top of page


Here are some excerpts from all the oceans:


In the Atlantic:


Two hours later, coming up on midnight, Steve was at the helm holding close to the wind on a port tack, Lola with him in the cockpit, all hatches shut tight against the drizzle, when a severe thunder squall struck without warning. Instantly the boat was tearing along at hull speed, driving rain coming in horizontal sheets, no time interval between blinding lightning and deafening thunder. The pandemonium lasted for 40 minutes, Piscataway’s hull producing a high-pitched whine that mingled with the loud drumming of rain and splatter of waves and crashing of thunder. After the wind had slacked a little Caius was able to struggle into his foul weather gear and scramble out of the aft cabin to join the watch crew for the last 15 minutes of the downpour. Lola was huddled in a corner of the cockpit, virtually immobilized with fear. The lightning was no longer directly overhead but it continued to light up the cockpit every few seconds while the rain drops, plump and eager, searched for any dry surface on which they might express themselves and each hidden crevice that they might enter and explore. Within minutes the uneven contest between Caius’s yellow rain gear and its adversary was over and he was soaked to the skin. 


In the Caribbean:


When he lost the SatNav completely near Aruba and began relying on dead reckoning and celestial navigation to find the Canal, he plotted DR courses that he and Luke used in their celestial calculations. Caius did noon sights and Luke did stars and morning and afternoon sun sights. The calculations were bizarre. Caius didn’t yet know the extent of Luke’s celestial skills and still had limited confidence in his own. Each day matters got worse, the DRs getting farther and farther from the celestial positions. Feeling more and more lost, the crew wondered if Piscataway had been caught in some unknown current. . . . Maybe it was a question of too many cooks, Luke relying on Caius for DR information and Caius on Luke for celestial calculations. They crawled around the binnacle and the engine room looking for items in changed positions that might be causing the compass to deviate. . . . Even birds navigate their way across the Caribbean with unfailing accuracy, supposedly utilizing magnetic fields, and they don’t even have a chart, much less one with the magnetic lines drawn on it. Every day the crew looked at the chart, with the isogones swimming in graceful curves across it, and saw every detail but that. They were beginning to have spooky concerns that something weird, supernatural or unworldly had a grip on them. They stared at one another and shook their heads. ¿Qué pasa? They were traveling in the waters of Spanish speaking countries, where the language implies a healthy suspicion of dead reckoning; the Spanish term for navigating only by course and distance is navegación de fantasia. In this case it was una fantasia total. In these parts the best-known fiction was called magical realism. Caius wondered if the only reality here was magical fiction?


In the Central Pacific (between Bora Bora and Pago Pago):


Forty-foot waves are one thing but there is a rule of thumb that about one wave an hour will be twice the normal height of the other waves and occasionally a towering wave can come along that is three times the size of the others. If that happens tonight, Caius thought, we will not even see that 100- foot monster coming. . . . Near disaster struck about two hours after dark during Marie’s turn on the helm. A scream of “Mon Dieu!” was accompanied by a waterfall pouring into the salon through the main hatch. Caius rushed up and found Marie floundering on the floor of the cockpit in two feet of water. It could have been a rogue wave from a different direction, but Caius thought not. For the entire duration of the gale the seas had been huge but rolling steadily out of the S or SSE. If the boat was holding course, even one of those supersized waves should not have produced the result that occurred. Marie had either fallen asleep at the wheel or, attempting to steer by the compass rather than by the wind and waves, had tried to correct to the south and instead steered north until the boat broached, wallowing onto a NE heading and backwinding the main. In the process a wave, whether a 50 or 100 footer they would never know, had washed completely over the boat. 


In the Western Pacific (between Fiji and Vanuatu):


What happened at 0515―described by Caius in his letter to Luke as being “laid down on our beam ends”―was so engraved in his memory that he could later rerun the episode in his head like a video: He is swathed in yellow, even wearing his yellow rubber sea boots. Harness clip latched to the U-ring on the aft cabin roof behind the helm seat, he is reflecting on how bizarre this passage had become, how Mac’n’elle seem to have gone crazy, if they were not already crazy when the boat left Fiji. Visibility is pretty good for the hour before sunrise. He can make out the ocean for some distance to the north, east and south, but what in the world is that feral black gloom oozing towards him from the southwest? Unlike anything he has ever seen. Does it have wind? From what direction? Rain without wind? Wind and rain? There do not seem to be any higher dark clouds, just that low eerie gloom near the ocean surface. By this time he had plenty of squalls under his belt, but except for that midnight storm north of the Virgins (when they had been very lightly canvassed) the boat had always been in a downwind mode. At those times he might go running off at an angle, but without much heeling, and it was usually an easy routine to throw off the main sheet to slow the ride. Now everything is in tight. He wonders whether he should do anything with the sheets. The creeping opaque mass was a mile away a moment ago. Suddenly it is here and Piscataway has turned on a dime and is on its side, skimming along at more than hull speed with a high-pitched whining, whistling, screaming sound. He is standing on the lee sidewall of the cockpit, water rushing over his feet, the main boom skipping along the wave tops but the double-reefed mainsail and tightly-sheeted high-cut yankee are staying just above the water. No way now for him to reach the sheets or halyards. Nor does he attempt to do anything with the rudder, as it is all he can manage to hold on to his perch. There is no rain. Is this what is called a “white squall”? . . . . The mysterious creeping gloom he saw must have been froth and spray from the sea, carried upwards by a small cyclonic pocket. He can see ahead where the sun is rising―the boat is almost pointing back toward Fiji. He feels sick that in a matter of minutes they are losing so much hard-won westing―strange thoughts from someone about to experience a shipwreck a hundred miles from shore.


