually none anyway.” And what is the life expectancy of a Fiberglas hull; or Fiberglas in general? “Unknown. None that are well–built fail.” Then he went into a detailed explanation of different types of fiberglass and construction methods for hulls. And went on to say that this one is of the very best kind.

He enjoyed telling me all this and was totally pleasant about it. It was good to have this reassurance. Unfortunately, many times he has talked about the poor craftsmanship evident in other aspects of this boat.

I did not ask the question I’ve been wanting to ask since the beginning - regarding life boat and safety drills: Should not there be instructions on radio use? Who would be in charge in case of an emergency? Likewise, extended radio coverage. Our basic radio is line of sight; if we can’t see them, they can’t hear us. And flare guns. Where again are they stored? Are all, or any, of these emergency devices duplicated in the life boat? What are emergency procedures for swamping or capsizing? Are there, or should there be assignments in anticipation of an emergency?

I have never been on a boat overnight where some level of emergency drill was not a regular part of the orientation procedure. Especially the radio seemed important. As time went by, I learned that Jessica’s role as First Mate was purely honorary. Yes, I understand that she took the USPS (United States Power Squadrons) class(es), but she clearly knows no nautical terminology, a situation which has made communications between her and the captain difficult, and even between she and I upon occasion. They are all “ropes” and “thingies” to her. She knows the name of not a single one of them. As time passes, from what I see, and her youth and inexperience in general, I am fairly confidence that she has never asked, nor been taught, about any of the communications equipment. Or if she was, in one of those classes, she missed it. Though, I will say she is very proud of her title as First Mate and is quick to pull it out and use it. Joe is waiting for me to call him back. But I can’t. I not only don’t have permission. I can’t even find the phone. It has been removed from its usual storage place.

Monday, August 22
Day 14
5 am

I am on the 3–6 am shift and have been writing for a while. It is pleasant out here by myself and I feel safe. (I wear my life jacket all the time now, awake and asleep.) It is pretty windy, but the sea is much calmer than yesterday, though not as calm as it was at 3 am when I came on watch.

I keep wondering about Joe, and hope he is wondering why I haven’t called back. I found the phone. It is stashed in the captain’s berth, for security no doubt.

A question I have not dared to ask anyone on board: I thought learning to operate a sailboat consisted of learning how to set the sails so you could go the direction you wanted to go. Not irregardless of wind, but within certain parameters. We sail the Magnolia in what I think of as the opposite manner: we adjust the rudder instead. We change our course mainly based on what the wind is. That is, we rarely (virtually never) change the angle of the sails, but decide we want to go northwest instead of northeast, because that where the wind wants us to go. I am disappointed I’m not learning more about this, but maybe it was a misunderstanding on my part to begin with.

The mess in the head got cleaned up Sunday (yesterday), Jessica and the captain used the sponge to repeatedly soak up the liquid and squeeze it into our bucket. The filled the bucket three times over before they were through. We now pee over the side and poop in the bucket on deck (cockpit). But I woke up about midnight to see Captain go down the hall and use the head. The captain of course can break the rules if he wants to, and maybe he just went and peed into the sink, the other stated alternative.

5:20 am

I am known as “she” by Rob at least. That was one of the things I was trying to verify, three days ago when I hoped he would address me by name to wake me. He and I had a conversation yesterday on my 3 to 6 pm watch. He tells me he knows what is right about watches and “the captain is too flakey” (his words) for anything he says to be taken seriously. So Rob thinks of himself as “being in charge.” Again, these are his words. He told me, he himself, Rob, is our real captain, and I am to do what he tells me to do, not what the captain says.

Regarding watches, I asked him why he didn’t just wake me immediately if I overslept. (as once happened by 9 minutes!) He told me he would never wake someone up to take their watch. He would just continue to extend his time on watch, knowing they were being irresponsible. Rob the Martyr. I talked about how the captain virtually never came up to relieve me at the end of my night time watches. That I always just leaned over and woke him, unless I was feeling willing and capable of extending my watch so that he could get some extra sleep. Knowing as I do that the captain often has his sleep interrupted, this seemed totally appropriate. Rob told me it wasn’t appropriate at all; just more evidence of more irresponsibility: The captain was being irresponsible when he overslept; I was being irresponsible when I woke him up. In spite of the several strange things I have observed about Rob, I was still surprised by this level of audacity.

