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Hazards of Ocean Sailing

I pounded on the cabin top and bellowed down the companionway,
“Wake up!
“Get out! Get out!
“We are going to be hit!”

Now the ship was so close I could not see any lights, masts or bridge—they were all hidden by the flaring bow above us.

“Jump overboard off the back,” I yelled at Helena who was now frozen in a weird crouching position beside the tiller. She came to life at my voice and flew into the ocean with arms and legs resembling a wounded bird.

The freighter came on—big as a mountain—as swiftly as an avalanche—as impartial and uncaring as death.

I stayed at the companionway yelling at the two girls below until the towering black cliff was over my head. Then with my soul heavy with the knowledge that the girls were now lost, I turned and dove over the stern. I heard the heavy dull crash as the freighter rammed Neophyte before I hit the water.

Even as I entered the water, my thought was that I had waited too long. I could not possibly clear the freighter’s thrashing screws. I visualized them sucking me backward, and in one sickening instant whirling me into their grasp and spewing me out in a red foam. I forced myself to dive deeper even though l had not taken a deep breath before going under water.

My second thought was of Barb and Jenny who were undoubtedly fighting for their lives in their sinking trap. I was glad for them. Perhaps it was better that way. The picture of those sharks was fresher than ever. I honestly wished I too had stayed to die in the hull. Such a death from the freighter’s screws would beckon the sharks and they would eat me bloody chunk by chunk.

It was then that the certainty of doom numbed me. A sick cold feeling shrank my guts. Something died inside me. For an instant I didn’t want to struggle any longer.

I broke surface alongside the freighter and yelled “help” for the first time in my life. Years of construction and boat command have given me an unearthly bellow, and that yell was undoubtedly my greatest effort. I all but tore the lining out of my throat. I could not talk normally for hours afterward.

The stern of the freighter passed without an effect on me from its propellers, and I heard frantic cries from Helena.
“I’m drowning. I’m going down.”

I struck out for her voice. Within ten feet of Helena was Jenny’s guitar floating in its zipper case. I pushed it toward Helena. She wrapped her arms around it with a sob of thanks.

The sea around us suddenly became silent—a wave splash here—a gurgle there —with the freighter about a half mile away.

Then I saw an indistinct blob in the water I could not identify. Was it our dingy? I couldn’t understand how a lifeboat could be launched so quickly, but I yelled anyway: “Hey! Who is there? We are over here.”

I actually felt sick with joy when I heard Barbara and Jenny yelling, “Here Lee, over here.” My crew were crouching on the barely floating stern half of Neophyte, her mizzen mast and sail drunkenly waving in the swells as if calling attention to herself as a victim too. My ketch had been completely cut in half just aft of amidships. The bow half had apparently sunk.

I towed Helena to the wreckage.

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