University of Washington, Seattle
April 6, 1957
Dear Mother and Daddy,
Thanks for the postcard from Carmel- it sounds like you had a great time.
Norma and I will be taking the bus to Oakland around June 15. Do you have a sleeping bag, by any chance? A friend offered to lend me his, but Norma doesn’t have one ...
David awakened me Saturday morning, shaking my shoulder gently.
“Kate, wake up; we’re going to leave early.”
David had lit one of the kerosene lamps, and when I opened my eyes, I saw he was already dressed and seated across from me at the table, bent over a chart of Puget Sound. Outside it was still dark. The increasing wind the weather bureau had predicted the night before was blowing aloft, and as Sturmvogel swung in restless arcs around her anchor, the chain grumbled against the bow rollers.
I yawned, stretched widely and poked my right leg into David’s side of the sleeping bag. It was frigid, and I withdrew hastily. Leaning out of the bag, I reached beneath the table, felt for David’s ankle, and ran my hand up inside his pants, grazing the hair on his calf with my fingertips. David looked under the table at me, our eyes met, and he smiled.
"What do you think you’re doing, young lady?”
“Trying to lure you back to bed; it’s cold in here without you.”
He tweaked my nose, affectionately. “Not this morning, Kate. I’ll make it up to you in Seattle.”
“What time is it?”
“Four thirty. Put on some clothes and let's have breakfast. We need to get going as soon as possible.”
I groaned. “My travel agent warned me about these shipboard romances. Why do you want to leave so early, anyway? Last night you said the tide won’t turn at Deception Pass until ten and it only takes a couple of hours to get there.”
David was measuring off distances on the chart with a pair of dividers; he held up an index finger to indicate he was busy and didn’t answer immediately. He wrote down some figures on a note pad and then looked up.
“I was listening to the weather report a few minutes ago. There’s a low-pressure system moving in from the north, a spring storm from the Gulf of Alaska. We’re supposed to get gale force winds this afternoon, so if we delay our start to catch the slack at Deception Pass, there’s no way to avoid the brunt of the wind later on. We’re going back by way of Admiralty Inlet; it’s longer and more exposed, but at least we can get underway sooner, before the wind picks up.”
I knew there was no point in disagreeing, so I dressed inside the sleeping bag and got up to make breakfast. We ate our oatmeal and canned peaches in silence. David was absorbed in calculating the current strength and direction at various points along our route, and he jotted down numbers between spoonfuls of cereal. I was simply too scared to talk.
I had never sailed in winds higher than twenty knots, and I was sure from Sturmvogel’s restless motion that it was already blowing at least that hard. “Gale warning” means winds of 34 to 47 knots. My mouth was dry and the oatmeal stuck to my palate.
“Have you ever sailed in a gale?”
“Up in Alaska. I’m going to set the number one jib because the wind’s from the north and I want to make time. I’ll tie a couple of reefs in the main though, before we leave.” He laid his hand on mine. “Don’t be afraid, Kate. If I’ve done it alone, the two of us won’t have any trouble. I’m not telling you the trip is going to be easy; frankly I think it’s building into one bitch of a day, but we can handle it.”
I cleared the table and put the dishes in the sink while David went forward to get the jib.
“Don’t bother to wash up now,” he said, lifting the sail bag over his shoulder. “I need your help on deck.” He opened the hatch and flung the bag into the cockpit, letting in a blast of cold air that lifted the edge of the chart off the table. By the time I donned my foul weather gear and joined David, I found he already had the jib hanked on and the sheets attached.
I nodded and took the tiller. The sun wasn’t up yet, but there was a glimmer of light in the east, just enough so I could make out David working by the mast. As soon as he released the gaskets on the main, the sail started flapping like a wild thing; his hands moved quickly to the winch and began cranking. David raised the sail only part way to reduce the area exposed to the wind, then lay on his back across the cabin top tying the reef lines that secured the unused portion of the sail to the boom. Once the main was up, Sturmvogel burst into life, and I steered her toward the anchor while David took in on the chain with the windlass; it must have been difficult freeing the anchor in so much wind, for David was breathing hard when he returned to the cockpit.
