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Gale Warning

Nobody ever wants to spend a night hanging off the coast in Force 8 winds — but sometimes, that’s the best option.
Boating Safety

The second crashing noise occurred several hundred miles south of Iceland, during a sequence of gales that had stalked our cutter for 12 uninterrupted days. Brendan’s Isle was running that afternoon in near-gale conditions under a triple-reefed mainsail and a yankee jib poled out to windward on an aluminum reaching pole. I was sleeping soundly when the whole vessel began to jump in time to a series of concussions that sounded like someone trying to stove in the foredeck with a pile driver.

I stumbled out of my bunk, pulling on boots and safety harness, and groped in the darkness toward the companionway steps. Up on deck, the two watch keepers seemed stunned, their jaws agape, as they stared at a broken section of the reaching pole spinning drunkenly from its attachment point at the clew of the yankee. Each time the sailboat accelerated down a wave, the pole — or what was left of it — made a complete rotation, driving its jagged end into the teak deck and sending chips of splintered wood into the air. One section of the pole hung limply against the mast, banging metal on metal with a rhythmic clank, while the other end spun like the blade of a wounded helicopter, defying anyone to go forward to try to wrestle it down to the deck.

The crisis, thankfully, was resolved without incident, and it didn’t deter the successful completion of the voyage. It taught a lesson, however, as every emergency at sea is likely to do. The pole was strengthened with a heavier extrusion and better end fittings as soon as we found a good machine shop in Europe.

With these oddly comforting thoughts, I let my mind come back into the present moment, with Brendan’s Isle running off and moving easily in the mouth of Bonavista Bay. I roll over in my bunk and feel myself beginning to doze off, transported into an almost euphoric sense of well-being by the now-familiar sounds of our sturdy little vessel as she skids down the backs of following seas.

New day, New direction
Shortly after midnight, the fog begins to lift, and the wind veers into the northwest. Richard calls from the helm into the open window above my bunk, explaining that he’s just spotted a light flashing on the horizon far off to starboard. I pull on my boots and foul-weather jacket and mount the steps into the cockpit. The wind still whines in the rigging, and the seas remain steep and unruly, but the air has turned colder, and a gibbous moon has emerged from behind ragged clouds to light the decks with an eerie silver glow. The flashing light on the horizon, I know, is the lighthouse at Cape Bonavista, a bold headland that marks the boundary between Bonavista Bay, to the north, and Trinity Bay, to the south. If we bear off, I tell Richard, keeping the wind on our quarter and the lighthouse on our starboard bow, we should close with the cape by sunrise. Then, with luck, we might fetch up under its lee and find safe harbor somewhere along the Trinity shore.

The night advances through the setting of the moon and the rotation of the Big Dipper around the North Star. Amanda follows Richard at the helm. Liz follows Amanda. The dawn creeps into the eastern sky, and the shape of the land grows on the horizon. The wind eases back as the sailboat doubles Cape Bonavista, then eases again as she passes a series of small headlands at Spillars Point, Flowers Point, and North Head. Finally, as she draws abreast of a fairway buoy at Poor Shoal, the high land to the north closes in behind her, and the wind drops in earnest.

To the east, a trio of humpback whales roll in lazy circles. To the west, a set of range lights marks the entrance to Catalina harbor, a landlocked bay that provides the most secure anchorage on this coast for a dozen miles in either direction. I fire up the diesel engine and follow a fishing boat into a buoyed channel that leads between a pair of rocky headlands and up to a small village. I hardly notice the men who stand clustered on the government pier or the rafts of fishing vessels moored on either side, so eager am I to conclude this long and difficult night. I simply guide the sailboat into an empty berth, make a cursory check of the mooring lines, and head below for a few delicious hours of deep and dreamless sleep.

* * * * *

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit

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