By The Grace Of The Sea

A Woman's Solo Odyssey Around the World
By Pat Henry (McGraw Hill/International Marine/Sept 02)


     The wind built to 60 knots, and I watched until exhaustion, hunger, or fear forced me below. But never for long. The gale dropped and increased time after time as the day wore on, moving around the compass from east to north to west to south and back again to east. At times Southern Cross needed more sail to keep her moving forward against a headwind, and at other times she needed less as she tore down wave fronts before the wind. Each time I crawled forward to make the change. At last, as evening came, conditions eased to 30 knots.
    Instead of cooking dinner, I brought in the warp. The towering seas, still 25 feet high, tossed SC back and forth as I hauled the anchor rope back on board. With tears running and muscles shaking I coiled and stowed the 200-foot line, then collapsed and slept below. Southern Cross needed more sail to stabilize her, but I was too tired to raise it.
    Thursday morning, the 23rd, skies lightened, the wind returned, and I felt sick. I took Advil, Marazine, and then more Advil. What I really needed was food, not medicine, but nauseated and with my head in raging pain, anything but lying flat seemed impossible. At 1000 the wind disappeared completely, and the barometer dropped another 7 milliards. I braced for more bad weather. Squalls marched down in an unending line, some ferocious and some just carrying rain. SC's cabin felt like the inside of a Maytag washer. I no longer cared about sails, making headway, or what direction SC traveled. The feast for this Thanksgiving Day stayed stashed in a locker. I ate a can of cold rice pudding and thought about family and friends gathering in dry and happy groups, safe, laughing, eating turkey.


     The next morning I dressed in something colorful with a jaunty scarf around my neck. Four galleries later, lower than ever, I arrived back at Southern Cross. Thanking Sam, I descended into the cabin. It was too late in the day to make the first anchorage at Kawau Island before dark. There were a thousand boats in the marina. Maybe no one would notice one small sailboat that overstayed its prepaid dock fee.
     With everything ready for an early departure, I climbed into my bunk. The gray, wet dawn matched my mood in the morning. As I finished drying breakfast dishes the dreaded knock sounded through the hull. A young woman from the marina office waited outside. "Excuse me, but you owe $11 for another day."
     "I know, but I don't have any money. If you want my last $3, you can have it, but that's all the money I have in the whole world. I was just leaving now."


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