He looked at the dark instrument panel. “I forgot to turn on the lights.” He reached down into the cabin and flicked on a couple of switches. The cockpit instruments lit up with a subdued red glow, and at the bow the red and green navigation lights reflected off the jib, which was still tied down on deck. I looked at the windspeed indicator. Twenty-two knots. David went forward to raise the jib, sending Sturmvogel flat on her side; I eased the sheets and she came upright again, only to be knocked over by another gust of wind. My eye went to the windspeed. It registered 25 knots and then the needle dropped slowly back to 20 as Sturmvogel struggled to her feet once more.
We scudded out of the cove into open water. The wind strength held steady, but the sound was choppy with a short, steep motion that sent the boat shuddering and lurching between the swells. David went below and returned with two safety harnesses, made of rope and Dacron webbing with six-foot tethers, for attaching the wearer to the boat. I knew he kept the harnesses in one of the hanging lockers, but we had never sailed before in conditions that justified using them.
“Here,” he said, handing me one. “It’s a lot easier to keep the crew on deck with a harness than to rescue someone who’s gone overboard.” We helped each other into the straps, taking turns steering, then clipped the long ends to a couple of rings through-bolted on either side of the companionway.
I looked back at Boone Island, receding in the distance, and thought of the carefree days we’d spent in the cove. It seemed unfair that we had to return to reality, to the pressure of term papers and examinations, to the inevitable separation. In two and a half months Norma and I would be leaving for Mexico. What if we never made it back to Seattle? I looked over at David. He was staring straight ahead with an occasional glance at the sails and compass. I knew he was in his glory battling the elements, and his confidence lifted my spirits. He saw the expression on my face and nudged my boot with his.
I managed a wan imitation and turned my gaze to the water. Even with the chop, Sturmvogel was flying along, averaging more than seven knots, far faster than she could go under power alone. Somewhere behind the gray curtain that enveloped us, the sun must have risen, for I began to recognize the shapes of islands to the east and west, while to the south lay the featureless expanse of Rosario Strait. The wind blew hard with a biting chill, and I huddled against the cabin trunk, glad to leave the steering to David.
I must have dozed off, for when I awakened at eight, we were in sight of Coupeville, on the western side of Whidbey Island, and still moving fast. A glance at the anemometer confirmed my apprehensions: the wind had increased to the low thirties.
“Thanks for letting me sleep.”
“I don’t know how you managed it. Your head was bobbing back and forth like a rag doll’s. Could you steer for a while? I want to go mark our position on the chart.”
David went below and I heard him pumping the toilet. With Sturmvogel's motion and angle of heel, I was glad he hadn't tried urinating over the side of the boat, as he usually did when we were alone. He handed up a box of pilot crackers, a block of cheddar cheese, and a knife. Down in the galley I heard David fumbling with the thermos bottle, then Sturmvogel lurched; he swore an oath in Spanish and I guessed he’d spilled boiling water on himself.
“Quick, take these,” he said, passing me up two mugs of coffee. Even though the cups were only half full, the coffee sloshed from side to side, spilling at every roll of the boat. He climbed back on deck.
“Beautiful day,” David said, reaching for the tiller.
“Let me steer for a while; you’ve had it long enough.”
He looked at the compass. “Okay, but keep her on course; you should be steering 128 and you’re ten degrees off.”
I put both my hands on the tiller and wrestled Sturmvogel back to 128. “Why is she fighting me?”
“Because we’re carrying too much sail, but so long as the wind’s behind us, I want to keep the number one up. If the wind stays over 35 or if it shifts to the south I’ll take that jib down and put up the number two instead.” I pictured David trying to change sails under those conditions and hoped the weather moderated.
