Tranquility : A Memoir of an American Sailor by Billy Sparrow

by · May 26, 2017

tranquility
Excerpt from book:
Puget Sound may not look like much when you see it from the deck of a ferry moving along at a twenty-knot clip, but it’s a challenging and temperamental body of water to sail a small craft on. First and foremost, the skipper of a low-powered vessel like Tranquility must plan for the strong currents which go hand-in-hand with the fifteen-foot tides the region is known for. That’s a lot of water moving around. When the wind blows hard in the opposite direction of the current—which can run up to seven knots—a foul type of confused sea is kicked up which can delay a voyage or put a small boat at risk. Wind-against-tide they call it.

Puget Sound is nothing to play around with. It’s a vast expanse of water, more inland sea than sound in places and the surrounding terrain is generally unforgiving. Shoals extend far from shore in many places, while in others the water is too deep for a vessel to anchor a safe distance from shore.cThe mainland and islands are heavily wooded, there’s hundreds of bays and channels and inlets and passages that all look the same to the untrained eye, making it easy for a novice mariner to lose his bearings. To a beginner, Puget Sound waters can seem as listless or fearsome as the ocean. An anchorage that looks fine one day can turn into a dangerous blowhole the next, as the winds and weather move up and down the sound following the lay of the land. The forests come down to the shores of the sound, the hinterland rivers eat away at their banks, pick up dead trees and carry them to the sea, so there’s logs and stumps adrift to watch out for year-round. Several busy ports are in the region, so there’s a good deal of shipping traffic to steer clear of as well. You have storms in the fall and snows in the winter, gales in the spring and fogs in the summer. The pleasure-boating season is brief and uncertain, and, even in the middle of summer, the water is dangerously cold.

That is Puget Sound and a Puget Sound sailor is a very good sailor indeed.

And so, with nary a glance at the chart book and only a vague idea of what the tide was going to do to us, John and I motored Tranquility through the narrow sea lane, under the railroad bridge and headed her for the sublime and windless waters of Puget Sound. There were certainly no ill-omens to be read in the weather. It was shaping up to be a warm and lovely starlit evening. As soon as we were out of the shallows, we began steering a jolly old course that bent broad away from shore in a way that guaranteed we would be as far as possible, as fast as possible, from safety or assistance, for most of the night. We had no inkling of what was in store for us out there and, in a little while, we were much farther from shore than a minimum of caution would have allowed us to stray.

After a fairly aimless hour of motoring, John and I turned our attention to an enormous red and black freighter that appeared out of nowhere in the distance off our stern. She was coming up on us from out of the south and she was footing it fast. John, who was steering when we first saw her, was soon facing dead-aft watching her approach. We kept our eyes on the ship for a long time, transfixed by her steady progress, but it was impossible to say exactly where she was headed. One minute she seemed to be coming right for us and the next, she looked like she was going to pass far to the west. Yet all the while she drew nearer…or seemed to. It was pretty hard to tell, because the movements of the distant ship were soon influencing our own wandering course. When she veered a little to port, Tranquility veered a little to starboard to stay out of her way. And when she veered a little to starboard, Tranquility veered a little to port –all but guaranteeing a confrontation. As captain, I knew my job was to do nothing, act nonchalant at all times, and choose my words carefully. So it was John who spoke up first. He whistled through his teeth and said: “Just look at that thing! Do you think she even sees us?” Based on our relative speed and heading, I figured the freighter saw us and was going to pass a half-mile to the west and therefore posed absolutely no danger. I made up my mind that we were okay and I issued an authoritative, “Chill-out, bro” to John, who didn’t seem put at ease by it. Then I hopped below deck, where, from a concealed location, I watched the approach of the ship through a porthole with growing apprehension. Ten uneasy minutes later, there was absolutely no doubt about it. The freighter was bearing down on us! And I had to do something quick…but what?

More information on the book visit here.

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