So now we have a martyr for a captain. This seems like a very bad sign to me.

The sun is not yet visible, but there is light everywhere.

Note added later

On the Adventuress it was standard procedure to go the berth of the next person on watch and give their shoulder a little shake. It is a small ship and with everyone sleeping in just one or two rooms, alarm clocks are not necessary or even desired.

On board the big containership where everyone has their own private cabin and all people standing watch are professionals who take their jobs seriously, Captain Pajkuric assured me it is not out of order to informally remind someone that it is time for their watch. Nor apparently is it uncommon, or a disgrace to either party.

5:40 am

I am sleepy. For the first time on this trip, I’m going to pull my sleeping bag out of its stuff sack when I get below. Then I am going to snuggle into it and sleep. We are not in the tropics anymore.

Later that same day

Yesterday evening Captain had a 20 minute satellite phone conversation with his wife, Donna and as it was ending I asked to talk. As it happened, he was feeling sick and handed it to me as he dashed for the cockpit. A moment later he was vomiting over the side. I gave Donna Joe’s phone number and a message to deliver to him: “unchanged.” After I hung up, I considered quickly dialing him myself, but figured right now I’d get a busy signal, if he was home. Mostly though, I feared being caught and suffering unspeakable punishment under the crew’s wrath.

I want off this boat — and onto another — lest there be any misunderstanding by this crew who would be only too happy to accommodate me by throwing me off the boat.

Reasons I want off this boat:
a) They don’t want me here
b) Drinking water, food, and toilet are inadequate
c) Captain is unable or unwilling to get weather reports that seem essential to proper sailboat navigation
d) Captain doesn’t believe them, even when he is capable of reading them, which is rare.
e) Captain doesn’t trust other navigation options. “Dial a buoy” for example, one of several links Jack has on the s/v Magnolia websiteHe tried it, or something like it once, and it gave useless information so there is no reason to try it again. (The captain has never seen the beautiful website Jack created for friends to track the trip.)
f) Captain feels it is unnecessary to follow general seafaring rules. Ie. Running lights, lighted life jacket.
g) I am not wanted. My attitude offends Captain and Rob, and probably Jessica who is pretty flighty.
h) As evidenced by my loss of phone privileges, they don’t want negative reports going back to shore.

Tuesday, August 23
Day 15

I am sitting in my own private cabin on board the Rhein Bridge, a containership bound from Singapore to New York. Seventeen days across the Pacific to the Panama Canal, and four more days to New York, or more precisely Port Elizabeth. Neither end is too relevant to me. I get off in Panama. Ten days.

The ship is Japanese built and owned, run by a German company, registered in Panama. The captain and two engineers are Croatian, and the crew is Filipino. Filipino cook too; the food was good; I just returned from lunch.

The past several days have been Hell. And now, suddenly I am in Heaven.

This is a large room with its own shower! and flushing toilet! and a double wide bed spread with clean snowy white sheets, pillows and comforter. Two large white towels and bars of soap, drawers, writing desk, etc. A window above the desk faces the center front of the ship. I see a sea of red–orange K–line containers and the distant perimeter is the deep blue sea.

I was thinking on the s/v Magnolia this morning that maybe this is one of my very detailed cinematic–quality dreams. One that I would wake from and soon forget. No. Not a dream, not to be forgotten, but deliverance: YES.

What happened
on the sailboat
Monday morning

I tried to stay out of the way to I wouldn’t be a problem. So part of my time I spent in the cabin. I ate a little of the well–prepared oatmeal Rob fixed, but it was heavily dosed with peaches and brown sugar. Too much sugar for me. But I also knew I needed to socialize in order to be part of “the team,” so awhile after I ate what little I could of it, I went up to the cockpit with the others.

Later, when Rob was in the galley, I asked him for my leftovers from last night’s dinner that I hadn’t been able to eat. He offered to warm them up, but the boat has no microwave and it seemed like a questionable effort, so I declined his offer. After a short time he offered Jessica and the captain each bowls of hot chili. They looked good, but since I wasn’t actually able to get down more than a couple bites of the cold rice, which I had dumped over the side when no one was looking, it didn’t seem appropriate to ask him for any chili. This was a hard decision, because they eat only two meals a day. Other nourishment is expected to be in the form of candies and sweet drinks, “for energy” says the captain.