Since both my hands were occupied by the tiller, David cut off slices of cheese and fed them to me. My tongue was as dry as a piece of old leather, but the tang of the cheese got my saliva flowing once more.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“I’m fine now that I’ve eaten. Actually I’d rather steer than just sit here; when I‘m concentrating I don’t have time to be frightened.”
David relieved me at noon and I dozed fitfully in the cockpit until the motion became so severe that I had to brace my feet and hold on with both hands to keep from being catapulted across the cockpit. The wind was blowing well into the thirties now, fairly shrieking in the gusts, and I was afraid. Something else had changed: as I looked out over the water, I realized the wind had swung toward the south and we were now heading into both the wind and the water, rather like sailing into a brick wall. Sturmvogel’s motion seemed to be up and down as much as it was forward. I watched as she climbed the face of each oncoming wave and reached the crest; the view from the top was awesome, like looking over an interminable mountain range, with gray mountains, gray valleys as far as the eye could see. Sturmvogel hung on a crest for a moment, then plunged down the back side of the wave, only to meet another. And another.
David’s face was grim. “I’m glad you’re awake. I was going to call you, anyway. I’ve got to get that sail down."
My teeth were chattering, but I didn’t want him to see I was afraid, so I took the tiller from him without saying a word, and he went below to get the smaller jib. The clock chimed and I counted the bells. One … two … three … four. Four bells, two o’clock. Oh God, would this day ever end? I heard David dragging the number two jib from the forward cabin, and turned to look at the water ahead.
Fifty feet in front of the bow an enormous wave was taking shape. It rose from the surface like some primeval monster; it hunched its shoulders and continued rising. The monster gave a roar and lunged toward us. I grabbed the cockpit coaming with my right hand and braced my feet. I shouted “hold on,” but no sound escaped my lips. I sat at the tiller too petrified to move; just as it appeared the mountain of water would engulf us, Sturmvogel starting lifting, like a car slowly ascending the track of a roller coaster. She inched up the side of the wall, reached the crest and hung suspended for a moment. Then the water fell away from her keel and she toppled off the back of the wave, crashed over on her side, and skidded crazily down the slope. Water boiled into the cockpit, tearing me away from the tiller and hurling me against the stanchions; only the safety harness kept me from going overboard.
From down in the cabin I heard the sound of breaking glass, of objects being flung against the hull; there was a loud crack of splintering wood and David cried out. Sturmvogel reached the bottom of the ravine, shuddered, and came upright, quivering like a jack knife thrown into a fence post. Aching and badly bruised, I went back to the tiller and took control of the steering. Instinctively I looked up at the mast and rigging; to my amazement, everything was still standing. The boathook which David carried on the cabin top was gone, but otherwise the deck appeared normal.
I was frantic with worry for David, but I couldn’t leave the tiller without risking a broach. I called his name, but he didn’t answer. Then I remembered David had told me Sturmvogel would steer herself to windward if the tiller was lashed. Two sail gaskets were still in my pocket; I took them out and tied them between the tiller and the stanchions, pulling tightly until the tiller was immobilized. I looked out over the water again, wondering if I dared leave the cockpit long enough to go below and find out what had happened to David. The waves were still large, but nothing like the behemoth that had attacked us a minute earlier. As Sturmvogel continued punching her way southward, I dashed for the companionway, but I didn’t get far before the safety harness brought me up short and I had to go back up the ladder again and reach into the cockpit to unclip myself.
The scene below was chaotic. The ceramic coffee pot lay broken on the cabin sole, surrounded by a pile of paperback books that had leaped from the bookcase. The VHF radio lay smashed in front of the stove. The breakfast dishes, in the sink only moments before, lay scattered about the cabin, and the bulkheads were splattered with globs of oatmeal. Pieces of broken glass crunched under my boots. David lay on the remains of the table, bleeding from a cut on the side of his head; he wasn’t moving.
