27 Days from KAUA’I to CALIFORNIA, Part II

One moment, sunny sweet skies — the next, the Mother Hulk of a demon storm with hideous, grotesque grey-green and black clouds pelting us square on with sheets of ice-cold rain. We were hard-put to keep our footing, being tossed around by gigantic heaving swells. I could hear the planet saying, ‘it’s ain’t over yet, you puny humans.’

Yummy yummy yummy…

You know about the Doldrums, right? Officially, the area known to sailors around the world as the “doldrums” is the ‘Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone.’ This is the windless belt of ocean around the earth near the equator where sailors sometimes get completely, utterly, desperately stuck. Boats with no other way of propulsion than wind can be becalmed there for weeks. Some never make it out.

Because of the earth’s rotation, the ITCZ shifts locations season to season, so it’s impossible to plot from afar on your sea chart. Oddly, each one has its own weather.

Every day as we sailed along, James plotted our course. Today, he thought he had plotted our way around the Doldrums, according to the latest weather and ocean-current reports.

But somehow he must have miscalculated, because there it was right in front of us, in all the beauty of its glassy, flat, windless sky-reflection.

He insisted it was just a temporary lull.

“James! We need to head north! Now! Come on!” I begged him to shift our course.

It couldn’t have been more obvious how wrong he was. I knew in my gut he was so wrong. I felt like throwing him overboard I was so mad.

The last gasps of wind diminished and petered out.

“Just keep the compass heading!” he kept insisting, sprinting over to me, yanking the wheel out of my grip, fighting my urge to head north.

Right. Like I could head anywhere now, anyway, with the wind having died its silent death.

We drifted a bit. The boat slowed and slowed and slowed … and slowed … until finally, he had to admit, we were caught. Dead in the water.

No wind to the left, no wind to the right, or ahead, or now, even behind us. Nothing but stillness. I had to consciously keep from grinding my teeth.

Even the sails stopped swaying. There was no swell. We could hear each other breathe, even many feet apart.

The sun, high above us now, merciless. The heat baked the deck into an oventop. Rivers of sweat streamed down from our faces and scalps, and from every pore on our bodies.

We wrapped bandanas around our heads, with a fold falling down over our shoulders, to keep the sun off and the sweat out of our eyes. We hauled buckets of sea water up to the deck so we could keep dousing ourselves to try to keep cool.

We had limited fresh water, so we couldn’t use that for the head soak — we each had one cup of fresh water with which to bathe everyday — including brushing teeth. We washed with sea water, rinsing with just a wee bit of fresh. It usually worked fine. But this heat was more extreme than we had prepared for.

I stopped wearing my bikini and put on a long-sleeved t-shirt and long thin pants, and kept them soaked. I was shriveling from the salt, but didn’t care. James’ face was so red I was afraid he’d keel over of heat stroke, but somehow he managed to keep on.

But hey lookee here, we had a motor … riiiiight? We could escape this earth-made trap! Well, oops — the engine broke down at the very moment James turned the key. He went down into the bottom of the hold to lift the wooden covering, see what he could see.

I assumed that, since he was a mechanic, fixing the engine should have been a cinch for him. He did work with them every day at his job, after all … he said.

But after an hour, he got all huffy, even more red-faced and furious, had a hissy fit and threw his wrench down and stalked above to the deck.

I took over. Piece by piece, I disassembled parts of the engine as carefully as I could to see if I could fix it — or at least clean it — it looked pretty grimy.

What did I know about engines? Nada. But somehow when I decided I couldn’t do much more, and put it all back together all nice and clean, it started up like a dream. Hah!

As if the engine giving out and having to be fixed wasn’t enough, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we were out of the Doldrums, a sudden monster squall blasted up out of nowhere.

One moment, sunny sweet skies – the next, the Mother Hulk of a demon storm with hideous, grotesque grey-green and black clouds pelting us square on with sheets of ice-cold rain. We were hard-put to keep our footing, being tossed around by gigantic heaving swells.

