A thundering express train roaring toward us, a thousand miles out in the Tasman sea

May 12, 2018 | Passages

It came again. A thundering express train roaring toward us, a thousand miles out in the Tasman sea. We braced ourselves against the lee-boards, but it was done without thinking now, after twenty-four hours. The waiting was the worst: the noise a warning of what was to come. The wall of water hit the boat side on; she lurched, juddered, and fell with a heart-stopping crash over on her port side. Green water flowed over the cabin top, down the windows, and out of the cockpit drains. Slowly, reluctantly she righted herself, and so did we, eyes searching anxiously around at our small, damp cabin. The companionway hatches were still in place, and the portlights intact. We had long ago drawn the curtains, not wanting to see the huge swells that loomed higher than our 9 metre mast; not wanting to be part of the bleak greyness and fury outside, or to see the waves fuming down to engulf our little vessel. The dripping heap of the #2 genoa lay on the cabin sole, the storm jib on top. Yesterday Graeme had struggled for half an hour to dowse the sail, held on to the plunging, bucketing boat by his harness, and we’d been too exhausted to do more than shove it down through the companionway before we shut the hatch and wedged ourselves into our bunks.

I was terrified. I’d been nervous right up until the storm hit, and used to push a hot water bottle up inside my jacket to try and quell the physical trembling; but boiling a kettle was unthinkable in these conditions. Surely this wasn’t how it was supposed to be? Graeme had been in some ferocious blows before, but Cook Strait gales of 40 knots or so had been the limit of my experience. We both knew from the screeching whine in the rigging and the white spume of the seas that this was no ordinary gale, and were only to find out later that it had been near hurricane force. How could he stand it? In a little voice I asked him.

“Graeme…are you frightened?”

The reply came swiftly, matter-of-fact.

“Only a fool wouldn’t be frightened in these circumstances.”

“Oh good!” I thought; and funnily enough, felt calmer.

Graeme continued. “I know you hate it- so do I. If this is cruising, forget it! When we get out of this we’ll sell the boat and fly home. I think I’d even prefer to go back to work!”

And so our cruise of seven years nearly ended after a week. Would we have left if we had known everything that lay ahead for us? My thoughts wandered back to how it all started.

Extract from Graeme and Gilly Wallaces travels.

Graeme and Gilly Wallaces being presented with the N.Z. H28 Yacht Association Blue Water Medal