This was our first real cruise on the 37-foot sailing Jim Brown design trimaran that we had built from the “keel” up so to speak. A sailing trimaran, if you don’t know is a main hull with two out-riggers. This was an ocean-going design with an aft cabin and a center cockpit but we had never had her in any heavy weather - big wind, big waves. She, and we, had never been tested.
At some point in the early afternoon, one of us glanced to the east toward Port Townsend and the beginning of Puget Sound. We saw a low-lying dark fog bank in the far distance. A closer look with the binoculars revealed a maelstrom of wind driven waves and foam and it was moving quickly our way. There was no shelter to run to. Although we were still in dead calm we began to reef the sails and tie everything down. Then we sat and waited while the storm approached.
It looked like something out of a cheap sci-fi horror movie - the kind where a dark ominous cloud comes from out of nowhere and swallows up whole towns. There was no transition from calm to storm - when it hit, it hit hard. With a double reef in the main and the storm jib raised we began a close reach into the storm. As fate would have it, the wind was against the incoming tide creating steep waves. We didn’t know when we hit the first ones whether we would go through, over or under them.
The lee hull was buried and the weather hull was flying high. We had heard it said that you don’t sail a trimaran you fly it and we were flying. We had sawed and screwed and glued and nailed that boat together and we wondered if we had done a good enough job. I had great confidence in the instincts and abilities of my friend but even so I have to admit that I was terrified.
We knew that when we reached Port Townsend and the entry to Puget Sound we would have to tack the boat. When you tack you pass the bow of the boat through the “eye” of the wind. If you get stalled and don’t make it onto the other tack you lose steerage and control and in this kind of situation could be in real trouble. We started the motor just to give us that extra power if we should need it. As we completed our tack we heard noise and saw smoke coming from the engine compartment. We didn’t know what was wrong but shut the engine down. We later discovered that we had forgotten to take in the bow line that had been coiled on the foredeck and that it had been just long enough to catch the prop and foul it as we came about. At this point I realized that we were on our own. There were no other boats out there; we had no radio. We lived or we didn’t depending on how this boat we had built held together and whether we did the right thing in the right way at the right time.
Where I had been in terror; I was suddenly in total calm. It was as though I had walked through a door in the storm and closed it behind me. It was the most extraordinary experience of my life. We were able to sail to a protected shore and get anchored. My friend went over the side into the frigid water and was able to cut the bow line from around the propeller. I discovered that the whole side of my face was cut and swollen probably from having been hit with the heavy “D” ring attaching the jib sheets.
It has been many years since this time, but I will never forget it. The fear suddenly had become irrelevant, it made no difference in the outcome; it was discarded. It is an experience that gives me hope that if I am ever again in such a difficult situation I will remember and react regardless of any fear.
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