55: Sailing into Danger

55: Sailing into Danger

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Sailing into Danger

Never apologize for trusting your intuition. Your brain can play tricks, your heart can be blind, but your gut is always right.

~Rachel Wolchin

My sailing knowledge was limited to an occasional trip around a park pond in a pedal boat. In spite of this, my friend Peter, an experienced sailor, insisted I was an ideal candidate for his crew. We would be relocating his boat to Florida from Ballantyne’s Cove, Nova Scotia.

With visions of Christmas in the sun, I happily signed on for the trip. The crew would consist of Peter, me, and two others.

We spent almost a week preparing the boat. Then, when we saw a break in the unpredictable fall weather, we set sail for the south. Unfortunately, the other crewmen decided to bail at the last minute so it was just the two of us. The good news was that we had lots of surplus food supplies, meaning we would not have to make many port calls to restock.

We quickly blew our way through the Canso Causeway, aided not only by the strong winds but a lack of boat traffic. As we traversed the south coast of Nova Scotia, we faced our first bout of bad weather. That night, we stayed at sea as heavy winds and short daylight hours made it impossible to make a safe harbour.

During these first few days, we faced numerous trials. On one occasion, we got lost in a river system while seeking shelter from a storm. Then, as the weather improved, we ran aground trying to make our way back out to sea.

I was beginning to find my sea legs, and my ever-present nausea was diminishing. I came to admire how Peter dealt efficiently with our various problems despite crew limitations. We both had to take multiple shifts at the helm, and there just didn’t seem to be enough time for sleep.

Finally, we made our weary way into Halifax Harbour. In the cabin, on our first day in Halifax, we discussed the next stage of the trip. The plan was to leave the coast of Nova Scotia and head due south. Peter’s intention was to gain the U.S. inland waterway as soon as possible. This system of channels would afford us protection from the worst of the Atlantic weather. Looking at the forecast, we saw an imminent clearing period that might give us enough time to make the open water crossing safely.

Moored alongside us was a boat of similar size piloted by a lone sailor. Listening to his tales and adventures left us feeling like neophytes. He had sailed extensively and now spent his time following the seasons with his boat. Over dinner that evening, we found that he was also heading south. He planned to stay away from the coast and make his first landfall around South Carolina. His boat was impressive, equipped with the latest navigational and safety equipment.

We exchanged contact details and arranged to meet up in Florida. We were all leaving the next morning.

Around midnight, however, I woke in a cold sweat. Each time I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, I relived that same dream. I saw our boat being swamped by a huge wave. With me at the helm and Peter below decks, the boat was tossed on its side like a child’s bath toy.

I turned on my nightlight and tried to read, but found I couldn’t concentrate. I kept reliving the same scenario.

First thing in the morning I told Peter about my premonition. I told him that it had such a powerful impact on me, I would not be continuing the trip.

He was incredulous. “How could you possibly give up on the strength of a bad dream?” he demanded. “You were so enthusiastic last night.”

“I’m sure that if you’d had the same premonition, you would not be sailing today,” I responded.

He peppered me with attempts to guilt me into changing my mind. “How will you get back home from Halifax?” We had left the camper with his cousin in Ballantyne’s Cove. “Hadn’t you told friends and family that you would be spending the winter in Florida?”

He was exasperated, and who could blame him? He had a lot riding on this trip. It soon dawned on him, however, that no matter how strong his argument might be, my mind was made up. I would not be sailing.

I offered to stay with him until we could find a replacement crew. “We could canvas the various sailing clubs in the area,” I said. “Surely we can find someone interested in making the trip.” After weighing everything, Peter decided the best action would be to winterize the boat and for us to head home. I think he’d come to realize that my premonition also included him and his boat. The next day, despite a positive forecast, the weather changed from mildly unsettled to very stormy. Seemingly, this is typical of hurricane season in the Atlantic. Peter now seemed more at peace with our decision.

The strengthening storm made it difficult for us to move the boat to its winter resting place, but we managed. The next day, while preparing the boat, we were met by a helpful club member. He complimented us on abandoning our trip, as the storm was now set to be full strength for at least a week. The following day, he brought us the news that the sailor we had befriended in Halifax had been lost at sea. Despite his experience and communication equipment, his boat had simply disappeared. An automatically activated emergency beacon had been detected, but nothing else. It seemed he didn’t even have time to contact the Coast Guard. The general consensus was that his boat had been swamped by a huge wave, giving him no time to react.

The possibility that our trip might have ended the same way was not lost on us. Peter never actually said as much, but I know that he was secretly glad I had taken the stand I took.

We stayed in Halifax long enough to attend a memorial service for our lost friend. Peter attended the service dressed in his naval white uniform in a show of respect and solidarity with the sailor. We both gave thanks for a premonition that was realistic and powerful enough to have re-charted the course of our lives.

~James A. Gemmell

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