I could hear the planet saying, ‘it’s ain’t over yet, you puny humans.’

BLAM! Suddenly, the screaming wind filled and exploded our mainsail, loud as a gunshot, ripping a long tear along its entire length. It took both of us to pull the wild wet flapping thing down and get it off the boom.*

(* The boom is the horizontal strut attached to the mast, made of wood or metal, that holds the bottom of the sail down tight so it can hold the wind.)

I spent an entire day below being tossed around like a rag doll, sewing it back together from foot to clew, as James struggled to keep us from capsizing.

Fortunately, the squall came out of the east. James was able to stay the course, keeping our heading into the waves bow-on. We’d have lost major headway if we’d had to veer off in any other direction in order to avoid getting hit sideways. If we’d been side-on to the waves — instant capsize! I wouldn’t be here writing right now. I’d be having tea with Davy Jones.

You might think I wondered about the seaworthiness of his little boat. Ohhh yes, I sure did. But after we bounced through a couple of hours of shrieking winds and 15 to 25-foot waves, I suddenly thought, hey, we made it OK this long, James was OK keeping us headed right, and my being tense and afraid didn’t help at all. I even took a nap for a bit, resting my sore hands — it’s hard work, sewing a sail back together! I had to sew both sides, all the way across the bottom length of the sail. But I had it done by 1 a.m.

At last, by noon the next day the storm had blown over. We dragged the still-sodden sail up on deck, draped it just right over the boom, got it all set and raised it just fine.

The jib — oops — not so much. The jib halyard, the line that pulls the jib (the little triangular sail in front of the mast) up the mast, got stuck right at the notch at the top.

Guess who got to sit in the wee canvas bosun’s chair as she was hauled to the top to fix that, too? Yep. You got it.

When I got to the top, clinging desperately to the mast like a monkey with terror-trembling feet, knees and thighs, I was surprised — instead of feeling like I was at the top of a metronome, being flung back and forth, it was instead like being the steady hand that held a plumb bob as the bob swung below. The boat slid left-right-left-right, up, over the top and down the troughs of the enormous waves beneath us.

I, stationary, stunned, gazed with wonder over that vast expanse of luminous teal-green sea, looking like bright translucent corduroy with lines of wispy, wind-driven white piping stretching all the way to the horizon.

I will never, ever forget that view. It was mesmerizing.

James must have shouted up to me several times to ask if I was done, before I snapped back to awareness and called back, “Everything is ready, let me down!”

I thanked my personal guardian angels that I was wearing a leash and body-harness firmly attached to the mast, or I’d have fallen overboard as the boat lurched when I started to place my foot on the deck.

I slipped, missing the deck as I began to swing down and out of the chair. There was no railing up on the bow that would even pretend to stop my slide into the water.

I was suspended by the harness. Half aboard, half in the water, clinging to the canvas seat of the chair. Both feet dragging wildly in the water, my sneakers disappearing, the fast-moving bow wave sliding by, doing its best to pull the rest of me in and under.

James hauled me out, cussing a blue streak.

I was too freaked to cuss or cry.

I sank down onto the cabin top in shock, not wanting to think about what would have happened if I’d actually fallen in. Even if he had been willing to turn about to try to find me—which I doubted — it would have been impossible.

There’d be no rescue in seas like that.

to be continued…


Thanks so much for reading my story. I hope it lit you up. Or maybe it inspired you, or made you curious, or gave you a new perspective with which to view and appreciate your own life. That’s my wish.


27 Days from KAUA’I to CALIFORNIA, Part II
Image: The Nature of Things
text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2021–2

This is an enhanced version of a story from my book, INSIDE SECRETS, Stories I’ve Never Told Anyone, Volume II. Illustrated with my artwork.

The images in Volume II are all from original pen and ink drawings done in Japanese Sumi ink on heavy watercolor paper. If you’d like a print of this image, please contact me.

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