Chapter 9 - It was a Dark and Stormy Night

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I awoke to Owen yelling at me to wake up. The boat was bucking, rolling and shuddering in a disturbing way. I carefully made my way up the companionway stairs to the cockpit. I don't normally get seasick, but I knew that if I stayed below too long, it just might happen with the boat moving like this.

When I got on deck, the night air was bracing. The wind had increased quite a lot since I had gone below. As the gusts hit the Lord Sheffield, she would heel or roll over until the leeward rail was in the water. The bowsprit was plunging into the seas and when the bow would come up, green seas were rushing down the decks and off the stern of the boat. It was frightening.

I looked over at Owen – he was shivering in the blustery night air. His lifejacket was on and he was harnessed to the binnacle.

"Hold on Owen, let me get some rain jackets!" I yelled over the wind.

I went below and reached into the foul weather clothing locker, grabbed a couple of man-sized storm jackets and made my way back on deck. "Here, put this on," I said to Owen. I struggled into my own and then took the wheel so Owen could tame his blowing jacket and work it around his body. Fortunately it was big enough to fit over his lifejacket and harness.

"I'm freezing!" Owen managed to say, "And it's really frightening out here."

"I think we need to furl some of our sails. There's too much wind and we're going way too fast."

Well, we had plenty of sails set so I guessed we could unset or furl a few of them and still keep going – but which ones? I knew I didn't want to go out on that bowsprit in this weather so the jib was not an option. The main might be easy, but we needed to get rid of a lot of sail quickly. We should be able to furl the square sails from the deck, but the prospect of leaving the safety of the cockpit was terrifying.

"Owen, I think we're going to have to furl at least a couple of the square sails and I don't think I can do it myself. Can you lash off the wheel like you did yesterday when you went overboard?"

Owen thought about this for a few seconds. It was like the cold and the terror was slowing his brain. "I think I can," he ventured, "but you better get your harness and lifejacket on first."

I had come on deck so quickly that I'd forgotten to put on my safety gear. I went below and put on my harness and lifejacket and returned to the cockpit. We sat there for a while working up our courage. As we sat there it seemed that the wind was getting stronger and we knew that if we didn't act now, things would only get harder for us.

"Let's do it," I said to Owen.

"All right," he replied, "but we're having a couple of Cokes to celebrate when we're done."

Owen tied off the wheel and we left the cockpit and started inching our way to the foremast where the big square sails were attached and set. We went by the cabin on the now lower or leeward side of the boat – hand over hand and footstep by footstep. Every time the Sheffield hit a wave, the water would travel down the deck and submerge our legs, often past our knees. The water was warm when you were in it, but so cold when the wind got at you when you were not. When I got to the pinboard, where the course port sheet was attached, I uncleated it and eased it out, releasing some of the power of the big course sail. This was the first step to getting the sail furled. We were latching and unlatching with our harnesses as we went, but we eventually came to a wide area of deck that was wider than our harnesses were long. Wider or not, we still had to get across it to get to the mast

I went first. When the boat hit a wave and rolled to starboard, I launched myself toward the mast. When I got there I reached out and grabbed the pinboard around the mast and latched my safety lanyard to it – so far, so good. Now it was Owen's turn. He had the advantage that I was securely attached to the boat and could reach out to catch him if he didn't make it all the way.

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