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44 - Dead Run

Sickly, gray luminescence radiated from the low overcast. Sunrise, I guess. Through the night we took turns salvaging what we could, cursing and crying about what we couldn't. Absolutely everything was drenched. Boadicea was pretty much a wreck. The mondo, hulking, house batteries had torn free of their restraints. A couple of the connection posts ripped clean out of their lead cores. We could only guess where all the acid went. One might have exploded. Other than having spewed deadly sulfuric acid all over the underside of our bunk, it looked like a tin of beans that blew up in a campfire.

Elena Ivanova sits in the companionway of Boadicea, her and Meg's yacht in the North Pacific ocean, north of forty degrees latitude, in the middle of winter. Photographed by Meg Stone
Elena sits in the companionway, taking a breather from the war on deck. North Pacific ocean, north of forty, the dead of winter.

Good thing our boat came with bike-theft sized bolt cutters. I put them to good use, hacking out what was left of the house electrical system then wiring anything vital into the engine's starter battery. Nasty. Probably dangerous, but it got the electrics online. The autopilot was back. Yay! Of course, I made sure we could start the engine and that its alternator generated electricity. Check! At the time, we really didn't need the engine for power. The wind turbine -- screaming like a banshee in the incessant gale -- gave us all the electricity we needed.

"The yacht is sound?" Elena asked. "I mean, damage was to things that do not make it a sailboat, but make it comfortable, da?"

"You mean life-support? Yeah, that's all trashed. But we're still sailing, we're still afloat. Still alive. Not sinking. So, sure, it's still a sailboat. If that's what you mean by, 'the yacht is sound'."

We were heading southeast -- straight for that thousand-mile chasm. The wind and waves were behind us, off our right side. It wasn't super comfy, but it wasn't too bad. "Heading north'll be just as shitty as last night, and it'll probably get shittier."

"Right, Meg. In that case, we need to change the sails."

Monstrous waves in the North Pacific Ocean in wintertime. Photographed from Boadicea, by Meg Stone.
Storm force wind and waves in the North Pacific ocean in winter. Photo taken from inside Boadicea.

* * *

I grabbed a box of Froot Loops and wedged myself in beside Elena. The galley table, seeing as it is bolted to the boat's frame, works the same way that bar does on a roller coaster. It keeps you from falling out when you're upside down. Ooooh, how I love those frooty little Os! I hoover them down straight from the box. No milk or bowl needed, which prevents colorful, sticky messes on the ceiling.

"You are going to eat that now?" Elena looked wistfully at the box in my arms.

"Ahhh, yeah. I thought I might."

"But then box will be empty." Her eyes had just started to glisten with tears. "How could you! Please can you eat something else?"

"Want some? Help yourself."

"No! One box, you have finished already." She took the cereal from me, held the box, ran her seawater shriveled fingers over the cheerful, cartoon toucan. "I have not told to you this. But this box makes my heart ache. I know that soon it shall be empty. Then I will put this innocent box in the sea where I know it will decay in a world without light. It could never be imagined that such a thing as this box would be swallowed by those black waves. I will see it sinking until I can no longer see it."

Meg Stone stands in the cockpit of Boadicea in the North Pacific ocean. Photograph by Elena Ivanova
Meg adjusts sail trim from the cockpit.

"Ah hah, that's why there are empty jars in the cockpit." Truth be told, I knew exactly how she felt. There was a lump in my throat too.

"Sometimes I cannot do it, Meg. I think what was in it when I was eating from it. Just having it made me feel better. Then to imagine this thing that I held, that I cherish, that I cling to because it is a part of my world, a part of my life, dropping into the cold, dark. I cannot do it." She got up from the table, returned the Froot Loops to the cupboard and went to the cockpit.

An open logbook lay on the settee. I read what she had written: "So hard to be hundreds of miles away from land and five thousand meters above the abyss. Hard to feel myself a grain of sand. Oh Meg, they say hope dies last and that hope lies in one word for me now, 'Us.' We did something very different, you and I. We dropped everything we knew. We gave up everything we had, and found ourselves running for our lives, and fighting for everything we got. It happened so fast, and not for adventure, and that is how we became exiles.

