Near the Irish coast, the change in ocean depth was adding to the height of the waves. [Pachena
] was in one piece, the mast was fine, the rudder was fine, everything was working, except, [the boat]
didn’t have a storm trysail and so couldn’t go upwind.
“We were slamming into the seas and falling off,” Doug Race says. “It felt like an elevator.You would lift off the seat and then bang, you slammed down. It was a strong aluminum boat, so we didn’t worry that it would fall apart. But you always think about losing the mast.”
Knockdowns and broaches were frequent now, and among the wind and waves was an uncanny phosphorescence.Whenever water washed over the boat, the deck glowed for a moment or two.The crew had seen this phenomenon before on wild nights in the Pacific Northwest, but in the heart of the Irish Sea in this monstrous storm, it was as chilling as it was spectacular. Steve Tupper tightened his grip on Pachena
’s wheel and braced himself as the boat rose to take the next wave. The wind was blowing so hard the droplets that splattered his glasses streamed to the side of the lenses. It improved his vision, not that there was much to see.Tupper was looking for different shades of grey, just enough contrast to discern the jagged edge of blown foam at the top of the breaker, allowing him to estimate height, distance, and time to impact.
The former coach of Canada’s Olympic sailing team had been playing this game for hours now. He estimated this one to be fifty feet high from bottom to top, as tall as a five-storey house,no worse than others he had been steering around for hours, not even as big as some he’d seen once in a Mediterranean mistral
. He leaned, squinting into the wind, one broad hand gripping the lifeline and the other on the wheel.Where was the edge? Tupper heard rather than saw the wave approach and instinctively turned the boat away from the oncoming water. He was trying to gather speed so he could turn back and climb up the inside before it curled and broke. He knew right away it wasn’t going to work.The boat felt sluggish and unresponsive. …
There was barely time for Tupper to be angry at his own miscalculation before he felt the blow, a giant fist being driven deeply into his guts. Gasping, he staggered back into the stainless-steel rail, the impact bending him double. As tons of water roared over the boat,Tupper was swept out the stern, hanging half in and half out as the boat was flicked on her side, the mast touching the water. Tupper was curiously dispassionate as the water hissed and boiled past the stern, inches from his back. Sure missed that one, he thought.Then as the boat slowly righted, shuddering and shaking, Tupper cleared his head and hauled himself back on board.He stood up, took a stronger grip on the wheel, and with renewed resolve turned the boat and headed once more toward Fastnet Rock.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Beyond Endurance by Adam Mayers. Copyright © 2007 by Adam Mayers. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.