Tuesday, August 11, 2020

When Storm Clouds Gather

It was a great day for sailing. A steady six knot offshore breeze was just enough to keep us comfortable as we anchored a thousand yards out in the Mississippi Sound observing the sailboat races sponsored by the Pascagoula Yacht Club. 

Our boat was a twenty-three foot John Allmand, Ticonderoga we named “Myrioko,” meaning “attraction” or “fascination.” It had been my dream to own a boat, and then living on the Gulf Coast, my dream had become a reality. 

My crew that day consisted of a couple of friends and a Seaman 1st class from Coast Guard Station, Pascagoula. As an active member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, we were on the rotation for patrol one weekend each month. This was our weekend and our assignment was to monitor the sailboat races. At about four PM, most of the larger sailboats had finished and their crews were back at the club eating and having some adult beverages as the children and youth continued tracing in their Sunfish and other smaller sailing craft. 

On such a beautiful calm day, what could go wrong?

The time it took from my spotting the wall cloud until it hit the race course was less than three minutes. We raised the anchor, pointed the bow into the wind and prepared to ride out the storm. The wind, rain, and hail rammed us like we had run into a wall and the temperature dropped twenty degrees. I climbed down from the flying bridge and took control in the cabin. 

The radio blasted a frantic message from shore, “Boats over - kids in the water!” The “Myrioku” held steady as the Chrysler 350 I/O  kicked in and held us straight on course to the first capsized Sunfish. As we pulled alongside and pulled the young sailor from the water, he appeared to be in shock as they wrapped him in blankets and lay him on bed. Then we received directions to the next boat. By this time the rain was so intense the wipers could not keep up, I was flying blind. We had to steer by compass and get directions from the crew on deck. I had never been aboard a small boat like this in such a storm. In fact, I am not sure I have ever been outside in that kind of storm. It was sheer terror all the while the storm lasted. The adrenalin was pumping, and we had a job to do. But I did not feel capable in handling it, nor was I sure my boat could perform. All I could do was pray, ask the Lord to guide me. and trust those around me.

When the storm had passed, I was proud of the “Myrioko” and how she had  stood up to the storm. On the other hand, I was a mess physically and emotionally. But we had done all we were asked to do with six scared young sailors on board, wrapped in blankets, and still shaking from the now chilly air or their extreme ordeal. We were headed back to the Yacht club, to reunite the kids with their parents, when we received a radio call to go help an eighteen foot catamaran that had been turned upside down close to shore, about a quarter mile away.

It was an interesting sight, this catamaran with its mast stuck in the sand and two would be sailors wading in the waist deep water. We got as close as we felt was safe and threw them a line. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, we were able to right their ship and offer them a tow back to the club house as the winds had quit entirely. As true sailors, they refused a tow from a "stinkpot" and thanked us for our help. We returned to the Yacht Club with our precious cargo.

That was a day, I will never forget, and it taught me several life lessons:

1.  There will always be intense storms in your life.

2.  They will not last forever, they will pass almost as quick as they arrive.

3.  You do not know how strong you are until you are tested by the storm.

4.  You are much stronger than you believe you are.

5. When in the midst of a storm, keep moving into the storm. Meet it head on. If you try to run from it, or hide from it, it will hurt you.

6. Always, always have positive people around you that you trust to help, encourage, and support you.

I invite your comments.

Bill Johnson

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