"There is nobody but us. Nobody else who knows or cares. If we were gone the world wouldn't change a bit. The lonely seagull, if even she, would be the only creature witnessing our death. But we would have died trying. We would die together... as we always wanted. That is a very scary thought, but you are in the cockpit and Boadicea is sailing and the Pacific lies before us and I want to have a life with you."

Elena Ivanova clings to the cockpit wall, staggered by exhaustion in the North Pacific Ocean. Photographed by Meg Stone
Elena, hanging on in the cockpit, utterly exhausted.

* * *

Days passed like months and we were still thrashing our way north. Jon couldn't send enough satellite email telling us to get fifty degrees north -- the latitude of Vancouver island -- before we even thought about giving up any of our sea-room and making a run for the coast. He vowed we wanted the winter storms behind us at all cost. By krikey, how hard it was not to run the boat aground in Oregon and say, "Just freaking arrest me."

We reduced sail going into each front but stubbornly stayed our northern course. The wind got colder, stronger. The rain came down heavier and longer. We knew we were sailing, quite literally, into the heart of winter. The three of us -- me, Elena and Boadicea -- were taking an incredible beating. How we faced that angry sea and got out alive, is still kind of a mystery to me.

Our world had gone from tropical blue, to sinister slate black. How could it have been the same ocean or even the same planet? The horizon was a ragged chorus line of white streaked wave crests. An interface with the sky of black and gray, always in motion.

Although we didn't voice it, we were both watching for cracks in the boat and in each other. Things broke loose, equipment failed, ropes snapped, sails and nerves frayed. Still, we reached northward, to either the breaking point, or the time and place we would swing the bow east and run for home.

Elena Ivanova and Meg Stone keeping warm by the engine of Boadicea in the North Pacific Ocean
Elena and Meg keeping warm by the engine in the North Pacific ocean.

* * *

It was pitch dark. It had to be night. I crawled from our nest of spinnaker, bedding, clothing and soft stuff. I put on the kettle. Elena was outside at the helm, waging war with the waves. I downloaded the weather. It was seriously, not good. Okay, I can tell you now, that for the first time since I had started looking at the sterile hieroglyphics on weather charts, I was freaking terrified.

Watch keeping in the cockpit of Boadicea, seen from inside the closed companionway during inclement weather.
Either Elena or Meg (no way to tell in full offshore survival gear) stand watch outside the closed companionway.

Elena looked at the forecast chart, disinterested -- detached. "Is this current? Is it the latest?"

"Uh.. yeah, 'fraid so."

She looked again. Muttered, "Force twelve. Huh, isn't that hurricane force? Things really do not get better for us. Hey, hurry up and get out there with me. We need to deal with this."

The kettle whistled. Coffee! I glanced at Elena's cities list. Holy kapoosta, she'd crossed off Seattle. Time to turn and run.

It was snowing outside. Something else Elena hadn't mentioned. What the hell!? Better than rain, I supposed. We kissed goodnight with numb lips, and Elena dove below for some shut-eye. Watching the companionway slide shut and standing all alone in an open cockpit on a fourteen meter, plastic, charter sailboat in the middle of the North Pacific, in the driving snow, in a dead run ahead of an overtaking hurricane force front -- let's just say, I wasn't a happy camper.

Meg Stone in the cockpit of Boadicea in the North Pacific Ocean. Photograph by Elena Ivanova
Meg grins for this shot taken by Elena in the North Pacific Ocean.

Nothing specific indicated frontal passage. The wind increased, the waves got bigger. Honestly, I thought it was physically impossible. There must have been a moon above the clouds because something provided enough light to make out the crests of liquid mountains approaching from behind. Perched on a crest and looking back, I couldn't see to the bottom of the following trough. It was like there was no bottom at all. So we fell, stern first, off the edge of the world with each wave passing underneath.