In Indonisia's Savu Sea:


At 0310, Allison is at the night helm as Piscataway begins to pass between the islands of Sumba and Flores, leaving the Savu Sea and entering the Sumba Strait which at its western end opens into the Indian Ocean. Piscataway’s course is 290º as it heads for the Linta Strait between the islands of Flores and Komodo. The moon is completely obliterated by a heavy cloud bank, total darkness in the cockpit except for the dim red glow of the compass light. Allison has seen a light ahead, sometimes there, sometimes not, and has called Caius from sleep; the humid tropical air mingles with his dream as he mounts the companionway and struggles to become oriented. Allison points, but the bow is swinging this way and that. Then he sees the light. It could be on Sunda, the island somewhere off to port, but it seems too much ahead, right in the middle of the strait. It could be a ship. He activates the radar and waits while the screen warms up, and as he waits he becomes aware of a faint hint of some spicy scent in the air. Is it from the supplies in the galley gathered at the market in Kupang or from the exotic unseen island of Flores, 10 miles away to starboard, whence a light land breeze is now blowing? Allison can no longer locate the elusive light but the radar now shows “ready.” Caius bends to the screen and soon the image comes in bright and clear, less than three miles ahead, a ragged crescent shape like the broken rim of a volcanic crater. He scrambles to the chart table. Then, realizing that the charts of this area are 80 years old, he pulls out the thick book of Sailing Directions for the Indian Ocean and begins looking for chart corrections. Where did he read that undersea volcanic eruptions in the Lesser Sundas are commonplace, that new islands can rise from the sea in this area overnight? Even the recent list of changes in the Sailing Directions might not record a new island. The radar could be picking up the outline of a pumice raft, like those that floated away from the Sunda Strait after Krakatoa, sometimes the first sign of an undersea eruption nearing the surface, or (worse) the outline of a new island of jagged cooling lava, something that in the daylight might look like forbidding Fernandina in the Galapagos. It does not help his nerves when he notices that each time he goes below and looks again at the radar screen the image has changed shape slightly or that he sees lightning flashing dead ahead each time he stumbles back up to the cockpit. In his still groggy state he imagines that this island has only just formed of bubbling lava as they are approaching it; he braces for the rain of pumice onto the deck or the wall of water from the tsunami that may strike at any moment. He thinks of the precious sleeping children in the fo’c’s’le who are oblivious to the danger; it’s all his fault for bringing the trusting little ones into these waters with such aplomb. Again to the radar and the spookiness reaches its peak: the island has disappeared, dropped from sight even as Piscataway is arriving at the spot where it had been; now perhaps it has become a treacherous jagged shoal of cooling lava just below the surface, in which case the radar cannot help them. 


In the Indian Ocean:


It was somewhat like a traditional dhow in shape but obviously was equipped with a strong diesel engine. Eventually he could make out four figures of men moving about on deck. Except for the flare gun under the chart table Piscataway was unarmed and would be no match for these men if they were inclined to use force. When the dhow neared there was no question which of the crew was the leader, a huge muscular man with dramatically handsome features, long black hair and flowing beard. He hung outward from the rigging as the dhow drew alongside and slowed to keep station, only a meter or less sometimes separating the boats that seemed in danger of slamming together at any moment during out-of-sync rolls. The leader smiled broadly as he inspected Piscataway and its crew, showing glistening white teeth and flashing dark eyes. Caius considered going below and unboxing the flare gun. How long would it take to find and load a flare? Would his disappearance below precipitate a belligerent response? While he debated with himself the leader’s eyes were darting here and there, his body poised as if to spring. It appeared for an interminable moment that he intended to leap across.


In the Gulf of Aden:


When the crew had hauled Caius to the top, inspection of the blocks confirmed his diagnosis, the twists were firmly embedded in the sheaves. If he cut the halyard, they would be without any means of hoisting a headsail in the following winds at and north of the strait without going back up the mast and rigging a new halyard, and this there might well be no opportunity to do as the wind was likely to continue to increase. The twists in the halyard appeared more severely drawn into the sheave of the lower block than the upper one. If he could drop the sail by undoing the pin in the shackle attached to it, he thought this might take the tension off the halyard and allow it to untwist and release itself from the upper block. It was awkward getting the pliers on the pin and performing the many turns necessary, and once the threads were clear the difficulty had only just begun because the tension of the sail on the shackle was so great that the pin immediately jammed at an angle and could not be drawn from its hole. He pried, hammered, twisted, each change of tool and each pry, hammer or twist a difficult operation. At first he was determined to complete the job, but he became so exhausted that eventually he not only despaired of the possibility of completing it but began to despair of surviving the ordeal at all. This was the closest Caius came to dying on his round-the-world sail. . . . [W]hat was most frightening to Caius, recalling it all later, was not a concern that he might fall by accident, that the main halyard block might fail, which it very well could have, but rather that perhaps he was going to give up and let go, fall on purpose because his body was so tired. This time the adrenalin was all used up. . . .


In the Red Sea:


The island is occupied now by some old stone structures and (only now do we see them) large gun installations and Sudanese soldiers, the big guns pointed out to sea and supplemented by several large-caliber machine gun emplacements. As we are circling to test depths and find a suitable spot to drop anchor at a discreet distance from the army, warning shots from an automatic rifle are fired into the air and an officer signals us to come over and anchor near the island. Circling, we find the spot he has indicated to be too shallow, and foul with coral heads. We call out that we cannot anchor here and will depart. As we start to head out toward the entrance channel, another warning shot is fired. I make a snap decision to throttle up and run for it, whereupon one of the soldiers sprints to a machine gun, trains it on us, looks to the officer for instructions, and then begins firing. As we duck down bullets hit the water around us.

bottom of page