Adventure. What a fascinating, seductive, and deceptive word. To me, it invokes images of lonely train whistles, ocean voyages, and travel to “far distant places with strange-sounding names.” In fact, just seeing the word gets my adrenalin pumping and lifts my spirits to dizzying heights. And I’m someone who really should know better.
I’ve always had restless feet—which I probably get from my nomad Cherokee ancestors on my father’s side. Even as a young child I wanted to know what was over the next ridge or down the next country road. My parents had a terrible time keeping me from wandering off because I had such an urgent need to explore. For reasons that escape me to this day, at the age of three (according to my parents) my absolute favorite pastime was stripping naked and charging off down the street bellowing war cries.
Things didn’t change much as I got older. Well, I did outgrow the naked-war-cry phase, thank God. But I’m still a sucker for adventure. And since I’ve also got the luck of the Irish from my mother’s side of the family, adventures have a habit of dropping right into my lap—which isn’t always a good thing. Contrary to popular opinion, the “luck of the Irish” does not necessarily refer to good luck. Just thought I’d mention that.
Adventures always start out so calm and easy—at least mine tend to—but it doesn’t take long for them to disintegrate into miserable and sometimes dangerous experiences. Richard Bach, one of my favorite authors, once wrote (and I am paraphrasing here) that if adventurers knew what was in store for them before they started out, none of them would ever go. Take it from someone who knows—he’s right.
For example, there was the time I nearly got thrown overboard in the Sea of Cortez. I was on a research vessel at the time—a 50-foot ketch (two masted sailing craft) with a six-man crew—heading from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas. When we left La Paz, the weather was warm and sunny. Beautiful. The water was a little choppy, but that’s fairly normal for the Sea of Cortez. As this was my first time in a boat on the ocean, I was totally clueless about how fast a storm could materialize out on the water.
The first indication that we were in trouble was when the captain shouted for us to secure the deck because we were going to get some weather. Of course, my first thought was: going to get some weather? What was the sunshine and warm ocean breezes, if not weather? But from the way everyone scrambled around tying down loose items and equipment, I figured he was probably talking about adverse weather.
After the deck was secured, I stood at the rail and watched the storm “arrive.” It was fascinating. The rain poured down in sheets and, as the “weather” approached, this dark curtain of rain raced across the water toward the boat, accompanied by increasingly higher swells of water. When the storm reached us and tossed us around like a cork, the first thing I did was lose my breakfast. I’d been so proud of myself for not succumbing to the bouts of seasickness that plagued the other new crewmember, but this time, I tossed my cookies over the rail right beside him. As the storm progressed, even some of the seasoned crewmembers were forced to join us there.
Just as one of these more experienced sailors told me things could always be worse, sure enough, they got worse. (God, why do people say that when they know it only makes bad things happen?) The winch holding the bow anchor broke. The bow anchor (the one in at the pointy end), which on this boat, didn’t sit on the deck but hung over the side secured to a chain attached to the broken winch. When it malfunctioned, the chain released and the anchor plummeted to the bottom. Not a good thing, especially since the wind was whipping the chain against the side of the boat with such force that, if we didn’t get it secured and the bow anchor tied down quickly, it would have punched a hole in the hull. Never a good thing.
While the captain steered the boat, and two crewmembers worked on the winch, the rest of us knelt on the bow and pulled the anchor up from the bottom by hand. Imagine, if you will, kneeling at the front of a boat as it plows through the waves. We had to yank up several feet of chain then close our eyes and hold our breath as another wave crashed down on our heads. In between the waves, we hauled up as much more chain as we could before closing our eyes and holding our breath again. And although the sea was warm enough when the weather was calm, seawater chased by wind and rain is cold and uncomfortable, especially when you’re already soaked and chilled to the bone. Believe me, it wasn’t fun.
They managed to jerry-rig the winch, and we’d no sooner gotten the anchor pulled up and locked into place, when the top misen sail halyard broke off the main mast and blasted me right between the eyes. Why does this sh**t always happen to me? If I hadn’t had a lifeline, attached to a cleat on the deck, around my waist (and a quick-thinking crew member hadn’t caught me), I would have been tossed overboard.
Since I was the only female crew member and weighed the least, guess who had to climb the mast and reattach the halyard. You guessed it, yours truly. Yep, even with two black eyes, a raging headache that had me seeing spots, and being so cold and wet I was numb from head to toe, I was still the best bet. As I climbed up the mast, the guys were all shouting at me not to drop any tools because even a screwdriver dropped from that height could be lethal. But in truth, considering how swaying at the top of the mast exacerbated my nausea, I was far more likely to shower them with puke than falling screwdrivers. Luckily for all of us, I managed not to do either.
Besides having had both good and bad adventures, I’ve also had the embarrassing ones. You know, those ones that make you cringe every time you think about them. And although I hate to admit it, some of mine are memorable—or rather they’re impossible to forget, no matter how hard I try. Part of the problem is that I was born without the requisite filter between my brain and my mouth—the one that is supposed to stop what I think from pouring out of my mouth even before I realize I’m thinking it. I didn’t get one of those. I guess that’s why I decided to be a writer. It’s much harder to put my foot in my mouth that way. God bless editors!
But, hey, an adventure’s an adventure, right? Wrong, and if you’re still inclined to want one, remind me to tell you about the time…
© 2011 by Pepper O’Neal