A Seafarer’s Tale

By Barbara Robinson

I grew up in the state of Oklahoma, you know “the wind comes sweeping down the range” state. My only real concept of the ocean or any large body of water was when my family drove to Tenkiller Lake to attempt to water ski or I lost myself in the pages of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” or “Moby Dick.” I would wonder as I watched the wind whip the field across the street and turn the gently moving wheat into large waves of synchronized movement, “Is that how it looks on the ocean when foul weather sweeps across the water? Do those giant waves of windblown wheat reflect how the water moves in a stormy sea? Yes? No? Maybe?

Well, my answer came when my husband and I were lured by an Oklahoma buddy to take a Windjammer cruise on the Caribbean. It was to be a very relaxing and picturesque cruise all while sailing aboard a real ship under sail. It was almost too much for my romantic head to get around and to top it off we had squeezed our savings to purchase a deck cabin, this turned out to be a very wise decision.

We boarded our ship after spending 48 hours on the island of Antiqua trying to locate our lost airline luggage. The luggage had to be retrieved from a growing “baggage mountain” of lost items located inside the terminal and which appeared to be growing larger with the arrival of every new flight.

Afraid we would miss our sailing we located our transportation to the pier and figured our lost items would somehow catch up with us, besides we had taken a few essential things in our carry-ons, this too was a wise decision. It was late afternoon when we were dropped off at a nondescript place, along the shoreline and told in a mixture of patois, French, and English to wait and they would come. We did wait and they did come in a small dinghy right up to the shore and we hardly had to wade at all to board! We were young and adventurous, and I hate to admit it just this side of stupid, so off we went into the dark Caribbean twilight in a boat bound for the “Yankee Clipper” a three masted ship built in 1927 in Germany. This ship was beautiful to behold in the daylight, but it was dark when we lurched into the side of something solid and were met with the task of climbing up a rope-like net onto the deck of yes, the Yankee Clipper. At last, my dream of life on the open seas was being fulfilled.

We were directed to our deck cabin which was equipped with two twin beds, a port hole, and bathroom shared with the adjoining deck cabin. As soon as we had our meager carry-on luggage stowed, we headed for the fantail of the ship where the evenings welcome party and a table of more than ample snacks and beverages awaited. We were so busy meeting and greeting fellow sailors, most of whom, like us were on their first Windjammer cruise, that we failed to notice the engine noise as we began our sea journey. I was at sea, at last!

I felt the sway of the deck beneath my feet which didn’t seem to match the position of the snack table, later I learned the table was on some sort of gyroscope system that kept it level no matter what angle the ship’s deck was tortured into by the winds and waves. As I watched the table I found myself becoming a little nauseous, so I walked over to the rail on the fantail of the ship to catch a fresh breath. I peered out into the vast darkness of the ocean which was being broken by the whiteness of some rather large frothy waves. I knew these to be white caps from my vast ocean research reading of “Moby Dick.” I pondered how the ship would feel once it was under full sail rather than under the erratic blubbering engine.

Suddenly there was a brilliant flash out over the ocean and with that flash I recognized large ominous thunderheads. A storm at sea! Yes, how fortunate for me on my first nautical adventure. I popped a Dramamine forced on me by my husband and followed the other passengers toward our respective sleeping quarters. I noticed that most of my fellow seamen were headed toward a stairway amid ships. All we had to do was walk around the corner of the aft deck to be at the door of our cabin.

The Dramamine was starting to do its job as far as nausea for my husband and myself, but I was too hyped up to entertain going to bed. Imagine a storm at sea and I would sleep through the whole thing! Not me. My husband was already in his bunk and by his snoring I could tell he was in a sound sleep. I decided to just creep out the door and again enjoy the fan tail view of the ocean beside the “blub, blub, blub,” of the engine was really getting to me.

“Bet they didn’t have to put up with these industrial-age noises on “The Bounty,” I thought to myself as I struggled to open our cabin door.

Suddenly I found myself struggling to remain upright or even to maintain my current position in our cabin as I seemed to be pushed by some enormous force that drove me to the other side of the room and I was bounced onto my sleeping husband’s bunk.

The only response I got from him was, “Well I guess we are in for a little blow.”

Now without warning I was being rolled off my husband’s bunk and towards my own berth. It seemed I had no control over my position, and I felt that if I once gained my bed I would stay there barricaded with extra pillows, which I noticed the crew had provided for us.

This first night at sea in a full-fledged storm, that even our experienced Captain latter admitted was very unusual for the Caribbean at this time of year, found both of us in a single bunk together wedged with pillows between the wall and the bed-rail. As the night wore on and the fierce gyrations of the ship continued, I heard water sloshing against wood and posited three theories. First theory was the pluming on this old ship was needing repair. Second theory was that the waves were so high they were breaking over the rails of the ship and might soon be encroaching into our living space, and the third theory and most threatening was that the ship was sinking, and this was the first onslaught of the ocean.

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