Tales of the High Seas

June 3rd, 2010

By Dan Miller

After retiring from his law practice in 1996, Dan and his wife cruised the Caribbean in their sailboat, the Namaste, until 2001.  Then they settled inland on a finca in rural Panama.  This article was first published back then in Caribbean CompassThe stories are fictional; the photos are real.

When you visit non-cruisers back home, keep in mind that they have very short attention spans but love vicarious excitement. Be sure to tell them all about your hair-raising adventures. They don’t want to hear about the pleasant anchorages where you enjoyed candle light suppers, or the nights spent under sail in perfect conditions ghosting silently along with millions of stars above and thousands of little sparkles of phosphorescence below. NO! They are not the least interested in that sort of thing, nor should they be. Not even old Mom! She likes to know that you are in full command of all situations, and can shake off mortal danger like a duck sheds water.

They want Violence! Disaster! That’s what they watch on television, isn’t it? And that’s what they hear about almost exclusively on the news. You don’t want to bore them to tears, do you? Of course not. In case you haven’t had any really hair-raising experiences (most cruisers spend years without any), here are a few templates you can use. By all means, flesh them out to fit your audience.

— 1 —

There we were, five hundred miles off shore and the category six hurricane was fast approaching. There was nothing to do but ride it out. The winds were already up to force nine, and the barometer was already down to 958 millibars (use of a few technical terms and nautical expressions makes you seem more authoritative). Let me tell you, it was beastly, and getting worse by the minute. Soon, the winds were blowing more than a hundred and fifty knots, the waves were so high we felt like we were at the bottom of the grand canyon, and then all of a sudden we were looking down into a bottomless pit. Well, old Storm Tossed can really take punishment, and we are experienced cruisers, so we can too.

When Maude was swept overboard by a breaking rogue wave that night, it was all I could do to get her back on board. For a minute there, I thought she was a goner for sure! Even after I got her back on board, she just lay there, mumbling. But what the Hell! She’s been sort of like that most of the time since we started cruising. When the eye of the hurricane passed right over us, it was a big relief for a while, but then it was worse than ever. It was a good thing that Maude was able to cook a big spaghetti dinner while the eye was right over us, because as soon as it passed, we were in the same sort of stuff for more than forty hours. We’d have starved.

— 2 —

Everything was peachy, and we were happily sailing along at close to fifteen knots in a thirty knot breeze and twenty foot seas; just surfing down one big wave after another. It was great! Old Storm Tossed really loves that sort of sailing, let me tell you, and so do we. Yes Sir! We are experienced cruisers, and Storm Tossed is a real sturdy boat, all thirty-eight feet of her. Well, just after dark, there was this loud bang! I thought for sure at first that we were under attack by the Saint Vincent Navy. But no, it was just a big container, probably fell off one of those enormous container ships in a storm. There are lots of bad storms at sea, you know, and those containers fall off all the time. Thousands of them each year, just in the Caribbean. The big shipping companies do their best to cover up and keep it quiet, but it happens all the time.

Anyway, the fool container was mostly submerged, and I couldn’t see it at all. We had hit really hard. Well, just imagine. There I was on watch, and Maude was down below trying to get some shut eye. I didn’t want to disturb her, but I was sort of worried that with the water gushing in through the big hole in the hull, we might just sink pretty soon. No life raft, of course. Don’t have room on board, and we wouldn’t have one of those things, anyway. Just a big nuisance, and you hardly ever need them if you’re experienced cruisers like us. So, I jumped overboard and swam forward with a sheet of heavy plywood and some under water epoxy. Boy, is that good stuff! In less than ten minutes, I had that damn hole fixed and was back on board. I had to be real quick, because of all the sharks. Good thing I had my dive knife along. I stabbed the biggest shark, and all the others fed on him while I worked on old Storm Tossed.

Maude didn’t even realize what had happened till I told her about it when we changed watches just at daybreak. When I told her that the container had big “High Explosives” warnings stencils all over the place, even she got a little scared. Good thing it was submerged. I guess the water got to the explosives, and we were just plain lucky. Being out there is tough, but we experienced cruisers sure can take it.

— 3 —

There was a brilliant red sky that morning, so I knew for sure that we were in for bad weather. The waves were already coming over the breakwater just outside the marina, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a good place to be in a few hours. The weather forecast the night before had mentioned a tropical storm brewing, but we had decided to wait and see what would happen. No use getting all excited about that sort of thing prematurely; just let nature take its course. Now we knew, and it was time to get out of there. The storm was going to hit, and hit hard. I got the engine started, while Maude let go the dock lines, and we were out of there in a flash. Heading out to sea. That’s where real cruisers want to be if there is bad weather. We know the sea real well, and that’s the best place to be, believe me. No doubt about it.

