(Article Originally Published Jan, 30, 2020 - Telluride Daily Planet)
As we crawl out of the darkness of January, I can’t help but think of what I want to do when the time comes to chase a moment of travel, and for me that usually means some type of sailing adventure. I have been writing a lot during the past few months, and one thing that keeps coming up for me is the scary tales that I have encountered during my time on the delivery crew. I thought I might share one from my very first delivery from Maryland to the British Virgin Islands.
As the journey continued, a few days off the coast and deeper into the Atlantic, I was beginning to gain a little more comfort in my job. I am to maintain the boat in the direction the autopilot is set by the captain. To be sure no lights from other boats are headed directly towards us, and to watch for changes in the weather, odd images in the water or anything going wrong with the set sails and the boat itself. Should any of these occur my job is to wake the captain immediately. Otherwise, I listen to music, stretch and take in the calm sounds of lapping water on the hull, the darkness surrounding guided by the stars above and the serenity of being a sailor alone at sea with the crew sleeping soundly below. Got it! And as the time went by, I was hooked. This was the most amazing feeling I have ever encountered in my life. The peace at helm, the power, the joy to be the captain of a ship in the night with no one else around is absolutely the coolest feeling there is, and I stand by that statement.
I was getting my groove. Stretching, doing a few leaning pushups, look left, look right, look ahead, look behind. Check the radar, the clouds, the winds, the sails, the heading on autopilot. Stretch, jam to tunes, look again. And that’s when I saw it — lights ahead. Green, red, white. Green, red, white — all in a different direction, almost over and over again. What the heck? Why are they not in a consistent pattern so I can determine which way they are headed? Hmm, I thought to myself, this is strange. I must do as the captain says and wake him.
He comes on deck, and to my relief, he is also confused. (I didn’t want to have woken him for no reason, so I was relieved that he, too, couldn’t decipher the pattern of the lights). He radios the ship in sight.
After a few minutes, he lets me know that indeed it was a good call and that I wasn’t hallucinating at the lights ahead; they were certainly unfolding in an unusual pattern, for the boat ahead was actually … an aircraft carrier!
An aircraft carrier is a boat that a plane can land on that is 1,092 feet long and 134 feet wide, and this one was maneuvering in what is known as a figure eight or a man overboard drill.
OK. Wait a minute, I thought … an aircraft carrier, a boat that big is in front of us … doing doughnuts essentially … because a guy has fallen overboard?! People are falling off ships that big out here … and I am heading straight for it?!
What the heck? OK, Casey, get a grip, I think. The captain says they want us to maintain our course. And as we approach, it is the largest thing I have ever seen in my life. I mean, this thing is the size of a highway. And the drag and waterpower that is being pushed from it is loud and powerful. There are lights everywhere. And people running all over the place. It was the strangest sight I have ever seen. I just couldn’t fathom something this large on the water next to our petite 42-foot sailboat. Not to mention the fact that someone had fallen off the thing. What is that about? How are people falling overboard? That thought didn’t even cross my mind. What would happen if you were to fall off the boat in the middle of the ocean with nothing but dark, deep water surrounding? I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. If they can fall off something that big, how easy is it to fall off this little boat? Wait a minute … I could die out here! What the heck have I gotten myself into?
As we sailed past this floating interstate and finally left the chaos in our rear, I was eventually left alone at the helm once again. Only this time I could not enjoy the peace and quiet. As I looked over the side of the boat at the dark water below, all I could think about was a man’s corpse floating to the top of the water. Every image in the water for the next hour was a dead body. It was all I could see.
Until they radioed back to us an hour later, with word that it was a false alarm. After a recount they had, in fact, everyone on board the vessel. Sigh. Only the damage to my mind had been done. That night still sits as a moment of terror amidst what had been a perfectly peaceful night at sea. And to think, this is only one of my many tales from the sea.
Casey Graves is a sailor, writer, enthusiast of the small things in life like sitting in nature. Living in Colorado for many years with moments of adventures at sea to keep me connected to my love of the water. Aiming to grow spiritually with meditation practice and reflection in my writing. Choose to live a healthy, active and positive mindset and pass that along to others each day.
Casey is also a contributing journalist for the Telluride Daily Planet and her articles can be seen here: https://muckrack.com/casey-graves-2/articles