Sunday, 18 November 2007

BALLAST FOR THE LEE RAIL

What are doing? He yelled to me.
It was blowing a force 10 and the yacht was bucking all over the place. I was trying to get a loose hatch closed near the bow.
My life-line was suddenly pulled tight as a wave swept me overboard. I thanked my lucky stars I had bought the expensive life-line with the double stitching.
As I began to be dragged along the side of the boat I suddenly started to think about what I would make for tea. A stupid thing I know but I was weighing up the bacon and rice or the pasta and tinned tuna.
The temperature of the water suddenly took my breath away. I started to gulp hoping to take in some air but I began to gulp water instead. Then I was flipped over and was being dragged face side down. Now I knew I was in trouble. My life vest was stopping me from flipping back. I vaguely thought about unclipping myself to stop this battering, but in all the books I had read and all the lectures I had attended I knew that would be tantamount to suicide
Some where along the way I was banged against the hull and my arm started to hurt. Not too bad I thought. I can still move it.
Time was elongated and I drifted in and out of surreal thoughts.
A voice yelled at me through the rage of the storm. I couldn’t make out the words but I knew it was my skipper Barnaby. I remembered the time we practiced this very maneuver.
It was on a sunny day and a slight south easterly was blowing in Cleveland Bay. I could see Magnetic Island on my port side and Townsville on my starboard side. I was on the helm and Barnaby was the body in the water. The water I recall was warm and stinger season was over. As he jumped overboard I began to about turn and bring the yacht into irons. The sails started to flap about and then I turned the tiller and rounded up-wind to Barnaby. The idea was to drift back to him. I completed the slow slide down to him and threw out the line. He grabbed it and it all became a bit of a lark. We were laughing as I pulled him out like a fish on the line and he landed on top of me.
Now I was being towed and also being thrown at the hull every time a wave came my way.
Barnaby had brought the yacht into irons and suddenly the noise stopped. The sea took my line then and started to play with me like a beach ball. My life-line which was supposed to save me now became my killer. Somehow I had got it looped over my head and it was slowly choking me. I wanted to loosen it but I was having trouble moving my arm. I gulped air desperately clawing at my throat. An enormous wave was coming my way. I could see it gathering strength and I felt I had to free myself or I wouldn’t make it.
I tried to grab the noose around my neck but the nylon was locked in a deadly embrace.
I had to decide then, let myself loose or try to hold my breath, maybe my last breath.
A force 10 gale with waves 8 meters high. I began to go over the weather report I had read a few hours ago. Now I was in the thick of it and Barnaby words echoed in my mind. We can’t outrun this one.
I watched in fascination as the wave, my nemesis gathered height.
I grabbed the life-line, which was strung tight out in front of me and tried to pull a little slack. The exertion used up my last breath and I felt I couldn’t take another. I had nothing left. A swell lifted me just high enough to whip the rope and I saw my chance to un-loop my noose. With my good arm I pulled till my lungs burst and I ducked under water and turned. The noose came off and I just lay still. My lungs were red hot now, but I was numb. I lay face down in the water looking into the dark, a calm overtaking me I felt sleepy. I closed my eyes. All at once I was pulled out of the water. The cold of the wind made me gasp. I threw up and then began to breathe. I was so cold now and I just wanted it to be over.
Then I heard Barnaby yell out
"Hang on" he shouted. His voice roused me from my stupor and I focussed. I could just see his fluro jacket in the gloom of the spray and rain.
I watched him loop my life-line over the winch and he began to wind me in. I wanted to kick to help but I couldn’t. I began to think straight, and I decided not to take my eyes off that fluro jacket. If I kept that in my sights I could stay calm.
A wave was building behind the yacht now and Barnaby wasn’t looking. We were in a trough, and the wave looked even bigger. I felt I had to warn him, but I couldn’t lift my arm and I was holding the life-line in the other. Then I remembered my whistle. I could see it floating in front of me attached to my jacket. I slowly brought my arm up to grab it wincing in pain. I didn’t realise I was shaking so much till I looked at my hand holding the whistle. I lunged at it with my mouth and summoned up a breath to blow.
Barnaby heard the whistle and stopped winding to wave. He said something, but I could only watch as the wave broke over the boat. I knew I would be next to get the brunt of mother nature. What did happen surprised me. The yacht lunged forward and was baring down on me. 14 tonnes moves fast in the water and I had no way of side stepping. All I could do was watch.