Well, within less than an hour, the clouds closed in and the rain was coming down in sheets. Couldn’t even see Storm Tossed’s bows from the cockpit. The radar was useless, and the GPS all of a sudden didn’t work any more. There probably were some other boats, even some big ships, out there, but there was no way we could see them or they could see us. Couldn’t even hear them, over the sound of the wind and the waves. Must have been more than eighty feet high, some of those waves. Let me tell you, it was just a tad scary. Of course, I knew that we’d be all right. Maude and I just love the sea, and I have an uncanny sense of direction. It was a short storm, as storms at sea go, and lasted only a week. We rode it out just fine. It was a bit rocky when the winds hit better than a hundred knots and blew the wind speed indicator right off the top of the mast, but other than that we had no damage at all. We keep old Storm Tossed in tip top condition, and are always ready to go to sea on a minute’s notice. You really gotta be ready all the time, you know.

Well, when the storm was over, I knew right where we were, and it took only an hour to get back to the place where the marina used to be. It was a shambles: broken boats, masts, and stuff were all over the place, and we had to anchor outside, about half a mile off shore. But we were fine, and our splendid seapersonship had saved the day. We sure do love sailing! You ought to give it a try — come for a visit sometime, why don’t you. You won’t be bored for a minute, let me tell you. We guarantee it. A heart transplant operation, you say? Gee, I’m really sorry to hear about that. Maybe in a month or so when you’ve got all your health back. Don’t want to rush things, you know.

* * *

You get the idea. The wilder the better. If you keep a straight face and look sufficiently salty, they will believe and relish every word. With stories much more exciting than the latest neighborhood rape, armed robbery, or football game, you will have their full attention. You will be widely known as a Super Sailor. Not only that, you will be helping to keep a bunch of wimpy wannabe cruisers on shore, where they belong.


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6 Responses to “Tales of the High Seas”



  1. larry ennis |

    Dan
    Furthest I every cruised was on an abalone boat going from Catalina Island to Tijuana and then of course back again. My dad and I took the trip with an abalone diver named Al Hanson(Hansen?). The boat was called the “Jeanie”. She was diesel powered and not really that big as ocean going boats go. Al went down into Mexico to buy a small barge to use as a floating tool carrier for some salvage work he was doing. Even back then TJ was a rat hole. The seller of the barge,a greasy looking SOB insisted on gringo dollars. Al made him tow the barge out to us and help tie off the tow lines to Jeanie. The seller was then paid and we got the hell out of there with the barge in tow.
    I’ve seen some of the things you described. The most fascinating were the flying fish that lived in the water off Catalina.


  2. d |

    No,Larry,we want to hear about how you saved the boat,and your lives in shark,jellyfish,and even a whale or two,infested waters. Maybe even when drug runners were,unjustly, chasing you. Maybe too, when you landed slap dab in the middle of the Burmuda triangle,without a working radio or compass.
    When I was 11,my sisters great boyfriend,had a small sailboat. He promised,much to our delight, to take us,her obnoxious little brother and sister,sailing. This was a beautiful experience,until the vessle turned over in deep water,our fault,he was a real jerk about this point. We had to tread water for,what seemed hours ,waiting for someone to pass by and want to carry our motley crew back to shore. Finally we were saved. Then we had to hear about it until she,mercifully,broke up with him. A bad experience,but sort of funny now,not then, at all. Thankful for no sharks,but the lake turtles,had their way with us.


  3. larry ennis |

    d
    I’ve had limited experience with sail boats. Nothing exciting and with all the perils you mention.
    I once was foolish enough to let someone talk me into suiting up in a hard hat deep sea diving outfit and jumping into 60 feet of Pacific Ocean in Avalon Harbor. One of the few times I succumbed to absolute fear. What a frightening experience!


  4. Tom Carter |

    I would definitely qualify as one of those “wimpy wannabe cruisers” who would best remain on shore. I went sailing once, on a small sailboat, and not on the ocean. Very slow and pretty boring, to be honest. Then I got a bit of a discussion on how quickly things can go south in ocean sailing, this from an Army colonel colleague who later retired and sailed the Caribbean with his wife, as you did. But he’d been sailing for years and seemed to know the business. I’ll stick to airplanes and ground-bound things with wheels!


  5. Dan Miller |

    Tom,

    Cruising is often boring; not unlike flying.

    Nevertheless, there are many wholesome ways to avoid boredom.


  6. Tom Carter |

    Great Monty Python video! That’s one reason I was never much interested in being an airline pilot — all those long, dead hours between A and B.


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