Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Big Weather + Big Seas = Beat Up Boat

Me and the crew onboard the 43 Viking, Blinky III, had just finished fishing the White Marlin Open. We thought it would be good to head home from Ocean City, Maryland, to Long Island, New York, one day early in order to beat some bad weather heading south. The trip home would run 155 miles, and with east winds not predicted to go over 15 knots, our 45-degree heading (once we passed Manasquan, NJ) at 24 knots would have us home in about six or so hours.

Well, the crew was in good spirits as the first 136 miles passed uneventfully with the iPod cranking and memories of the weeklong fishing trip already growing into tall 'tails'. Then the radar lit up the deepest red I've ever seen. It expanded out 24 ugly miles from its center. This was a big thunderstorm moving from the west, which was about to collide with an increasing wind from the east. Our problem: The only place we could go was through the thinnest band in the middle. The storm was moving too slow to wait it out and the east wind was picking up to 25-plus (not predicted). We decided to proceed slow and steady.

The second we crossed into the red zone, we were smacked with a qualified gale on the beam. For the next three hours we slugged our way through 30-35-knot-plus winds, rain, and eight- to 10-foot vertical walls of water smashing down on Blinky. The waves were hitting hard enough to actually push water through the ziplock-tight zippers in the isinglass. It was getting a bit hairy. The vessel literally slid down a couple of larger waves as our speed slowed to four and five knots. The 36,000-pound boat was being tossed like a salad.

We managed to get a call to land to confirm our float plan with a family member, and kept on a 30-minute call schedule to confirm our position. Life jackets were brought out and a secondary life raft was made ready just in case.

Luckily, with four experienced crew onboard and a sturdy boat beneath, we crawled through the storm with little more than some bruised bodies and one more war story to tell.The power of the wind and storm was evidenced in what remained of our brand-new ensign. Old glory had gone from a wonderfully double-stitched expression of freedom to straggly and sad-looking strands of thread in less than 20 miles of heavy wind and big seas.

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