The fresh water supply is still hard to extract from the tank, and getting harder. It also tastes unpleasant, and because it is quite warm, it is especially distasteful. I have been putting Wylers lemonade mix into it to make it more palatable, but then that is sweet too. I feel as though I could develop diabetes from this trip.

Such a density of sugar I wouldn’t have believed had I not experienced it. The Progresso soups on the other hand are saltier than the sea, (which is far saltier than I would ever have guessed. It forms salt crystals on all the exterior of the boat —the railings, shrouds, etc.) I expect, with that much salt in the soup, there is probably a bunch of sugar in it too. Sugar is the standard “flavor enhancer” of most prepared foods.

The dry mouth side effect of the scopolamine patches makes me thirsty, which is OK, but it is an unquenchable thirst.

Rob serves up big portions and garnishes them all to his taste; the sight of food has made me feel like gagging even though these two meals Monday were the first organized meals we’d had since the gale began. As Jessica says, “Since the head isn’t working anyway, it is best not to eat or drink anything.” Spoken like a young person who is trying to lose weight. Of course, Rob, who is among the fattest young people I’ve ever met, probably does fine with this policy too.

Anyway, I was hungry and thirsty, but too revolted by the sight of any of the available food or drink to consume much more than a couple of bites.

On the sailboat
Late Monday afternoon

Finally 5 pm came and time for Jessica to call her mom with the noon report. Before the call I spoke to Jessica alone, if such a thing is even possible, and asked her to have her mom deliver a message to Joe. I had been searching for words I could use that wouldn’t tip off Jessica to my dissatisfaction with the situation, and which wouldn’t then go on to tip off her mother, and finally give away their little secret that everything wasn’t perfect on board. A phrase like “They’re talking about burying me at sea.” wouldn’t be taken seriously, if it could be delivered, and I figured using it would only increase the odds that they’d do it. I needed magic words that Joe alone would understand; so the message I asked Jessica to deliver to her mom was a “message without words. One of silence — since no words could be used.”

Sweet little dingbat that she is, Jessica placed her hand on mine saying she understood completely and knew that Joe would too. “How much you miss him and love him —the feelings that can’t be spoken.”

“Well, that’s not exactly what I meant,” I said, “but close enough.” And she made the 5 pm call, our daily report.

Later she engaged me in conversation regarding the plays Mary helped write and performances at the Kinton Grange. Also, she wanted to know what it is I do for a living. I was not able to give large coherent answers. My brain was barely functioning and confused about where she was going with this, I really didn’t feel like telling her personal things about myself. But as I think back on it, rather than prying, I think she was trying to help with what she interpreted as home–sickness.

A while late, but while it was still daylight, we were both down in the cabin. The captain was too, working at the desk. I pulled her aside and whispered that I was really needing to talk to Joe. I pleaded, “He is expecting me to call him!” She responded by getting huffy, in her I’m the First Mate, and I have to be sure that orders are followed to a T attitude. And she went about explaining again to poor little dimwitted me, because I clearly still didn’t understand the rules, that “Joe only gets a call every fourth day. That’s just how it is on board ship. We have to take turns. Didn’t he understand? Didn’t you? Understand that policy from the beginning?”

So I tried another tack. I told her: “I am going to die within the next three days if I don’t get off this boat.”

“You’re sick?”

“Yes! I can’t eat or drink hardly anything.”

“You’re throwing up?”

I lied
It worked

“Yes,” I lied. Though I did throw up a few days ago before I made my emergency call to Joe, and even now, without enough water to wash my face or even rinse my mouth, I was living with the irritating acidic residue in my nasal passages. “I haven’t been able to keep anything down. And I’m wearing my scop patch. It doesn’t actually feel like sea sickness, but something else.”

So suddenly, Jessica the nurse (this is the good and loving Jessica) takes over and she is gonna help She is gonna get me what I need! Hallelujah! I wanted to cry.

“You should have told us. You need to tell the captain so we can get you help.”

Of course, and I believe she must know this, I did at 2 am the other night, communicate very clearly with Joe and the rest of the crew standing there, that I was sick. I needed help. And they knew that Joe had called the Coast Guard to find out if he could get me off the boat. At any rate, this is news to her. I whispered that I was afraid to tell the captain because he was so angry at me the other night that I heard him and Rob talking about throwing me overboard.

