Jim grinned, “Gonna be intense.” Then he pulled the halyard hand over hand until the spinnaker reached the tip of the mast. With a quick jerk on the sheet, it snapped open hard. The boat surged, heeled brutally to starboard and I lost rudder control. I dumped off the main and she settled back.
“Wow that was fun. Now let’s trim for course.”
After tweaking the sails, we noticed a buzzing sound that vibrated at our feet.
Jim said. “I think it’s the keel. I heard it once before when towed behind a motorboat.”
“Long as it doesn’t fall off I’m good,” I said in an attempt to ease the stress off our white-knuckle ride. Tony sported a new color, pea green.
Once the excitement was over we fell into good stride—except for the sporadic wind bursts that threw us to the edge. When they hit, the boat heeled hard, the keel hissed, and we lost control. All we could do was dump the main and wait. I found myself holding my breath and wishing we had left in the reef.
“Gonna bring the spinnaker down in a couple minutes,” I yelled, “I can’t steer directly to the marker and it’s not safe to jibe.”
Without taking his eyes off the sails, Jim nodded and yelled. “We’re making better than 10 knots.”
We were sailing away from our competition, but the boat was unstable. Another gust hit and the boat lurched hard to starboard, and then something different happened. She spun wildly into the wind and rolled over with a vengeance. I watched the mast slam across the horizon and smack the water hard while I plummeted headfirst into the icy bay. Cold water gushed down my neck and flooded my boots. Two thoughts stormed through my head—I don’t float and I’m not wearing anything that floats. My bulky clothing resisted my efforts as I thrashed frantically to keep my head above water. I tried kicking free of my boots, to no avail. I reached to pull them off, and in the process, I spun upside down. I began to panic. With the boots off it still took all my energy to swim to the surface. When I felt the cool air on my face, I gulped in deep breaths while rolling seas washed over me. I had drifted away from May Flyer. She was upside down and the keel jutted skyward at a steep angle. A shadowed figure stood next to it, pointing toward me. I raised my arm above my head, trying to signal, but the effort to stay afloat was too great. I stopped struggling for a moment to unzip my jacket. It slipped away easily, but the slicker-pants, with straps crisscrossed over my shoulders, seemed complicated. I sank into darkness while I wrestled free of my burden. My heart pounded in my ears and my lungs burned. The light above me grew dim. I kicked toward it for what seemed like an eternity. When I surfaced I gulped in a mixture of water and air. My throat made a raspy sound while I gasped and choked on seawater. Drifting in the waves I looked for May Flyer. She wasn’t within sight, only a mast tip interrupted the rolling skyline. I battled to keep my head above water.
Exhausted physically and mentally my mind went quiet. The once raging sea was now calm and serene. Fear left my body and my will to survive faded; dying became an option and I let go. There was no sensation of sinking, only daylight giving way to darkness. Cold no longer shivered through my body. Quiet and peace overcame me and time suspended. Then I saw an image of my sweet Linda, so beautiful and loving. She would be home waiting , waiting for a call that would never come. No more hellos, no more goodbyes, and no more goodnight kisses. Only unforeseen emptiness and questions—questions that begged answers. I wanted to feel her in my arms. I wanted to hear her voice. My ears were ringing and the burning sensation in my chest became unbearable. With renewed energy and determination, I kicked and fought my way toward the fading light.
Waves rolled over me when I surfaced and I gasped for air. A boat was moving in fast. Two men were standing on the bow. One pointed in my direction and the other, with a seat cushion in hand, was stripped down to his underwear. The seat cushion sailed across the water like a Frisbee and landed in my outstretched arms. I clung on it. The boat moved closer and a line slapped into the water in front of me. When I grabbed it, it pulled back and I was moving through the water toward the side of the boat. It was Daddy’s Money, the Catalina 30. A hand reached over the side, and a voiced asked. “You okay?”
All I could produce was a nod. Another hand reached out and together they pulled me aboard. I wanted to thank them, but a kaleidoscope of thoughts whirled through my head.
“We watched your boat go over, man. It went in hard.”
A second voice said. “That was the best crash n’ burn, ever.” Another chimed in. “Pardon the pun, but I’d call it the best slam dunk ever.”
The guy that tossed me the life cushion put his hand on my shoulder. “I’m Charlie.” He had his pants back on and wore a blue sweatshirt.
“I’m Steve.” My voice was weak and I still clutched the seat cushion in my arms. I stared past him at the Santana. She was back afloat and rocking with the seas. Jim was attaching the motor to the stern. Tony was sitting on top of the cabin with his head between his legs. He swayed slowly with the motion of the boat. The sun sifted through the scattered clouds and warmed my face. I shivered.
Eager hands steadied the boats as we eased alongside May Flyer. Jim had finished with the motor and greeted us. He grasped my arm and helped me aboard. All he said was, “Damn.”
I slowly shook my head in response. I was thinking about my words when Jim had hoisted the spinnaker. Guts and glory. Now I realized it was arrogant overconfidence.
Hands waved goodbye and Daddy’s Money sailed away. I could barely wave. Jim started the engine and Tony joined us in the cockpit as we motored back to the boat ramp in silence.
After several minutes, Jim finally broke the ice.