“Oh my God”, I thought or perhaps I cried it aloud. I kneeled beside him and called his name, but he didn’t reply. My hands were shaking as I felt for his pulse, but I was trembling too badly to be able to detect anything so slight as a heartbeat.
David opened his eyes and tried to move his head, but the effort was too great, and he let out a moan of pain.
“I’m sorry … I waited too long …”
“No! It’s not your fault. There was a wave … a big wave ... oh, David!” I sobbed, laying my head on his chest. Stiffly, he put his arm around me.
“It’s up to you now, Kate. You’re going to have to get us home by yourself. You and Sturmvogel.”
I wanted to scream. There was no way I could sail the boat myself, not in that wind. The jib had to come down and I wasn’t strong enough to change it alone; it would be dark hours before we reached Seattle, if we ever got near Seattle, and I’d never be able to endure until then. I wasn’t sure where we were and I didn’t know the course to follow. I can’t do it, I thought. This is the end. Another one of those waves is going to come along and smash us; the boat will break up and we’ll be drowned. There’s nothing anyone can do. I’ll just lie down here with David and wait to die.
David stirred. “Kate … can you get your weight off my chest … it’s my ribs … something’s broken.”
I sat up and looked at him. He was lying with the right side of his face on the cabin sole and there was a pool of clotting blood beneath his cheek. The knockdown had thrown him against a kerosene lamp, breaking the glass chimney, then down upon the table, which had collapsed under the impact. I looked again. A froth of red bubbles covered his lips. Did he have a punctured lung in addition to broken ribs? Was he dying? I didn’t know.
“The course …” he groaned and took a deep breath. “The course is one-one-eight. Repeat it.”
“Kate, remember … 'Ulysses.'”
He lost consciousness.
One-one-eight, one-one-eight, one-one-eight. I kept reciting the numbers over and over to myself as though the key to our survival lay in memorizing them. One-one-eight, I said to myself, bitterly. What the hell difference does it make if the course is one-one-eight or one-eight-one or eight-one-one? It’s all the same in the end. What did David mean about Ulysses? I tried to remember Tennyson’s poem, which David knew by heart, and then the closing lines came to me: “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
I looked at David and was glad he was unconscious. At least he was spared the pain and anxiety of our situation. It seemed strange to see David lying there helpless, David who was always so strong. How ironic that his life was in my hands. I wiped my nose on the sleeve of my jacket and got up to look for the chart; I found it on top of the stove. Clearing the glass and crockery away from one area of the cabin sole, I sat down to study the route David had plotted in the morning. At two he'd marked our position on the chart and penciled in the log reading as well. I looked at the clock. It was a quarter past two, which gave us at least another couple of hours before we had to alter our course.
The jib bag lay at David’s feet, reminding me that I needed to change the sail. I considered leaving the number one up, but if the wind increased, the pressure of the large sail might break the mast, and then the mast, secured to the boat by the rigging, would act like a battering ram against the hull, and then a hole would be punched in the side of the boat, and then … I got up and climbed into the cockpit. Sturmvogel was off course, but not by much, and she was sailing herself without any help from me, so I clipped on my safety harness and sat down to think about the sail change. After I got the jib down – if I got the jib down – I needed some place to put it; normally we tied an unused sail to the lifelines, but in such a high wind I couldn’t leave it on deck. I’d have to stuff it below, through the forward hatch. That meant opening the hatch in advance, so I went below again and made my way carefully toward the bow. I had to hang on to the overhead grab rails at every roll of the boat to avoid stepping on David, and it was several minutes before I returned to the cockpit.
Dragging the sail bag behind me, I crawled along the cabin top and bent low to keep from being knocked over by the wind, clipping on my safety harness to the rigging as I went. Gasping for breath, I reached the mast and sat with my arms and legs encircling the spar. When I recovered, I slackened the tension on the jib halyard, planning to go forward and grab the sail as it came sliding down the forestay, but I let up on the halyard and nothing happened. I released the halyard completely, relieving the upward tension on the sail, but the jib remained obstinately in place, pulling like a mule. Then I realized what was wrong. When David and I were sailing together, he always ran downwind as we removed the headsail, thus blanketing the jib with the main and reducing the wind pressure, so that the sail plummeted toward the deck like a stone as soon as he released the halyard tension.