She looked properly aghast and denied all. (Appropriately enough; imagine how I would have felt if she had acknowledged it!) She said I must have imagined it; I agreed there was a least that possibility; that I have been very sick and may have hallucinated. But that it scared me enough to be afraid to talk to him.

After repeating, “You have to tell us when you’re sick or we can’t do anything to help you!” she then whispered words so sweet I may not live to hear something so perfect again. “These two guys are both madly in love with me and will do anything I ask. Anything. They’ve promised me that.” Any promise Rob gave her, I wouldn’t give two cents for, but I knew the captain would be good to his word.

She turned to the captain who was nearby and started to talk to him about me. Since the engine was running I couldn’t hear most of what she said to him, and likewise he probably hadn’t heard much of our conversation. But then, because she needed them I presume, she pulled out her big guns and I heard her distinctly say, in her very serious, big girl voice: “You’ve told me Captain that you would do anything for me. And now I am telling you what I need you to do. Are you going to help me or not?”

It was indeed a strange confliction to hear her words: chilled me to the bone to hear that it needed to be said; warmed me to pudding to hear her say it with such conviction.


In short order Captain was calling Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! on the radio and talking to the Coast Guard. Jessica came over and helped me lay down on my berth. It all took what seemed like hours, but in the end the Coast Guard assured us we would be receiving calls through the night to check up on the patient’s condition and keep us updated as to which ship would be coming to our — to my rescue.

As the patient I was described as sick, though not sea sick, dehydrated, unable to keep food or water down, and hallucinating somewhat. It was also reported that “though the cook had prepared a couple of wonderful meals of the mahi mahi we had caught on our second or third day out, the patient had wanted to eat some raw, which we all know is a questionable activity. So there was some possibility of parasitic infection from that. Especially since mahi mahi is never eaten raw.”

I figured the more symptoms the better. Captain got out his first aid kit but fortunately found nothing more suitable to give me than suppositories to help with nausea. I declined on the grounds that I didn’t want to mask my symptoms that would make a diagnosis on board ship more difficult.

By morning I had the beginning of appendicitis symptoms; intending to develop them farther if needed.
  Mayday! (spelled m’aidez) is French for “Help Me!”
I learned that while reading United States Power Squadrons’ Skipper Saver booklet before the trip.

On the sailboat
this morning

Jessica was a dear throughout the night, sleeping on the dinette bench to be nearby. She was attentive, and more:
At least three separate times she apologized for all their bad thoughts about me. It was “clear to them now that all my bad behavior, even a full three days back (and maybe four!) had just been the result of my illness.”
The first time she said it I was too bewildered to speak. Later I clenched my teeth to prevent bad words from escaping.

I would love a detailing of my “bad behaviors,” though I don’t expect to have enough contact with any of these people to ask them. I have tried to construct a list of my own.
Let’s see:

  1. I offered to assist in cooking and planning a token number of meals. I understand now that this was insulting to Rob.
  2. I am an intelligent female, and an old one at, that so I don’t even provide “eye candy.”
  3. Multiple times in spite of my best efforts to not offend, I asked questions that made the men uncomfortable because they couldn’t answer them, or worse yet, the answer was obvious enough, but they had painted themselves into a corner with their stupidity. I think of computer problems; weather reports; the captain’s specious argument about the value of a college education; Rob’s presumptuous statement that none of the scientists studying the ozone layer have ever even considered looking at its condition over the north pole.
  4. I showered three times. No one else was using the water. It’s not like I used it up. But possibly trying to be clean was an offensive value. No, Captain showered once too. Can’t be that.
  5. I brushed my teeth daily. It is possible others did too and I was not around at the time.
  6. For sure, I turned on a cabin light to read by once when my headlight batteries were low. It was before I understood about our fuel and electricity shortage. I did turn it off immediately when asked.
  7. And I will also admit that once I slept through my alarm, even though it seemed to have woken everyone else on board.

But of course, these are just guesses and none of them specific to the past 4 days. It may be that my generic Sunday grace of a week ago, said without actual mention of God or Jesus, was another example of my bad behavior. As Pooh says, “sometimes it can be hard to tell.”

