As the conditions worsened, the choppy wavelets turned into serpent-like waves constantly caressing the ship with their tongues as we cut a path through the ocean forest. But as the winds grew, so did the waves! Soon they were more like mythical sea-creatures tossing us about like a piece of driftwood. The waves now had reached heights of about 25 feet. The Lady Gail bounced about fiercely like a giant cork fighting to stay afloat as some unseen force tried to submerge it. We had hit a storm with gale force winds, which was quickly turning into an "Extra-Tropical Cyclone" which is basically like a hurricane except occurring in the Pacific Ocean. The waves were now upwards of 40 feet. I remember Dad and Mom both struggling at the helm* to keep the boat from capsizing. This was a careful balance between throttling and steering. If the angle was too sharp leading us straight into the wave, the boat could rise up the wave and come crashing down. If the angle was not sharp enough, the wave would broad side us. Several times the boat almost flipped over. Everything that was not bolted, fastened or tied down became a projectile. Stereo equipment, ashtrays, bottles and more were all on the move. The sound of that awful storm with its wind, rain and thunder was mixed in with the violent thuds and the sound of glass breaking left and right. Underneath the screaming you could hear creaking. These were the moans of our wooden vessel as she was battered and tossed about by the waves. These were cries of pain as her wooden panels stretched and water seeped in to the lower hull*.
Years ago, I saw the movie The Perfect Storm. They did an incredible job! The scenes were so real I remember being hurled back into the past and reliving that dreadful day. Standing up was almost impossible. Just like the objects that were being hurled around, we too were being bounced around like Muppets. I was hanging on for dear life and I remember my Sister crying as Mom held her over a bowl while she threw up.
With both hands free, Mom wrestled her way back inside. As she shut the door, you could hear the muffled sound of the deafening beasts outside. Once in the relative safety of the cabin, I remember she flipped on the switch to the bilge pump*. Spurt-spurt, gurgle-gurgle, purr it replied and seemingly began to strike up a foul conversation with the beasts outside who were howling and speaking in tongues.
We were taking on a lot of water. Every time we rose up the side of the wave, the ship, not so graciously would perform a giant belly flop onto the other side. This had loosened the caulking between the wooden planks of the hull*, increasing the natural seepage of water to a steady incoming swish. Every muscle in our ships body was feeling the strain. The engines moaned each time we forged ahead. Each new wave would seemingly change the engines’ hum to a different tone. The panels creaked and groaned as the waves twisted at us. Michelle and I were crying and the purr from the bilge pump was strained as it struggled to pump out the enormous amounts of water that were slowly building in the bowels of the ship. Suddenly, the purr turned into a violent whine and a burning electrical smell filled the cabin. I could even taste it. It was like burnt rubber! And the pump went silent!! Inside the bridge* the foul smell of the pump burning out still lingered and was being mixed with the smell of the dampness and the cold. I will always remember that smell. It was the smell of fear, danger and death.
Mom kept flipping the switch on and off, off and on, hoping that by some miracle the pump would come back to life. It was almost like an emergency room hospital scene, where a patient on a gurney has just gone into cardiac arrest. The doctor rips off the patients’ robe; places the defibrillator paddles on his chest and yells “Clear!” as the limp body convulses a few inches into the air. This is followed by the steady high-pitched tone on the cardiac monitors and a nurse finally saying “it’s no use! We’ve lost him”. The fearless doctor, however, won’t give up. After a couple more tries and a little more drama, the patient stabilizes and all is well! In our case, sadly and frighteningly, the patient flat-lined! That bilge pumps’* good old pumping days were over. It’s funny how they say dogs can sense fear because I think my canine instincts surfaced at that moment. I could smell the fear in the air as my parents exchanged glances as they battled to save the ship and our lives.
Dad seemed to have a plan. He traded places with Mom, leaving her at the helm* and quickly asked me to come with him. We struggled down the stairs to try and make our way to the aft* cabin. Even thought it was no more than 60 feet from us, it took forever. We tried walking, but every time we stood up, we would be flung about. The safest way to get there was to crawl. With every new wave, a cupboard door would either open or slam shut. More bottles would break, smash and be hurled in front of us like projectiles. It was as if two invisible adversaries were on either side of the ship having a colossal food fight.
As we made our way through the maze, it seemed like we crawled for miles. Past the engine room, the kitchen, the dining room, the guess room and finally arrived at the stern*. Dad knew we had a backup pump in the poop deck*. It was one of those old-style manual lift-pumps with a large lever, similar to the ones used in water wells. (See example pictured above). It was bolted to the wall and had a fire-hose attached to it that could be draped out the back of the ship through the rear canopy. Dad started pumping and then we took turns. For every painful stroke, small spurts of seawater would reunite with Mother Ocean. It was as if we were offering tribute to the sea monsters outside, placating their wrath in the hopes they would spare our lives.
The process was dreadfully slow. Even though we soon became exhausted, we kept going because we knew we were literally pumping for our lives. After about 45 minutes we went back to the bridge to rest. Mom was at the helm, spinning the wheel like a mad woman only pausing for a brief moment between each wave. The ship would rebound after each wave and then we would all brace ourselves in preparation for the next one about to smash into us. My heart was pounding and my legs and arms felt weak and wobbly. Michelle was still sprawled out on the floor between the coffee table and the couch. I could hear her whimpering.