I didn’t have that happy option and I knew if the sail was ever coming down, it would be by brute force. I hated leaving the security of the mast for the foredeck since the wind was howling and Sturmvogel was taking water over the bow with every roll, but I crept forward, attached my safety harness to the bow pulpit, and started to pull down the sail. The deck was like a trampoline; as the sea roared by, Sturmvogel would give a mighty heave, lift me clear of the deck and dump me, seconds later, in the same spot.
The oncoming waves exploded against the hull, drenching the bow with salt water. I had water in my boots and water down my back, but I held on. Inch by inch I wrestled the jib down the forestay, smothering my adversary with the weight of my body. Sometimes I lost ground, the jib tore from my grasp, and I watched in despair as three or four feet of sail, a good five minutes' worth of work, slithered back up the forestay. "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." I thought of David, lying injured in the cabin, dying perhaps, and hung on stubbornly, timing my fight with the downward roll of the boat, when the force of gravity, combined with my weight, gave me a momentary advantage over the sail. At last it was down; both the sail and I lay in an exhausted heap on the foredeck.
Sturmvogel’s motion was easier now; the wind was blowing as hard as ever, but the boat was upright and had stopped crashing into the waves. I lifted the hatch and began stuffing the sail below.
It was four o’clock before I had the number two jib up and drawing, an hour and a half to accomplish a task that shouldn’t have taken more than ten minutes under better conditions. I was worn out, almost beyond caring. The wind had increased to 40 knots, but with the smaller jib set, I hardly noticed the difference.
I saw Port Ludlow to the southwest and went below to mark our position on the chart; it was obvious Sturmvogel wasn’t holding us on course with tiller lashed, and I realized I’d have to steer by hand. David was delirious; I kept trying to understand what he was saying until I realized he was speaking German.
In a deep locker behind the stove, half a dozen cans rolled back and forth with every heave of the boat, setting up an unbearable rhythmic clatter. I opened the locker and set the cans upright, but they fell over on the crest of the next wave, resuming their mournful cadence. I opened the locker again, grabbed a can of vanilla pudding just before it rolled out of reach, and sat down on the cabin sole to eat it. According to my calculations we were 40 miles from Seattle; at an average speed of five knots that was another eight hours. Eight hours and we weren’t making anything like five knots against that wind and sea.
I untied Sturmvogel’s tiller and took over the steering myself. We continued south, passing towns and islands whose names I couldn’t remember, breasting wave after wave in an unending succession until I was hypnotized by the motion. At five thirty I turned on the navigation lights, hoping the batteries would last, for I couldn’t recall if David had charged them recently. I wasn’t worried so much about the navigation lights themselves - I was willing to take a chance with ships – but I would need the instrument lights to read the compass in the dark.
At nine, by my reckoning and the boat’s log, it was time to alter course and head for Seattle, still some 20 miles over the horizon. Coming about was an automatic maneuver; I pushed the tiller to port and waited for the moment when the bow would swing through the wind and I could release the port jib sheet and start hauling in on the other side.
As Sturmvogel started to come into the wind, a wave shoved the bow back. I waited until the boat gathered speed and tried once more with the same result. I tried a third and fourth time. On the fifth try we came close; Sturmvogel’s bow swung slowly around and she poised on the top of a wave. She shuddered for a moment, as though undecided, and then fell back on the starboard tack. I was beginning to feel panicky. What if she refused to turn? We’d keep right on sailing southeast, a veritable Flying Dutchman, until we fetched up … where? I was too tired to remember the geography of Puget Sound. I considered our situation. I could always jibe the boat, but in forty knots of wind that risked carrying the boom, the sail and quite possibly even the mast, completely off the deck.