A note
3 weeks later

Short of vehemently agreeing with their politics, I believe I’d have been better off arguing against their political views. As it was, listening with interest, but giving only mild and non–committal acknowledgement to their statements, was possibly an intolerable level of tolerance. They may have found it insulting.


I heard my symptoms described on the radio and pondered. I thought of my friend Agnes, a trained counselor. AS I pictured her face the answer came to me. I was experiencing severe stress. This stress was a result of:
  1. Lack of confidence in the captain
  2. Toilet malfunction
  3. Shortage of fresh water
  4. Too much sugar; too little real food
  5. Continuous noise
  6. Relentless motion
  7. A non–supportive environment (the locals were unfriendly)

I feared that when I came aboard the m/v Rhein Bridge I might be taken directly to an infirmary when I would be set up with i.v. glucose, as a preliminary to a dozen medical tests. All to be followed by a quick exploratory surgery to check my appendix if I wasn’t careful.

Instead, my experience was as follows.
The m/v Rhein Bridge is a huge containership. She is as much bigger than the little Magnolia, as an elephant to a flea. The captain and Master, Ozren Pajkuric, stopped his ship as he approached and our captain took down the Magnolia’s sails and motored over to the near side, in the quiet lee of this enormous vessel.


I came up out of the cabin in my life jacket with four small bags Jessica had helped me pack. I didn’t have any real luggage with me so I made do with a small duffel and some net bags. Most of my things, like my books, heavy coat and sweaters, rain gear and boots, I left on the Magnolia. I brought all my underwear and lighter clothes, some shoes, my purse, three novels, my toiletries, and my four composition books.

As I stuffed things into available bags and wondered how many of them these unknown seamen might allow me to carry aboard, I thought of Heidi in Johanna Spyri’s classic, and layered my clothing in an attempt to carry a bit more than I might otherwise be able. To Jessica’s credit, she was quick to notice that I had just combined my blue and purple batik silk pants with an unmatching blue and pink batik shirt. Though she also voiced her shocked at this mismatch of prints, she quickly covered up the careless remark, so potentially damaging to my self confidence, to reassure me that just recently actually, she had see models wearing mismatched batiks together. I am miraculously saved from a fashion faux pas of the first order. It is such a relief to me. To think that my life has been in the hands of a woman who is not only a First Mate, but has such a perfect sense of fashion, can think with such clarity, and has such a grasp of reality —all at the same time.

Boarding the
m/v Rhein Bridge
Tuesday Morning

There was a big square hole in the side of the ship and several men standing in it. They had a wood and rope ladder hanging down the side and also a canvas sling I hooked my safety harness to. I climbed the ladder as they lifted the harness. They pulled me into the safety of this strange square metal cave. I’ve never seen a hole like this in the side of a ship before. Strange, the things one doesn’t notice under “normal” circumstances.

One man asked me if I was the only one coming aboard. “What about the other woman? Didn’t she want to come?” “No,” I said, “just me.” They clearly doubted me, but I assured them she wanted to stay. So they shrugged and hauled up the ladder and we all waved goodbye.

Actually my goodbye wave was very brief. I was happy to be rid of the s/v Magnolia. The man who took my hand and led me away — I suspect this was Emmanuel, the Second Mate. I was overwhelmed by a sea of foreign but friendly faces. — led me through a maze of ladders and doorways and stairs. Soon I was high on a catwalk inside the hot, noisy and cavernous engine room. A room so beyond description in size and machinery, when I later went down to visit it, I took 70 pictures that still do not begin to tell its story.

This young officer walked in front through all this, with a hand held behind him for me to grasp and be led by. He offered it; I took a firm and grateful hold. He led me into an elevator, then into a clean office with computers on all the desks, and gauges all over the wall. And then we were up on the bridge. And I could see everything. And the captain came over to me and smiled and shook my hand. He introduced himself and I was so dirty I felt bad that he had touched me. And he gestured to a tall captain’s chair and I sat down. I could see the Magnolia moving away, getting small, and several people on this ship waving goodbye to them.

And then a young man brought me a cup of tea, with sugar. And the captain said, “ I know how it is in a little boat like that.” And that a cabin had been prepared for me, whenever I was ready to make use of it.

After showering and changing I returned to find him in the radio room and he helped me call Joe and then left the room so it could be a private conversation. Something I’ve been wanting for two weeks. It was then that Joe told me the Coast Guard would not/could not intercede on his request, but that it had to come from the captain of the vessel.

