Our long weekend in Catalina was enjoyable enough. We ate, we drank, we chatted. Sunday morning, Two Harbors Harbor Patrol started moving boats closer to the cliff, preparing for incoming weather. We knew the forecast, but my guests really wanted to get home. Despite that our presence at our respective jobs was not required Monday, we set out on our journey. For an adult, I am surprised sometimes, at how I bow to peer pressure.
As we struck back towards the mainland from Catalina though, anything I would describe as enjoyable disappeared. The weather caught us. I should know by now, it is nearly impossible to outrun a storm in a sailboat. Mankind will always bend to nature. Trying to compete is like arming yourself with a bow and arrows when your enemy has cannons.
The sky grew dark faster than I knew a sky could turn. The winds picked up to 35 knots. The waves became solid walls of concrete, towering 20 feet higher than either side of the deck, crashing down upon us with such force I second-guessed my faith that the boat would not split in two.
Later, I would ask myself why I did not call the Coast Guard. My response is that we never were really in danger. The boat was upright, always moving forward (albeit terrifyingly and through ungodly troughs of water). We were never in a state of emergency, we were just always on the verge of being in a state of emergency.
Our guests were not experienced seamen. If I were being less than delicate, I would call them greenhorns. When I took out life vests for everyone on board, one of our friends asked whether I would experienced this type of gale before. I looked at my wife. She knew I was lying when I nodded vigorously and said, “Oh yeah, this is nothing.” I was pretty sure the right thing to do was to lie.
As if in karmic retribution for my falsehood, right at that moment the autopilot ceased to hold. I had to navigate manually through the rest of the storm. It did not hit me then, but at some point in the coming weeks it did; the question as to whether I was too comfortable because of modern technology. Do not get me wrong, I can sail a boat—and I have—without GPS and modern technology. But sometimes, I wonder whether we are lulled into a false sense of security by the resources we have at our fingertips. There is always been a pop culture reverence for seamen who can “find their way by the stars.” Heck, even the newest Disney smash Moana featured a strong emphasis on navigational capabilities. There is something fascinating and truly awesome about being able to traverse expansive bodies of water with just a boat and the stars. Nevertheless, we do not have to anymore, thanks to modern technology. Now, my 26-year-old daughter and her friends can putz around in the boat, and I do not have to worry. It is a strength in that more people can experience the open ocean and a weakness in that we feel we have conquered something that can never truly be conquered.
When we finally hit the breakwater and entered the marina, it was like it had never happened. The wind died, the waves calmed, my grip on the helm loosened. I leaned over the life lines and vomited. Then, breathed a sigh of relief. Next time there is weather in the forecast, I am staying home.