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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans
August 04, 2014
Of Sharks, Whales and Squalls.
4° 40’ 40.80” S x 174° 32’ 55.20” W
1.5 nm off Nikumaroro.
It has been about 5 weeks and over 2500 nautical miles since Hawaii. Nikumaroro is now astern of us, about 1.5 miles away as we slowly, but surely leave her behind.
I’ll never forget Nikumaroro. I had one day on the island, and it couldn’t have been a more remarkable day. Just being there knowing that there’s no one else but you and the island in all of her glory (excluding the thriving rat population of course) is a truly wonderful state of being. If you ever get a chance to sail to Nikumaroro, do it. But today’s story has nothing to do with Nikumororo even though many tales circle around our three days spent there.
Today’s story is something far more personal and is dedicated to my amazing Grandfather on this special day - his birthday. He’s probably wondering how I’m doing right now, so I thought I’d take today to tell him a story about how grateful I am to be sailing these waters. Before I left on our voyage I failed to mention the blog to anyone in my family, but I have hope that my aunt stumbled upon it anyway and can relay this entry to my grandfather.
*Anu Atta, if you are reading this right now, I knew you’d find the blog! And I’m sorry I forgot to tell you about it.*
Last night I had a rather disturbed sleep and remember waking up to hear loud voices on deck. Everything sounded chaotic. Yet I chose to ignore it in an attempt to get those extra hours of rest until I heard the captain
announce “Attention. we are under way. Stay clear of the.” I never heard all of it on account of my grogginess, but I woke up anyway because we were no longer anchored at Nikumororo. I wasn’t groggy for long because the swells rocked the boat so much that it pushed me into the walls of my bunk. Once on the quarter deck I was stunned by how impressive the ocean outside looked. The wind had picked up force, there was a looming greyness over the sky and the current was simply impressive. The breakers off the shore of the island were so large and forceful as they smashed against the reef. Off in the distance in the shallow waters were hungry black-tips, visible one moment and gone the next as the menacing waves washed over them. I concurred that she (the ocean) was annoyed. Very annoyed and we really had to get away from where we were (uncomfortably close to shore). We did not want to end up like Norwich City, the ship wreck that lay about two boat-lengths away from us. Once everyone was safely back from the island we were underway, running as fast as we could from the breakers and the squalls.
We had mid-watch that night. And it was the most exquisite night. I came up on deck to find the night deceivingly quiet. We were box sailing under the jib and the stays’ls, essentially sailing toward the island, gybing once we were about a mile away, sailing away from the island, and gybing again once we were about 5 miles out. Easy as that sounded at the time, I could feel the restlessness in the air. She (the ocean) wasn’t done with her miniature tantrum and it was only a matter of time before we saw signs of that. Squall clouds were around us, but not threatening to strike yet when in the distance off our starboard beam there was a flash of brilliant white lightening. It was brilliantly ominous. There was nothing to worry about, it was nowhere near us, but it was quite a spectacle. Then it happened again, and again, and every time it did it sent a weird little chill down my spine.
A very exhilarating chill I reveled in as I stood at the helm. Then we heard the water. A strange whooshing sound like a water spout causing me to turn my head sharply to port away from the lightening and go “what the hell was that?” And then Michael exclaimed: “Whale Ho!” It wasn’t just one. There was another whooshing sound and then another and by the dim flashlight we could make out three shapes in the water as the swell rocked us back and forth. I just stared at the water trying to soak in how amazing everything was when we finally saw the squall. Rachel gave the order to turn away from it, which was done immediately and we continued on, scampering away from the darkness of the squall. Then I was sent to the bow.
I stood on the bow staring into the night as I heard those whale blow-holes again. Two more whooshing noises, this time on the starboard side. And then I turned and my jaw slacked a little bit at how dark it was behind me. Ahead of the bow I could still see the horizon, though it was duller than most other nights. I could see the stars above and the swells in front of me. But when I turned all I saw was blackness. A dark abyss, frightening in the best of ways. I kept turning back and forth as the wind started to pick up again. Droplets of rain started falling on my face and I loved every minute of it. This is my first voyage at sea and I have never seen or felt anything more magnificent. Everything about the Pacific waters makes me feel alive. Breathing has a different sensation. Everything I see, smell and hear makes me feel something I can’t explain. Standing at the bow I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I felt that way. I loved every second of the darkness and every marveled at her forces. I wish I could paint those breakers, but I don’t think I could ever reproduce the sheer force of the ocean’s nature.
So Thatha, if you’re wondering how I am - Things have never been better. Every day I fall a little bit more in love with the south Pacific and I wish you could be here sailing with me. Happy Birthday.