On the journey's 14th day the rough conditions abated. "Warm, not too windy, and absolutely wonderful," reports the journal.
Our ship's batteries nearly depleted, I installed the trolling generator for the first time. This apparatus consisted of an electric generator housed in a gimballed bracket attached to the afterdeck, and a hundred feet of half-inch line trailing astern and terminated with a propeller. Towed through the water, the whirling propeller spun the generator. In theory this idea had seemed valid; but in practice the trolling line would frequently hockle into an inoperative glob of rope, requiring me to haul aboard the tangled hodgepodge in order to straighten the line.
Flying fish, six to ten inches in length, continually whizzed this way and that, a few inches over the water like errant Frisbees. Our daily allotment was one. When this gift of the sea was not received in the watchkeeper's lap as a tail-buzzing, smelly endowment, it would be found more circumspectly at daybreak lying deceased somewhere on deck. We had not yet come to realize the culinary potential of these dead fish, and once I tossed one to a passing red-footed booby, a type of pelagic seabird. Showing not the slightest appetite for my bestowal, but tracking it like an computerized radar antenna, the bird watched the lifeless fish arc upward toward it, and down into the water with a splash. These birds function largely on instinct, I supposed, and a dead fish catapulting so high - yet so inanimate - did not fit the mold. Or perhaps these birds simply prefer their fish fresh. For after all, the boobies would chase living flying fish continually, and in so doing they provided us with endless entertainment.
Freeing a Line Caught in the Propeller
In a few days the seas calmed considerably, meaning that it was time for the skipper to abandon ship.
Being only fair, I never asked my companion - however brave she always proved herself to be, whatever the task - to do any job that I would not have done myself. And this job certainly fell into that category. So with no little trepidation it was now time for me to clear the ship's propeller. It seemed that during the storm, one end of a jib sheet had worked free and washed through a scupper, and from there it had fouled the slowly free-spinning prop. We had tried to haul the line free by pulling from different angles. We started the engine and nudged the transmission into reverse gear, but this only killed the engine. We even tried winching the line ever so gently so as not to break the prop shaft and possibly sinking the boat. Alas, the task was unavoidable. I had to go overboard, knife in teeth like a pirate, and slash away the fouling line.
I eased the leeward jib sheet and winched in the weather sheet, backwinding the jib and causing Suka to heave-to. This slowed us to one and a half knots. This was still too fast, so we dowsed all sail and lay the ketch to. At this, she stopped dead in the water, pivoted beam on, and began to roll heavily. Moreover, because of the sizable swell running, each passing wave bounced the boat's stern high into the air, then slammed it down with a great splash.
“The prospect of casting myself into the boisterous seas was not appealing.”
The prospect of casting myself into the boisterous seas was not in the least appealing. Aside from the hazards of the waves, I imagined that surely great white sharks were lurking everywhere down there. So after rigging all manner of safety lines, then donning mask and snorkel, I climbed a few steps down a makeshift knotted rope ladder. As the hull splashed down I leaned far over and momentarily plunged my head into the water. An instant later, still clinging to the rope ladder I was elevated high into the air. Having managed a momentary look around underwater, I had not noticed sharks; but I had seen tiny jellyfish by the hundreds.
This was no pleasure swim; that line had to be cut free of the prop. So I donned a pair of flippers and simply jumped overboard.
The clarity of the water was astounding! Looking downward I could see long shafts of sunlight plunging deeply into a fathomless abyss. A ghastly chill ran down my spine. But at least the tiny jellyfish weren't stinging, so pushing aside my emotions I inhaled deeply, submerged, and swam to the prop. Despite the hull's severe motion, clinging to the rudder proved remarkably easy. The line was wrapped many times around the propeller shaft so tight that I could not unwrapped it, so I had to slice through the wraps and I soon had the line cut free.
Resurfacing, I swam around the boat like an astronaut suspended in hyperspace and drifting about his life-sustaining capsule. Scrupulously I inspected the hull as it bounced about, as though suspended in a pellucid, but turbulent cosmos. The hull's fittings appeared sound: the through-hulls, the bobstay stemhead fitting, the sounder transducer and knot-meter paddle-wheel, the propeller, the rudder, and the self-steering brackets were all looking fine. So I climbed back aboard.
The prospect of jumping into those heavy seas had seemed rather appalling, yet contrary to expectations the job had proved ridiculously easy. It was a good lesson, yet again.