I went below to suck on a can of condensed milk and roll myself a cigarette. Then I regained my perch, again watching the sea through the closed turret. We were crossing another rough stretch.
An exceptional wave rose astern; it looked like a small dune. It was not very steep, but seemed twice as high as the others, if not more. The sea was not breaking yet, and I had the impression that it would not break, that it did not need to.
I jumped to the floor and gripped the chart table with both arms, my chest flat against it and my legs braced. I distinctly felt the surge of acceleration as Joshua was thrust forward. The she heeled a little, seemed to brake, and was slammed down hard. Water spurted through the hatch cover joint, but I am not sure the wave responsible even broke. Joshua righted herself in four or five seconds. It took longer than after the first knockdown; a huge force seemed to keep her pressed on the water.
Again, no damage. Mat and spreaders held. The sails did not split. There was plenty on slack in the preventers, fortunately, and nylon can stretch. If things inert to us could do more than grit their teeth, I would have heard some real screaming up there on deck. Even the miraculous little wind vane held, and Joshua does not seem to have luffed; she is running downwind again, as if everything were already forgotten. Just the same, I am astonished to see the radar reflector in place on the masthead pivot. It too has already forgotten.
I am almost sorry now that I did not stay glued to the to the seat to see the whole show, my eyes riveted to the little turret ports… but when I saw the dune-like sea I felt Joshua could have pitchpoled, in that case I would have broken my neck on the hatch coaming.
Pitchpoling at force 6… I know very well it is impossible… but I feel anything is possible around here.
The wind drops further towards the end of the afternoon. The sea takes on its grandeur of old, tranquil and powerful. I feel the night will be fine, without treachery. I ought to stretch out for an hour before tonight’s watch for possible ice; I have been on the go since dawn…for many dawns. But the sun will soon set, and I cannot tear myself from my contemplation of the sea and the boat.
I do have to get more sleep though; catnapping is easy. I should pay more attention to food. I rely on coffee and tobacco to keep me going, and sustain myself by nibbling here and there. I ought to be able to find time for solid sleep and hearty meals. After all, there is not much to do on a boat, even rounding Good Hope. Or even the Horn. But there is a lot to feel in the waters of a great cape. And that takes all the time in the world
So one forgets oneself, one forgets everything, seeing only the play of the boat with the sea, the play of the sea around the boat, leaving aside everything not essential to that game in the immediate present. One has to be careful though, not to go further than necessary to the depths of the game. And that is the hard part… not going to far.
An excerpt from The Long Way, reprinted with permission from Sheridan House.