Neptune must have been watching over me that day. The yacht came to a skid and I was within about 1 meter of the back rail. That meter was the longest meter in my life but I summoned up my strength and kicked. I grabbed the rail.
I felt terribly cold, and my arm was hurting. With half my body out of the water the wind was chilling me to the bone.
Where I summoned up the strength to hold on to the rail I couldn’t say, but hold on I did.
When Barnaby couldn’t see me he began to yell out. I saw him; legs astride for balance yelling out my name. "Netti, Netti" he bellowed.
I was too tired to answer.
As I was still being dragged and battered against the boat, I felt I was slipping into a dream. I could see my white knuckled hand gripping, but I wasn’t sure if it was me. My mind was flicking through times past. The stainless steel rail we had welded onto the transom years ago was $56.23 I remembered. We had got Andrew the boiler maker to fabricate it and then we welded it on to the boat. I had the washing on the line that day and hastily brought the clothes inside as Andrew and Barnaby ground the hull for the fixings.
"Netti" Barnaby yelled, and I looked up to see his fluro jacket right above me.
"Hold on Netti, I’m coming" he shouted.
I saw he had the gaffer in his hand. I realised his intention was to gaff me onto the deck. I hoped he didn’t dig in too far and grab my back bone.
With one swoop of his arm he brought the gaff down and it caught my life-vest. Then he started to pull me up. I was loathed to let go of the rail and my grip had become a vice.
"Let go Netti" he said, but I couldn’t. My hand was locked onto the rail my muscles contracted into a cramp.
I pleaded with my eyes for him to be gentle; he grabbed my life-line, and then my vest pulling me ever closer to safety. Then he cracked the gaffer over my hand to make me let go. It worked and he completed the haul out to the deck.
The boat was bucking and then we slid down the back of a wave into a deep trough. The seconds of calm gave Barnaby enough time to drag me to the cockpit and dump me on the floor.
My life-line was still attached to the handrail near the mast, but once in the relative safety of the cockpit Barnaby unhooked me and shoved me down below into the calm of the Rosewood and white laminate interior.
It was only then, I remember breathing. I rolled over on the floor to watch Barnaby lashing the tiller and getting ready to jump inside with me.
We had made steel doors for the companionway in case of thieves, but now I was glad they were strong and reliable.
With a thud Barnaby jumped inside and then pulled the doors shut.
We were safe.
I wanted to say thanks to Barnaby but I couldn’t speak. A small croak was all I managed.
Barnaby and I lay on the floor, the boat bucking and dipping with every wave. I looked over and he reached out to grab my hand. I winced with the pain of his squeeze on my fingers, but he didn’t let go. I closed my eyes then and felt a warm peace overtake me.
When I woke up, I was in bed. I was shivering and my teeth were chattering.
I glanced around the V berth but couldn’t see much in the gloom. As my shaking and shivering became heaving spasms I tried to move. The pain I felt was enough to bring me back to the land of the living.
I tried to remember all that had happened but it was just a jumble in my mind. How long I was in the water was a mystery, what day it was, was a blur. I couldn’t decide if it was day or night now, as I lay convulsing in my bed.
Then Barnaby appeared in the doorway, with a hot water bottle and ‘fish hook’ our little terrier. Immediately he layered all our available blankets and clothes over me to get me warm and shoved the hot water bottle on my back. I closed my eyes with gratitude and to hide some of my pain as warmth started to keep my body still.
After about 5 minutes I realised the noise outside had stopped. The motion of the boat was slow and rhythmic which I knew to be the usual state of affairs Barnaby stroked my hair and fishhook walked up to me for a sniff.
"Glad to have you back" Barnaby said and planted a kiss on my forehead.
"Glad to be back" I croaked and then I realised my lips were swollen and felt thick. I went to touch them with my fingers but couldn’t lift my arm.
I must have had the pain etched on my face because Barnaby began to list my injuries.
"Don’t try to move, as far as I can tell, you have 2 fat lips, a bump on your head the size of an egg, a broken arm, 1 broken finger, sorry my fault, a wicked burn on your neck and possibly several cracked ribs. That’s about it. Oh we only lost 1 whisky glass, my fault again and Fish hook won’t let me out of her sight for some reason. One more thing, I love you, but don’t ever do that again or all you will be good for is, ballast on the lee rail.

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