Hove To

We are back in Puerto Rico, and a few days ago it felt like we’d never make it here. Two days out of Delaware Bay we were caught in a slow-moving storm system and were forced to heave to. This barge is too big to take chances with the towing gear by trying to make way against excessive wind and seas.

When you are hove to, the situation looks something like this: The wind blows in excess of forty knots, coming first out of the southeast, then the south, and veering around to the west as the storm passes over us; the barge settles in the trough, beam to the wind, and becomes a sea anchor that holds our bow into the weather. We put the steering mode in non-follow-up and leave the rudder amidships, turn off the steering pumps and let the boat drift where she may, with the throttles just clutched ahead.

The storm pulls us eastward with it. As the wheels turn forward and the boat is dragged backwards, the cavitating propellers send violent shock waves through the hull, making an unnerving rumbling noise like that of an earthquake that threatens to shake the boat to pieces. We see our prop wash come out from under the bow as we back up over it.

You get tired of picking your things up off the floor, and after a while you just let your books and pens lie there after they get swept off the shelf for the tenth time, making an irritating racket on the way down. Weird dreams follow you through half-sleep, as your tired brain tries to understand the sounds it is hearing and your body compensates for the motion of the boat as you wedge yourself in between the wall and the mattress and try to get some rest before it’s time to get up and stand your next watch.

It’s funny how quickly our minds begin to show the strain. After two or three days I was ready to give up and fall to pieces, cursing the weather and the constant rolling. And then, after five days of getting dragged backwards for over 240 miles, sometimes at speeds in excess of six knots, the weather suddenly lay down enough for us to make the turn and continue on our way south. Just like that. I find it so ironic that nature seems to wait until you are totally resigned before she lets you get away.

Once we were back on course we ran along with a following sea and the days quickly grew warmer as flying fish whizzed along the surface of the intense cobalt-blue sea like gigantic dragonflies. I watched pods of Atlantic porpoises, black with snubbed noses, as they enjoyed the seas left behind by the storm. Yesterday I saw a humpback whale breach, only because I was looking at exactly the right place at the right moment. Beautiful things like that I always take as a sign that things are going well in my corner of the world.

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