“Whoaaa…” I answer as the first gust hits and she heels over, her rail dipping into the sea. Her bow pulls windward and I pull the wheel back while easing the mainsheet.
A few minutes earlier the fog had moved in, leaving me suddenly surrounded in mist. I could see the bow, but beyond that was a mystery. Worse than a mystery, there was a bridge ahead; a railway bridge, and beyond that another bridge for cars. But between the two bridges was my path, the river that would lead to my little side cut, and on to my home. The railway bridge would be open until the train was scheduled to arrive, but unless I could find the bridge… and the opening, I would be spending the night out.
I had already completed a Sunday circumnavigation of the bay, stopping at a favorite haunt for a heaped platter of boiled crawfish washed down with a beer too many, and now wanted only to find the river that would lead home. Amor de Alma was my yacht, well, really just my sailboat, but she had pretty lines, a tall mast and was a joy to sail. She was enough of a yacht to sail the seven seas, yet still a sailboat enough that I could handle her myself.
The weather in south Louisiana was usually mild, until well at sea, but here, so close to shore, the fog would be my nemesis. It would hug the ground and render the nearest object invisible, yet jumping a few feet up one could see the stars above. I had already stood, but my vision was limited to the bow thirty-five feet ahead. Looking up, I could see my masthead light shining, but beyond that, the stars were lost to the fog as well.
Having lost sight, I had only my other senses. The after taste of the beer and crawfish were still on my lips, yet I could still smell the sweet odor present from the saw grass that surrounds the bay. I listened closely, however as I listened to the fog, I realized that the mist strips the night of its sounds. The wind had nearly died with the arrival of the fog, so Alma and I were barely moving, silently gliding through the still waters.
The compass still showed true south, the bridge was surely somewhere ahead. If I continued to ease slowly southward, I hoped I would see the bridge before it found me. The bridge was low, less than twenty feet from the water, thus without finding the swing bridge opening my fifty-foot mast would keep me locked in this bay.
I heard it then, a distant roar, coming closer, moving fast. “Whoosh”, the wind strikes.
“Whoaaa…” I answer as the first gust hits and she heels over, her rail dipping into the sea. Her bow pulls windward and I pull the wheel back while easing the mainsheet. We accelerate quickly, too fast, as I still cannot see ahead. I ease the mainsheet still further.
A moment later the rain hits, within seconds I am drenched. Alma is still toying with the wind, heading her nose into it, as each gust strikes us. Her natural balance is her virtue, as she smoothly handles each gust. As she again heads into the wind, I release the tension on the massive Genoa and pull the roller furling in, reefing her halfway. She de-powers slightly and this changes Alma’s balance, slightly decreasing her desire to head up into the wind.
The rain and the fog battle for only a minute before the mist recedes into the background and the view is cleared. The bridge is ahead, however the opening I need is to port; I tighten the mainsheet, turn to starboard and tack across the wind, then let the mainsheet back out as I quickly line up to the opening. Hardly noticing the rain, I feel so at one with my little yacht and the elements.
“Bloogh”, the bridge sounds its horn warning of closing, but I am already too close to turn back. The ancient motor comes to life and I see the bridge start to swing close, but we are nearly there.
“Bleeee, I can not stop, I will not turn, you must let me through.” I raise my tiny air horn and answer the bridge.
“Bloogh, Bloogh, Bloogh”, the bridge has seen me and is telling me to turn off.
“Bleeee” I answer and continue, the bridge opening is rapidly disappearing but I am nearly there.
I look up at the bridge segments quickly closing and measure the gap. Can I make it? The rain is driving down, and just then another strong gust of wind hits us. I quickly adjust the wheel, keeping me on course while letting the rail bury in the water, driving the bow ahead ever faster.
A moment later we slide into the wind sheltered recesses of the bridge, the mast straightens up and I watch as we slide between the closing segments. It seems mere inches of space as we slide through.
As if on cue, the rain stops, and I look back to see the bridge click closed.
Steering downwind, I tighten up the main. Letting the sail jibe, I turn toward my port and ease the mainsail out again. Silently we slip toward my harbor as the whistle of the train sounds.