July 3


Sailing Adventure Part 2

By Ciara Knight

July 3, 2024

Boats, Books, Family Vacation, retirement, Sailing life

Part 2 of our sailing adventure is now available. If you missed part 1, click here to read it before continuing. 


The third morning of our ocean transit began like every other, with the familiar comfort of a tantalizing cup of coffee. Armed with my morning brew, I cuddled by my husband’s side at the helm, relishing the breathtaking sights of the Gulf Stream. A V-22 Osprey flew overhead and we watched in awe as its blades turned and the craft lowered gracefully onto a military ship. Shortly after, a KC-130 Hercules with two long hoses hovered in front of us, refueling helicopters mid-air. The highlight of our perfect morning culminated with the breach of pilot whales visiting our bow. Who said there were no more firsts together after twenty-one years of marriage?

"Serenity" isn't a strong enough word to describe those early hours. The wind propelled our boat swiftly, aided by 4-5 knots of Gulf Stream current. The sun shone down on us as if christening our maiden blue water voyage. We looked at each other and knew this was definitely the life for us.

Morning seamlessly morphed into afternoon, with the gentle rock of calm seas and fresh ocean air. Excitement surged with the first call of, “Fish on!” The captain, eager to catch a Mahi, lit up like the evening stars of a moonless night on the ocean. He fought and pulled until a streak of yellow and green skimmed the surface, promising a delicious dinner. In tandem with Mr. Knight, they tried to bring the fish on board, but it flung itself off the gaff. Disappointment deepened the lines around the captain’s eyes, and a few choice words might have slipped free. But before they could settle back into the cockpit, the other reel zipped and sung with the announcement of another fish. This time, armed with a new plan only Engineers could devise, they secured the fish onboard.

As afternoon faded to evening, we celebrated with a feast of fresh bread, sides, and buttery, melt-in-your-mouth Mahi. I've been ruined; store-bought fish will never be the same. Sharing the meal, I knew in that moment that our future was on the open water, living off-grid. It was the perfect day with perfect people on the perfect wind and wave combination.

But like any true perfection, a ripple always distorts the glassy surface. Our tranquility was breached by a crackled announcement on the radio: possible squalls ahead. The admiral jumped to attention, researched the threat, and reached out to a paid service they had secured before leaving. It all confirmed an early morning weather event.

Mr. Knight and I, conservative and cautious new sailors, asked if we should reef the main before nightfall. But all the weather apps indicated the winds and rain wouldn’t hit for many hours. The captain decided to reef closer to the squall. Sounded like a solid decision—why waste time if we’d have champagne sailing all night? And I was thankful because my shift would be long over by early morning.

The captain stretched, “Wake me if you need me.”

As he left the cockpit, I asked, “Wait, how high can the winds get before I wake you?”

“The boat can handle 20 knots with the current sail plan,” he said with a yawn and settled down for a nap.

Feeling confident since our current wind speed was only 8-10 knots, I took the helm for the prime spot of 8:00-11:00 PM as darkness fell on a moonless night. I'd never seen the world so dark; I couldn’t even see the water over the side.

People often ask if I'll get bored out there on the ocean, and I laugh. My imagination is too wild to allow for boredom. I've got a built-in television in my head. So, to entertain myself, I watched AIS and a boat that kept appearing and disappearing on the screen directly on us, with the only identifying information being that it was a military vessel. I allowed my imagination to surf beyond my little seat and dive into the depths of the deep ocean where a vivid world unfolded of espionage and dystopian underwater wars filled with steampunk style submarines—and I still believe there was a submarine under us. Not a steampunk, version a real one, but no one believed me because each time I tried to show someone the vessel it disappeared from the screen. Oh, what that did to my imagination. Ha-ha.

As if teasing my confidence, a gust of wind drew me from my reverie to spot the wind speed climbing to 16 knots. No worries, the captain said the boat could handle 20, right? It was just a rogue gust. After my pulse calmed to rapid but softer tapping to my neck, I took a few deep breaths.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I slipped back into my personal entertainment system until another gust hit, this time reaching 20 knots. Wait, did the captain say the boat could handle up to 20 knots or less than 20? I leapt off the helm and raced to the saloon to call for the captain, but he didn’t answer. Only soft snores from an exhausted captain who’d trusted me enough to fall into a deep sleep. The boat slowed, so I told myself I was overreacting and returned to the helm once my breathing eased to 30 knots[CH1] .

Call it intuition or sensing the shift in the atmosphere, I perched on the edge of the helm seat with a palpable sense of impending doom. A bizarre, suffocating force gripped the cockpit, as if every molecule of oxygen had been wrenched away, leaving an eerie, stifling void around me. There wasn’t any rain. The wind had died to a lull of 3-4 knots. Nothing to worry about. So why was my heart still pounding against my ribs?

Then came the pressure, like a giant squid had latched onto us, dragging us down. A sudden gust hit 28 knots, and the boat jerked and bucked violently. I barely made it to the bottom step before the captain shouted, “What’s going on?”

“Wind hit 28 knots,” I hollered back.

“Okay, let me wake the admiral. We’ll reef.”

But we weren’t supposed to hit a storm until early morning. There was no rain. I raced back to the helm and another jolt struck. I discovered the boat was facing the wrong direction on the charts. Wind speed zero. An eerie silence blanketed the ocean.

The captain arrived. “What happened?”

As if the ocean woke, rain lashed down, and wind whipped around us. I cleared the helm area, relieved to relinquish control to the captain. “The instruments just went nuts,” I shouted over the erupting storm, because honestly, I didn’t have a clue. “It shows no wind and has us pointing backward.”

“The instruments aren’t wrong, the boat is pointing backward. How did that happen?”

How? No clue. Not until later when we figured out there was a microburst during a dry squall had hit us. Not that I had any clue that could happen at that point. I only wish that’s where our troubles ended.

The captain scrambled, rain pelting, waves crashing. He needed to go out to fix the reef, and I didn’t like that idea at all. To my relief, he managed to get it reefed without climbing onto the roof while the boat bucked like an angry bull on energy drinks.

He set us back in the correct direction, but the correct direction meant beating into the wind and high waves. Both motors on, sail reefed, the captain took the helm for the rest of the night to battle the elements. Mr. Knight came up to see what was going on, and I saw it. He was green. Not just green—Grinch on Christmas green. Like me, he had never been seasick, but in a matter of minutes, he was at the back of the boat, donating his dinner to Poseidon.

For hours, the boat slammed, churned, and fought against the elements. We soared, crashed, and surfed through and down the waves. I lay down in the cockpit and managed to doze, but I was equal parts upset with myself for not handling the situation better and frightened because I had never sailed in a storm before. I call it a storm because this was no tiny squall.

But the boat handled it, the captain handled it, and I felt like my husband and I had let them down. At some point, as we beat into the storm, I went below, upset with myself for failing. Yes, I know, I can offer grace to anyone but myself. I’m my toughest critic, something I’m working on.

My husband joined me, stating there was nothing anyone but the captain could do to get us through this. But I went back up after my nap to check in and discovered that the code zero had broken free and unfurled. If not fixed, it could dismast the boat. Which meant the captain had to go out on deck to secure the flapping material with thrashing lines and a broken block flailing like an anvil in the wind. All while beating into an angry squall. This, my friends, would be the black moment of our story.

To be continued….

Ciara Knight

About the author

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