Photo credit: Alberto_VO5 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC
The Jeep rumbled out a warning. Maybe it was a sign—a plea to abort an ill fated mission before it got started. We pulled off the highway and into a service station where we found that the lug nuts on a rear wheel had somehow worked loose. The mechanic snugged them up and we continued on our way.
Upon our arrival at Winthrop Harbor, we prepared Randy’s twenty-eight foot O’day for the estimated ten hour voyage down to the Hammond Port Authority. Randy is an experienced sailor, but this would be his first extended sail on his new vessel.
He needed help and none of his sailing buddies were available, so that’s where I came in. Not knowing the difference between port side and port wine, my contribution would amount to little more than an extra set of hands and an occasional sarcastic remark.
After correcting a few problems with the rigging, we fired up the diesel engine and motored away from the dock. Once free of the harbor we set sail for Indiana along the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
The boat sliced through the waves at a good pace, but a few hours into the trip the wind shifted direction. We were being driven further out into the lake than planned. Our attempts to navigate the changing conditions by tacking through the wind proved futile. With the lake conditions getting rougher by the minute we decided to motor.
Another hour into the trip a storm front began to close in on us and as luck would have it, the engine failed. With over five hours of sailing remaining in less than favorable conditions and no motor, Randy decided to call the Coast Guard for help. They sent out the Chicago Police Department’s marine unit who towed us into DuSable Harbor for the (very reasonable) cost of $500.
After having the motor repaired we waited for a break in the weather to finish the journey. Friday’s forecast looked promising with winds 10 to 20 knots and waves 1 to 3 feet. So off we went, relying on the proficiency of the National Weather Service. I should have known better.
In my 64 years I have discovered one undeniable reality, weather services often have trouble reporting the current temperature much less predicting the conditions 4 hours from now!
With wind speeds increasing to 21 to 30 knots and waves from 3 to 5 feet, we opted to lower the sails and restart the diesel engine.
Visibility was poor at best and keeping the boat on course required constant attention
Waves tossed the 28 foot ship around like it was a ping pong ball in a whirlpool. I pulled the radar up on my phone to do a little forecasting of my own. A storm cell had blown up and was heading straight for us. We prepared to ride it out.
We were freezing. The combination of wind and driving rain rendered our rain suits virtually useless. I’m not sure if I was more concerned about capsizing or dying from hypothermia
It seemed like a good time to strap on a life jacket. Unfortunately all Randy had onboard were those generic Type II orange vests. Made more for kids and skinny people than super-sized guys like myself, I adjusted the straps out as far as possible and it took all my strength to fasten the clasp. I felt like Ralphy’s little brother in “A Christmas Story” cocooned in his snowsuit!
It was just Randy and I out there alone, with no other option but to stick it out.
Our goal now became making it to the entrance channel between the stone breakwaters of the outer harbor basin. There we expected the waves would calm, and provide a reprieve from the relentless surges that had my sciatic nerve yelping. The distant channel markers seemed to taunt us as we made little progress closing the gap between them and us.
“Does any one know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s haunting lyrics kept playing in my head as the wind and the waves made their final attempt to claim us.
Approaching the channel entrance we could see calmer waters on the other side. It was within reach, and there we’d find peace in the storm … even if it was only a temporary stay. Upon entering this safe haven, we’d be able to let down our guard, release the tension and have a moment to collect ourselves before the final leg of the journey.
This experience reminded me of those times in my life when God provided a breather in the midst of a tempest. Moments of humor or tenderness that broke the tension just when I didn’t think I could handle much more. I found that it’s often in the middle of a storm that I see God’s love manifested in small but significant ways.
I think the lyrics of another song offer a fitting ending to today’s post:
“And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.”
~ Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)