I wasn't sure when it happened, but around four in the morning it was ominously quiet. The wind turbine wasn't howling like a banshee, yet the wind hadn't eased up. I switched on the floods. They looked like huge, light emitting boogers. The wind turbine was completely encased in ice! Frozen solid. "Bollocks!" The autopilot used significant power and we only had one battery. I killed the flood boogers, switched to my flashlight. The rigging, deck, lifelines and sails were coated in a centimeter thick layer of ice. Even the hatch covers were glazed over. No surprise there, the inside temperature was the same as outside.

I chipped ice from the companionway and kicked it open. Elena was barely conscious. Burrowed into our nest, her breath was shallow, her skin freezing and she wasn't shivering. We had this glorified, alcohol fondue burner velcroed to the floor in the main salon. It had long since gone out. "I'm going to start the engine. We need the electricity and the heat it gives off."

Elena Ivanova aboard Boadicea, with an offshore nautical chart of the waters near Vancouver island. Photographed by Meg Stone
Although half dead, Elena smiles, holding a chart with their final destination.

* * *

The wind was from right behind -- a dead run. We were flying! We covered so much distance each day I thought the chart plotter had malfunctioned. The wind eased slightly, settling on about forty knots and the temperature rose to a few degrees above freezing. For days, Elena sat on the galley table watching dark, foaming waves flying past the windows. Sitting cross legged, grasping a rail above her head, silhouetted by windows that were occasionally underwater, she looked like a warrior goddess. She told me she thought of us as gods because we alone could control and shape our destiny in the middle of an ocean. We had become hands cranking winches and holding fast, minds analyzing and calculating, spirits reaching beyond the visible horizon. That we had become one entity; the yacht, Elena and me.

Chart plotter showing the position of Boadicea entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca
Chart plotter showing Boadicea's position entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A sight Elena and Meg could hardly conceive of a year earlier.

We were both below when something sounded like an atomic bomb above deck. Elena was perched on the table, cross legged. I was sitting like a supplicant before her at the table, scarfing Froot Loops. "What the fu..." Scrambling topside, I saw a tiny speck climb, bank and turn back toward us. "Fighter jet! Cover your ears!" It roared along in slow flight, circling us a few times, then it throttled up and thundered off.

"What do you suppose it wanted?" Elena asked.

"I have no idea. We're nearly two-hundred miles out. Closing on their coast, and they have probably been tracking us. Sent out reconnaissance. Making sure we're not a refugee boat or Soviet sub. Probably just letting us know they are watching us and won't be terribly welcoming."

We were visited by another American fighter jet a day after our first private airshow. Thirty miles west of the coast, we were still in international waters, a lot closer to Canada than USA. Still, they share a border. Our only hope was to be on the Canadian side of it before USA sent their coast guard out hunting for us.

Elena Ivanova, exhausted, at the mast to take down the mainsail in the North Pacific Ocean. Photographed by Meg Stone
Elena, at the mast and utterly exhausted. North Pacific ocean.

* * *

The radar, silent for weeks, went nuts with collision warnings. We fell all over each other in a race to the screen. "Targets! Dozens of em. All over." Elena flew up the companionway. I fiddled with the gain. "No, wait. Just one target, and it's huge. Covers the whole top of the screen."

Elena cross checked with the chart plotter. "Choomeechka, it is Vancouver Island. It is Canada!" Visibility was three miles at best through steady rain and mist. It didn't matter. She took the wheel, disengaged the autopilot and steered for what the chart plotter told us was Carmanah point. She damn well wasn't going to miss first sight.

"Depth! Meg, we have depth!" The sea floor had been rising from the deep. Land had to be near but we still couldn't see it. The wind eased, dropping below gale force for the first time in weeks, and then, it almost became calm. Elena smelled it before we saw it. "Forest, conifers, dirt. It is there!" Finally, from the top of a swell, a jagged, dark line coalesced from the mist and pulled away from the sky. "Land! It is Canada. I can see trees. Meg, trees!"

First sight of land, the forest on Vancouver island, Canada. Photograph by Elena Ivanova
Elena makes first sight of land, in this case, Canada! The forest on the edge of Vancouver island. She took this picture, of course.

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