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postheadericon A prayer for life

A Prayer for Life … in the Still of the Night

She was pitching and turning, my stomach heaving side to side with every roll. Oh why, why did I ever think that sea-life was all about gallantry and courage. There was no heroism in retching my guts out till there was no more while the wind howled through my ears in the pitch of dark. The thunder gods roared just as another streak of lightning hit the deck and I saw yet another huge wave ready to hit the deck. ‘Duck’, I shouted to my mates even as the heavy body of water hit the decks and the three masted Barque sail ship bucked and rolled as if to make a getaway from the unending pounding she was taking in the midst of this storm in the Pacific Seas.

As I scattered across the ship in the water, I thought back to a month ago when I was on dry land, happy in my home in the Indian sub-continent with not a care in the world. Never having seen the seas, I still ponder at what twist of fate made me volunteer for the high seas. Here I was, a novice, my sea legs not quite in place yet in the midst of what looked like a very black night. Oh life was fine when we had set out from Puerto Rico en-route to the America of ‘A’ fame. Romantic blue skies, calm blue green waters, sea gulls bidding adieu at ports, a dolphin or two swimming alongside for a while – life was tranquil. Then where did all this cold rain and lightining come from. This is one of those sudden tantrums of the rain gods that the Pacific is famous for, said an old hand smirking at my obvious discomfort.

She was a grand boat, built for long voyages. Eighteen sails with a sail area of almost 1000 sq m with square rigging on the fore and main masts and fore and aft rigged on Mizzen Mast. It took six officers and twenty seven men to crew her with space for 30 more hands and yet she quivered as if tiring of the struggle. Though quite storm worthy, her sails were now straining in the storm winds and threatening to rip. The captain taking note called for ‘All hands to Braizing Station’ to get the sails down and rolled up. Ignoring the revolt in my stomach, I volunteered to furl-up the top most sail on the main mast, a task that needed grit, height and strength of mind, body and soul. Why I volunteered, only God alone knows. With a quite prayer and no harness, there being a shortage of these, I harnessed a make-shift rope support around myself and started the slow journey up the mast, step at a time.

She pitched left and right as wave after wave hit her from bow to aft. The rain slashed against me as the winds howling reverberated through my head. My fingers were numb from the cold. Midway through the upward journey as I survived one more insistent wave bash, I did not know whether to laugh at my foolishness or cry at my grim situation. All feeling of sea-sickness had been replaced by a very real feeling of dread at the bottom of my stomach.

You know that famous adage ‘Never look down’, well this is when I decided to take a peep at the scene below. The adage as all things old and ancient was a wise one for the scene below was almost enough to make me faint. Half furled sails taunting the feverish deck hands, ropes flaying wildly, white stormy water slashing atop the deck as her bow once again dipped into the black hole of the stormy waters. I paused to regain my breadth and sense of mind and started up again with firm resolute never to look down again.

And then it happened. As the strong wind blew into the sails, the boat swung drastically and suddenly I was holding onto the mast with one hand while the rest of me swung free many many feet above dark angry seas. This is where you begin to see your past flow in front of your eyes and I started muttering a prayer for this was the end. Perhaps it was the prayers or the sea gods feeling magnaminous, but I managed to get a foodhold back on the mast, enough to haul myself back in position to hug the mast for dear life. My legs were shaking with fear, my shoulder blades felt that they had been wrenched out of their sockets, there was no feeling left in my hands and feet even as my heart had gone into an over-drive.

Hanging on for dear life, I thought, This was it, I was not moving an inch further, no matter what. Then I looked up to my goal and realized that the sail was going to tear if I did not get to it soon. What can I say, Duty calls. With the last of my energies, I hauled myself up to the sail and tried to catch her. She fought me like a tigress in the wilds, flapping me unrelentlessly, urging me to let go. But I was with a demon inside me as I fought back and managed to grab enough of her to start furling her up.

Though tempted to reside the rest of the storm atop the mast rather than face the journey down, I knew that my strength would not hold out much longer. I am not too sure if it was me who came down the mast or the wind who pushed me, but down I came to the deck and collapsed.

Many hours later as my strength returned and I regained some of my composure, my mates asked would I do this again. I looked at the bright sky, morning sunlight and the clean cut of the bow into the waters and smiling said sure, why not.

I have sailed many times hence with not a care in the world. But sometimes as I look out at the darkness of the sea in the night, I do remember the night that I prayed for dear all…

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