Jibing was out. I would have to turn at precisely the right moment, preferably in a stretch of smooth water, if I could find such a place in the tumultuous seascape that surrounded us. I tried again and this time we almost made it; the bow was only a hair’s breadth away from completing the turn before it fell off, and I was encouraged. On the seventh attempt I shouted, “goddammit, Sturmvogel, TURN!” The bow swung ninety degrees through the eye of the wind and then over to the other side. I released the port jib sheet and hauled in on the starboard side. I felt triumphant; we were heading home.
At ten, I lashed the tiller again and went below to eat something. Inside the cabin it was black; even though I was afraid of exhausting the batteries, I had to see, so I turned on one of the electric lights and kneeled beside David.
“Do we have any hot water … for coffee?” he asked. There had to be some left; I'd forgotten all about the thermos, and my spirits lifted at the thought of a hot beverage. I found the thermos under the remains of the table, but when I picked it up my hopes were dashed, for the sound of tinkling glass inside told me the liner was broken.
“I can try lighting the stove …”
“No, it’s too rough. Can you get me some water?”
“How about fruit juice?”
I made another foray into the locker of banging cans and came up with one can of tuna fish and another of peach juice. I poured a small amount of juice into a plastic cup and bent over beside David. He lifted his head with difficulty, and I noticed a bloody gash down the right side of his face; even by the dim cabin light I could see the area around David’s eye was bruised and swollen. He gave a short, wheezing cough and more foaming blood appeared at the edge of his mouth. I pulled a tissue from my pocket, wiped his lips, and whisked the tissue out of sight.
“Show it to me.”
Reluctantly I held it in front of him; our eyes met, but he didn’t comment on the blood.
“How far are we from Seattle?”
About seventeen miles.”
“What’s our course?”
“One-five-eight – when I’m steering; I have the tiller lashed.”
“So you’ve already tacked,” he said, struggling through a curtain of pain to remember the course he had plotted earlier in the morning.
“About an hour ago. It was awful. The waves just kept pushing …” I checked myself. There was no point in worrying David with my problems. “I’d better go back up and steer. Can I do anything for you besides get you to Seattle as quickly as possible?”
“Yes …” he hesitated. “I hate to ask you this, but I need to urinate. There’s a small basin under the sink … would you mind?” I unzipped David’s pants and held the basin while he relieved himself.
There was a wry smile on his face, the first smile I’d seen since the accident.
“This has to be the ultimate humiliation; now I know how it feels to be helpless.” He wheezed again and coughed up more blood.
“Don’t talk anymore, David,” I said covering him with a blanket. “Go to sleep, if you can.” I readjusted the pillow under his head and leaned over to kiss him on the forehead, braving the stench of oatmeal, blood and salt water that rose from the cabin sole.
I disposed of his urine in the toilet and started up the steps to the cockpit, fork and tuna in hand.
The wind had moderated to thirty knots, still far more than anything I’d experienced in the past, but in comparison with what we’d encountered in the afternoon, the evening wind was a mere zephyr. I finished the tuna and tossed the can overboard.
The moon and stars were invisible behind the clouds of the night sky; there was nothing to see at all except for the red glow of the instruments and an occasional winking light on shore. I was still wet from the soaking at the bow and thoroughly chilled besides; my teeth began to chatter and I was wracked with uncontrollable shivering. I went below, rummaged around in the hanging locker, and found two dry sweaters. David’s transistor radio lay intact in the bottom of the locker; I stuck it inside my jacket to protect the case from the damp air and spray, and returned to the tiller. How strange it seemed to be sitting in Sturmvogel’s cockpit listening to popular music while the wind screamed overhead and David lay below badly injured. How unreal that just a few miles away people were carrying on the most mundane activities – brushing their teeth, riding in cars, watching television – while we were living a nightmare.