Dad powered up the radio. It made a humming sound as it warmed up and you could hear white noise fill the cabin. “Kshhhh, kshhhh” you could hear the static as he picked up the mouth piece. “Mayday, mayday, this is the Lady Gail. Does anybody copy? Mayday, mayday, this is the Lady Gail. To any vessel, this is an S.O.S. I repeat, this is an S.O.S.”. There was no reply. All you could hear was raspy static filling the air. The fact that nobody answered sent chills down my spine. I knew our situation was worsening by the minute. A little voice inside my head was saying “you are going to die…you are too young to die.” Suddenly I found myself crying uncontrollably. Then I started mumbling between sobs: “I knew we shouldn’t have come out here. Now we are all going to die!” The fear and conflict I was experiencing had started to bubble outwards like too many Alka Seltzer tablets in a small glass of water. I was actually blaming Mom and Dad for our predicament. I hope they didn’t notice. Probably not though, since they kind of had their hands full at the time!
Dad kept trying the radio for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the hissing sound of the radio was interrupted by crackling voice: “This is the US Coast Guard to the Lady Gail, over…do you copy? Please state your position.” This was followed by a 15-minute exchange of coordinates and information about our ship. Yes!!! Relief! But..alas…what seemed like our only glimmer of hope was soon shattered as we learned that the conditions were so bad near the shore that even the Coast Guard could not attempt a rescue until the weather improved! It was too risky. Unfortunately, we would have to wait it out. As our ship continued to be tossed, we endured another 5 hours of pounding waves and howling demons.
At some point we started to notice subtle changes. The waves’ directions seemed to shift. They felt different and somehow benevolent. We no longer seemed to be in danger of capsizing every ten minutes. The winds also appeared less violent. Throughout the next two hours, the rain, wind and waves gradually faded. It was as if we had videotaped our entrance to the storm and were now playing the tape backwards. We spotted a ray of sunshine in the distance ahead. The boat was now rolling. You could feel it go up-down-roll, up-down-roll. The waves were still huge, but you couldn’t really tell because they were like bill rolling hills stretched out into the horizon as far as you could see. Up-down-roll…and for the first time in hours we all started to feel much better. I remember being able to stand up straight and walk about, as long as I held on to something along the way.
Mom and I went on pump duty for about an hour…
Since the weather had calmed considerably, we opened the canopy on the poop deck* allowing us to see outside. What we saw next will remain burned in my memory until the day I die. It was breathtaking. Rays of sun had sliced their way through the clouds. We could see beams gleaming down from the heavens shinning like flashlights on the ocean all around us. The motion of the ship had been reduced to a hardly noticeable roll caused by smooth and gentle waves. Behind us, we could see the violent thundering clouds drifting away.
I was not scared anymore. “I knew we weren’t going to die,” I said to myself rather sheepishly as Mom and I ran up to the bridge* to get a better look. The view was beautiful. The sun was out and the demons had vanished. The ocean had changed floors. It was no longer like the deep blue we had seen before the storm. It was a strange shade of murky green. Even though it was beautiful, something seemed amiss. There was an eerie surreal feeling permeating in the air. It felt as if we were very close to the coast, yet the shore-line was nowhere to be seen. On the horizon, in every direction, you could see impenetrable walls of clouds. It was quiet. In fact, it was too quiet!
What I didn’t know at the time is that this was no ordinary storm. We had just entered the eye of a massive cyclone! And after a short reprieve, the entire violent episode seemed to replay over and over again as we entered the opposite side of the hurricane. The slow building of the waves, the wind, the rain and the thunder. However, this time, we really didn’t know if the ship could take it. The water level down below kept rising and was dangerously high…
By the time we were spat out on the other end, about 7 hours later, the boat was sinking. I remember the engine room being completely submerged. The pounding of the waves had taken their toll. Dad figured we had a couple of hours before the ship went under. The waves were smooth rollers, probably between 10 and 20 feet high. The boat was rolling again, but this time more lethargically. Up-down-roll…up-down-roll. It was about 3:00AM the next morning as another desperate Mayday went out on the radio. You could hear the sound of our engines whining on the radio. Suddenly more crackling and a voice: “This is the US Coast Guard Cutter to the Lady Gail. Do you copy?” Help was on the way! A chopper had been dispatched earlier as the hurricane moved past us. “Lady Gail, this is the US Coast Guard Chopper.” Next, we saw what looked like fireworks. Several flares had been dropped ahead of us. What a beautiful sight! First a brilliant red one, then a green one. I felt safe again amongst these beacons of safety. We were told to circle the flares until the Coastguard Cutter could reach us.
What followed next was a desperate race between the rescuers and the rising water that had already submerge our engine room. The brave men and women of US Coastguards’ Quillayite River Station from the small town of La Push, Washington had arrived! Had it not been for their heroic efforts, we would not be here today. Below are photos of from their Facebook Page, clicking on any of the photos will take you to their page.
Stay tuned. THIS WAS JUST THE BEGINNING!.
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