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Monster Waves

The waves are heavy and break with ridges of white foam in the morning sun. There is another twelve hours of hard weather until we reach harbor. Lisa and I are crossing the North Sea from Scotland to Jutland, Denmark. Our ketch SIRI is built of steel and she has carried us safely through gales fiercer than this one. We are not worried about our safety. There are only the two of us on-board and we are tired after 48 hours of sailing under tough conditions and want to reach Thyboroen before nightfall.

The west coast of Jutland is infamous for its sandbanks and the chart is filled with symbols signifying shipwrecks. The land is low and it is difficult to identify your position. We dare to make landfall only supported by our modern navigational aids, we know where we are. The Almanac, our pilot book, warns against approaching the coast in hard inshore winds. I reach the harbour-master on satellite telephone and he is reassuring: “We have 30-40 knots wind and boats come and go all the time. But you must not enter against the current. The tide turns at 1510 hours, welcome ashore skipper!” I am relieved to hear that we can enter Thyboroen harbor. The alternative port is Esbjerg, another twelve stormy and dark hours to the south.

The sea is now so heavy that I look to windward all the time to fend off the blows from the waves. The fulmars, small seagulls that the Vikings called storm-birds, use the wind and sweep along the valleys with stiff wings only inches above the surface. The really huge waves come in groups of three. I steer up the first one, turn and slide downhill like a sleigh and climb the second and then the third. Going with the flow and using the waves’ forces to our favour saves us energy and gives speed. Lisa joins me in the cock-pit and looks to leeward:

“Have you seen the fishing-boat down there in the south?”

“No I haven’t thanks! They have right of way. We will make it ahead of her, no problem.”

We find the weather very tough but for the pros, the fishermen, this is just another day at work. We see nobody on watch and guess they use autopilot. On-board SIRI one of us is always at the wheel, this is not the first time this caution saves us from collision…

The first we see ashore are wind-mills and later the light-house and a church-tower. The wind is inshore. Lisa checks our position on the chart-plotter. The waves are so strong that we will only have one chance to enter – no return-tickets – we must be right the first time.

“I see a fishing-boat south-east of us entering the passage to the harbour. There is a green buoy and a red one. That must be the entry?”

“Yes, that’s correct according to the plotter too! Just follow that boat!”

The sun is setting and the entry is so shallow that the waves grow higher. The colour of the water is yellowish from the whirling sand. They break brutally around us and white-brown foam flies in the air as in Japanese etchings. Suddenly the sun is shadowed and there is no wind. I turn and see a monster-wave preparing to swallow us from the aft. The wave lifts us and we roar ahead in a tunnel of water. The bow-waves reach halfway up the mast and ketch SIRI shivers and trembles. The speed is more than 30 knots and the noise is extreme. I do not move or turn the wheel lest we capsize. Then the wave spits us out and releases us.

Lisa looks up from the cabin and I read from her face that she sees another monster-wave aft of us. This second one is higher and worse than the first one and looking at it I’m sure it will swallow and kill us. The bow is forced under the surface in an angel leading towards the sea-bottom and water flows over deck and into the cock-pit. The water drowns me and I am thrown against the wheel and Lisa hangs inside the hatch-opening. My last thoughts are:

” So this was it! This is how we should die!? Well I did my best…”

Slowly the lifting power of our ship overcomes the pressure of the water and SIRI rises up from lying on her side. Our brave and well-built ship wins the battle and saves us. We did not join the navy of lost souls and the fleet of sunken ships…  Not this time!

The channel is now so shallow that waves cannot build up and I see the buoys leading to the opening between the arms of the pier and we reach the safety of the harbour:

“We made it dearest! Out there under the water I thought we were done- but we made it!”

“Well it was a close call skipper. Never been so close darling!”

Summing up our experience after dinner we concluded that we had made most things right and no major mistakes - we had tough luck. Had we made mistakes and additional tough luck the ending might have been the end? The Tao strategy of going with the flow, our ketch SIRI and our Higher Power saved us. Lisa and I pray together in church, this night we pray together on board. We are safe in Thyboroen  - tied to the earth of Jutland, Denmark.