My head kept drooping. When my grasp on the tiller relaxed, Sturmvogel changed course, and the boat's altered motion awakened me. I was tired, incredibly tired, fast falling into a torpor that made any sort of mental activity a virtual impossibility.
It was past midnight when the loom of Seattle’s lights finally shone over the horizon; the water was calmer although the wind was still blowing hard. For the first time since David’s accident, I dared to hope we were going to make it, and I started to think about getting into the marina. I’d have to sail in; the outboard motor was far too heavy for me to lift from its place under the cockpit seat and secure on the transom of the boat. If I sailed in I’d have to take down the main and use the jib alone, for I wouldn’t be able to spill the wind from the mainsail fast enough to avoid a crash landing at the dock. These thoughts were going through my mind, but slowly, very slowly.
I was steering by eye now; Seattle’s skyline was emerging over the horizon and I began to make out a few of the landmarks. Then, gradually, the city started to fade. I blinked several times; was I losing my eyesight? My answer came as a rainsquall hit us, blotting out everything beyond the bow of the boat. It was back to steering by instruments. I looked at the compass and looked again, in horror; the light was out. The other instruments were dark, too, and I realized with despair that the batteries were exhausted. I searched for the flashlight David kept in the cockpit, but it had either gone overboard or been hurled into the chaos below. The rain pelted down and I started to cry. Oh God, I sobbed, how can you do this to me, just when we’re so close? I began to panic. In the dark and the rain I was completely disoriented ; without the compass how was I going to find Seattle? We were somewhere near the vessel traffic lanes; how was I going to avoid the ships?
Inside my jacket the radio lost power and station KIRO flickered out. What, you too? I thought bitterly. Then a wave caught the bow of the boat, we changed course, and the music came on again. The radio. What had David told me once about navigating with a radio? I struggled to clear the cobwebs from my brain, and then I remembered. He was telling me about a Japanese sailor who had crossed the Pacific in a home-made boat, heading for San Francisco. His only navigational instrument, other than a compass, was a small transistor radio, and he’d pinpointed his landfall homing in on a San Francisco radio station.
But how had he done it? There was some trick to lining up the radio’s axis with the transmitting tower, but what was significant, hearing the station or not hearing it? Suddenly the answer came to me; if I was able to hear KIRO at full volume when I could see we were heading in the right direction, then all I had to do was keep the radio in the same position and orient the boat in such a way that the signal strength remained constant. I shoved the tiller to one side and the music faded again; I changed course and the music returned. Satisfied my theory worked, I readjusted our course and steered through the rain to the sound of music. We were going home.
My memory of the rest of the trip is blurry. The rain lasted for about an hour and, as the shower passed to the north, Seattle emerged again from the haze. When we were less than two miles offshore, I started to recognize individual buildings. Even late at night they were lit up, and as I scanned the skyline for familiar landmarks, the buildings seemed to inflate. They billowed out like budding yeast cells. Parapets and towers mushroomed into the air, wagged their heads and leered at me. I watched in horror, fully aware I was hallucinating, but the city kept changing shape ominously, expanding and contracting like something out of a drug-induced nightmare. The land seemed so close; several times I changed course in a panic, sure we were running aground, only to realize we were still in deep water. I looked at the companionway and saw an elephant climbing out of the cabin; one-half of my brain accepted the pachyderm with complete indifference, while the other half told me I was seeing things. I blinked hard several times and the elephant disappeared. Somehow I found the breakwater outside the marina and got the mainsail down and secured around the boom. It was no longer so dark, for the lights of Ballard illuminated the deck.
The landing at the marina was hard; in my exhaustion, I let the jib sheet fly too late, and Sturmvogel charged into her berth, hit the dock with a bang, and bounced back. We were home. I sat in the cockpit for a few minutes considering how to get David to a hospital. Until then I’d been so concerned with surviving, that reaching Seattle was my only goal, and I hadn’t thought beyond our arrival. I was too weary to think and I needed someone’s help. Norma and Rosemary didn’t have cars. Was Frank back from his trip to Spokane? I wondered if I dared ask Frank for assistance after the incident in his apartment. What would David say?
