By 12:30 that afternoon the wind had already reached 22 knots in the anchorage. It was hard to believe that just a couple of hours earlier this morning, I had been hanging out the laundry under a crystal clear blue sky, in a light, balmy breeze. We had been the only boat anchored in this part of the lagoon in Moorea. Sojourner was carefully tucked in a small bay surrounded by coral, and we stayed there for four weeks. It had been four weeks of incredible blue skies and light winds. It would figure on the one day that Steve took off on the ferry to Tahiti to take care of some business, that the winds would come up...... I was alone on the boat, and despite the two anchors that we had set, I was beginning to get nervous.
I managed to grab the last sheet off the washing line, just in time to prevent it sailing off toward the reef. As I threw the pile of flapping clothes down the companionway, I glanced at the anemometer again. Twenty-five knots. Now, small waves were forming in our calm little anchorage, and I could start to hear the scratch of chain against coral as the boat pulled the chain taught. A small twinging panic starting to formulate in the pit of my stomach. I thought back to when we first found this anchorage, and how Steve took special care to make sure we had enough swinging room to avoid the huge coral heads. There was plenty of room to swing, but if these anchors started to drag, I'd be on the reef in about 45 seconds.....
"That's ridiculous", I reasoned with myself. Why would the anchors let go? We had a 45-pound CQR anchor off the bow (a particularly huge anchor for our little 35-foot boat), and I watched Steve dive and set a second anchor, a 35lb Danforth, deep into the sand bottom. It would take a lot more wind to move this boat......
The anemometer now read thirty knots. The anchor chain and rode were so tightly stretched at the bow of the boat, they were like steel rods. The sky got a little darker. It was only 12:45pm, and Steve wouldn't even catch the ferry out of Tahiti until 6:00pm tonight. That's five more hours.
The twinge of panic became a blanket of anxiety, and I knew that I needed to start thinking........
OK. THINK. "First, let me make sure I'm all set to start the engine if I need to. If the anchors do start to drag, I can at least keep the boat steady in the water. I know approximately how far away the boat is from the reef", I attempted to reassure myself . I stuck the key in the ignition and with a still mildly controlled panic, threw everything that was in the cockpit down below." Now, let me find a point on the shore.....No, two points on the shore to line up as bearings". All I have to do is make sure the pine tree is lined up with the top of that hill to make sure we are not dragging....
......for seven hours...?"
Damn it. Thirty-three knots now?
The grinding sound of chain against coral is getting worse, but it doesnít seem like weíre moving.....
I thought about radioing our friends who were anchored in Opunohu Bay, just around the headland. But, what could they do? And what would I tell them? I couldnít expect them, in thirty- plus knot winds, to take their dingy, nearly a mile across a wave-ridden bay to come "save me". The reality of the situation was beginning to sink in-deeply. I was on my own, and no matter what happened next, I alone would have to deal with it.
Sojourner was now starting to heel, and was beginning to sail at anchor.
"DAMN IT!!!! WHY DID HE HAVE TO GO TO TAHITI TODAY!!!", I screamed.
A surge of anger mixed with terror raced through my body. I felt so utterly alone, and so incompetent at that instant. I was scared to death that our "house", our life, and everything we owned had the potential of ending up on the rocks in a matter of seconds. "Why do I always defer all of the crisis situations to Steve?", I cursed myself. "Now I feel totally unprepared for this!!!!", as panic started to take control. Steve thrives on this stuff. The more adrenaline pumping, the better. Me- I prefer to deny it is reality; when Steve is around to deal with the crisis, that is. Not this time, though. Now I was being forced to deal with a potentially devastating situation, and had to be prepared to make decisions. Denial wasnít going to work now.
The pine tree was still lining up with the hilltop.
So for the next four hours the winds sustained a minimum of 30 knots, and I never took my eyes off those two bearings. On that windy afternoon, I felt as if I was being indoctrinated into the crazy, unpredictable world of cruising, once and for all. I was rapidly learning that the boating life is rarely predictable. You have to be willing to go with the flow, change your plans, deal with changing circumstances, and above all else feel competent in doing so. Right now, this seemed like a tall order for me.
For hours as I watched the anemometer rise and fall, and listened to the wind rip through the rigging, something interesting started to happen. I somehow felt I was beginning to make friends with fear; getting to know it a little better. I contemplated that fear can effect you in two ways. First, it can spin you into a complete panic, where your rational mind decides to take leave, and you are left with a state of mind which is bordering on hysteria. This can be dangerous. But, another effect, is that somewhere within the pit of your being, you start to tell yourself that you can handle this. That you know what you have to do, and that you CAN do what needs to be done. Or, at least you can give it your best shot. If we did start to drag, I had a plan. And all I could do is follow my plan to the best of my ability. Thatís all anyone could do.
Fear, I am beginning to understand, is just one of those constants of life. We can spend a lot of energy trying to avoid fearful situations, and never try things because of it. This was one of my biggest struggles before leaving the dock in Oceanside on a huge, unpredictable, unfamiliar journey. In many ways it still is. It would have been very easy for me to settle in San Diego, buy a house and go boating on an occasional weekend or two. But, had I given into fear of the unknown, I never would have known the beauty of that 1,000-foot waterfall cascading down the side of the cliff in Hiva Oa Island, and the magical feeling as we entered the harbor after 29 days at sea. I never would have woken in a crystal-clear lagoon in Moorea with eagle rays gliding under Sojourner while I had my morning coffee. Although Iím no "hero", I am learning that life will always be a host to fearful situations, and that maybe trying to become more comfortable with fear might be a better approach than trying to avoid it or deny it. Riding out fearful situations canít always bring favorable results, but I am beginning to realise that trying is a heck of a lot better than wishing you had. Sometimes we just have to "feel the fear and do it anyway" as the title of a popular self-help book suggests. Maybe dealing with fear just might be one of the keys to experiencing the riches of life.
By seven oíclock that evening the winds had died, and the "walkie talkie" crackled with Steve calling me to come and pick him up. With strained eyes and tension in every muscle, I motored over to the harbor in the moonlight toward the small harbor of Papetoai.
Never do I remember being happier to see him.
I could feel myself brimming with eagerness to tell him of my "day of terror"; how I was scared to death, and that we came within inches of disaster..........
"How was your day?" he asked.
I paused, and glanced over at Sojourner, sitting peacefully on her anchor in the moonlight.
"Oh, a little windy, but otherwise, I had everything under control"........
"How was yours?"
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