For all her faults listed in this journal — and she is young so can be excused from them all, Jessica saved my life last night.

To be gracious I could say that the Magnolia’s Captain also saved my life, but I believe it was with some reluctance. I had asked him two days earlier, or perhaps it would be more correct to say “asked Joe in his presence.” He had responded with anger and, I still also believe, veiled threats to throw me overboard. At the very least, his response let me know that to ask again would be useless, or worse than useless. Mostly I believe he was embarrassed that I would report bad things about the trip. I can understand this feeling, even be sympathetic with it. I feel for him, but as you can see, under the circumstances, I just can't reach him.

In the end, they all had an extra adventure to brag about because of my need for a medical evacuation.

The U.S.
Coast Guard

And we all learned something from the United States Coast Guard. As Jessica told us later (and we had also observed), never once, in our many phone calls and e-mails was there even the hint of impatience with us for placing ourselves in such a vulnerable position. They were professional, kind and concerned, never condesending or scornful.

We decided that it had to be the result of:

1) policy. A wise policy, too. After all, people are reluctant to ask for help from someone who is going to belittle or denigrate them. Reluctant, that is, until they are totally desperate and it is possibly too late to help. A policy like this probably improves their number of successful rescues.

2) the kind of people who choose to join this branch of the government.

What a refreshing experience to learn that our sea borders are guarded by such fine representatives of the American ideal.
My next set of entries will be about my time aboard the containership, m/v Rhein Bridge.
Sorry, there are very few bad guys
in this part of the trip —
though a couple more do show up at the very end of my adventure,
so do stay tuned.
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A Detail of the Toilet Problems (Marine Head)

This is not the captain’s fault. I do not mean to imply at all that it is. This is intended as a statement of the situation we were in on the Magnolia.

A simple marine head has been augmented with an electric processor designed to grind up and chlorinate any deposits before releasing the mess into the sea. The usual old process, if I understand it correctly, includes a pump to evacuate deposits from the toilet bowl into the sea, and also a valve that allows sea water in to flush the system and rinse the bowl.

It is possible that even from Day 1, neither process was working. Strange that they would both fail simultaneously; perhaps there is some negligence on the captain’s part. Most likely one failed, and was ignored successfully until the second system failed.

The ground up feces did not get mixed with chlorine and did not get discharged into the sea. Rather, they slowly returned to the toilet bowl through the drain hole, filling and overfilling it with thick dark brown water. Several things were tried in order to fix the basic problem, but finally the captain came up with an ineffective system to block the drain hole: a sponge. (At one point, a sponge with a handle, but that was even less effective.)

Hence, to use the head, one had to reach through several inches of feces–filled water to pull the sponge and place it in the lavatory sink. Then, with feces–filled water splashing around in the bowl, and over the rim onto the floor and onto any feet and clothing between the two, we were supposed to pump the liquid out, then quickly do our business, pull up our pants with filthy–water hands, lest our pants spend time soaking up the spillage on the floor, hand pump it again to empty the bowl, and restuff the feces–water filled sponge back into the hole.

Then, when the fresh water supply was available (which was most of the time), we could wash our hands over the filthy sink, one at a time using the liquid soap which was available. It is a hand pump, not a foot pump, so not possible to wash both hands simultaneously, unless you filled the sink with water.

When it was apparent that this “system” wasn’t working, an alternate system was briefly devised. It required three tubs of sea water, filled one little squirt at a time, one tub at a time carried from the galley back to the head in three separate trips of course, and applied to the bowl and pumped out before, during, and after deposits. This didn’t solve the problem of sloshing thick brown water either. (We had one designated tub.)

Last comments on the head

On our 13th day at sea, a Sunday, Captain and Jessica sopped up, with sponges and a bucket, several gallons of feces–filled water and dumped them overboard. From that point on we were either to pee directly into the lavatory sink, or do our business over the side or into a bucket in the cockpit.

Anna Lee, a young and less experienced crew member on the outbound trip, had complained about the toilet while she was still on the boat; she implied that it had been a problem already for some time. I should have paid more attention, but while ashore we used the shore facilities most, if not all, of the time, so it was easy to ignore.

I admit to stupidity and negligence. And a strong desire to ignore problems so I could go on the trip.
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