I finished tying Sturmvogel’s lines and went below. The hard landing had awakened David; he was coherent, though in great pain, and when I told him I was going to phone Frank to arrange for the doctor and ambulance, he just looked at me and whispered “all right.”
The simplest tasks were agonizing; I knew I needed the marina key as well as money for the telephone call, both of which were in my purse, but somehow the purse had got misplaced in the knockdown and it was too dark in the cabin to find it. I sat down on the cabin sole wondering stupidly what to do. David suggested I use his key, so I slid my hand deep in his trouser pocket and came up with not only the key, but enough change for the call.
Once out on the dock my head cleared somewhat and I began to worry what to do if Frank wasn’t home. David’s doctor was a family friend; I didn’t want to phone him and say the two of us were sailing back from the San Juans when the accident happened. Should I just call an ambulance?
I found a telephone booth, dialed Frank’s number and counted the rings. One…two…three…four. Oh Frank, please answer, I prayed. On the fifth ring someone picked up the receiver and a sleepy voice said hello.
I was flooded with relief. “Frank, it’s me. I’m so glad you’re back. I need your help. David was hurt on the boat and I think he’s badly injured. Can you call his doctor and get an ambulance and come yourself to let them in?”
“Kate? Let them in? Where are you? What are you talking about?”
“I’m at the marina. We just got here. David’s still on the boat and I think his ribs are broken. Do you have a gate key?”
“Yes … but …”
“David’s doctor is Sanford Kadish. K-a-d-i-s-h. Since you have a key, can you open the gate for them? I’ll explain everything when you get here. Please hurry, Frank. I’m going back to the boat.”
“Are you ok?”
“Yes, I’m just … very tired.”
Twenty minutes later, when Frank and the ambulance crew arrived, I was asleep on the cabin sole beside David. A beam of light from Frank’s flashlight shone in my face, awakening me, and then played around the interior.
“My God, what happened?” Frank was down the ladder in an instant; I stood up and sagged against him.
“Oh, Frank, it was so awful,” I said, starting to cry. He put his arms around me and patted me on the back.
“Everything’s going to be all right now. Let’s go up and give these guys room to get David out of here.”
Two paramedics went below and, with Frank’s assistance, they swayed David out of the cabin in a blanket, and then laid him on a gurney. The men covered David, strapped him loosely, and started rolling the gurney toward the gate. I jumped off Sturmvogel and began running after them.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“I’m going with David … to the hospital,” I called back. “Can you lock up the boat?”
Frank was beside me in a moment. “Kate, they won’t let you go with him; Dr. Kadish will be waiting for the ambulance and they’ll take David right to the emergency room. You won’t be able to see him for hours. And besides, they’ll call his wife…”
“But I want to be with David," I wailed.
Frank took my arm. “Come on, let’s go to the car and I’ll drive you home. “
“What time is it?”
“I can’t get in,” I said wearily. “They don’t open the residence hall until six.”
Frank didn’t reply. He helped me into his car and I fell asleep while he went back to lock the boat. When I awakened, Frank was opening my door.
“Where are we?” I asked, staring into the darkness.
“I thought you were taking me home.”
“I did take you home. My home.”
I climbed out, too exhausted to care where I spent the rest of the night. Frank switched on the lights in his living room and stared at me in disbelief. “My God, but you’re a sight!”
He handed me a pair of pajamas and I went in the bathroom to change. I looked in the mirror with shock; the face that met mine was barely recognizable, a grotesque caricature of myself. My hair was matted and stuck out from my head; I looked like a waterlogged Medusa. Underneath the puffy lids, my eyes were inflamed from the buffeting of the wind, and there was a streak of blood – David’s blood – down one side of my face. I left my soggy clothes in Frank’s shower and stumbled into bed.
Go to Chapter Eighteen
Go to Chapter Eighteen