The seas had been moderate when the storm broke, and by the time I got below at 4 o’clock in the afternoon I was still able to cook myself a breakfast, a fry-up of potatoes, onions and three eggs. I reckoned that the wind was now 80mph. I went to sleep reading Shakespeare’s Tempest. At 8.30 in the evening, I woke to find the sea getting up, and the ship taking an awful pounding. Some seas, like bombs exploding, made the ship jump and shake; she was lying beam-on to the blast, which was from the north-north-east and was moving pretty fast, about 3 knots.
I knew that I must try to slow her down, so I dressed in my wet oilskins. First, I tried to head her into wind, but no matter where I set the tiller she refused to lie other than broadside to the wind. I had a big outer motor tyre for a sea anchor, and I shackled this on to the anchor chain, paying out 10 fathoms of chain over the stern; I also paid out 20 fathoms of 2 / inch warp over the stern. It did not seem to make the least difference to the speed.
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I put the wind speed now at 100mph The noise was terrifying, and it seemed impossible that any small ship could survive. I told myself not to be weak – what was a 90 or 100-mile wind to a man on Everest? I filled a punctured tin with oil, and hung it over the side amidships in a piece of canvas, but it had no effect at all – the oil was too thick, and we were moving too fast. In any case, it was soon carried away.
As night came on I tried to sleep, but waiting in the dark, for the next crash made me tense, and I kept on bracing myself against being thrown out of the bunk. I was afraid; there was nothing I could do, and I think that the noise, the incredible din, was the chief cause of fear. The high-pitched shriek from the rigging was terrifying and uncanny. Two hours before midnight I came to think that we were headed into the eye of the storm. I dressed reluctantly, feeling dry in the mouth whenever I started to do anything, but better as soon as I began to do it. With difficulty, I climbed out into the cockpit. It took strength to hold the rudder full on, but slowly the ship jibbed round. She seemed easier on the east-south-east tack.
When I went below again I could not help laughing; all the same books, clothes, cushions and papers were back on the floor. I dozed, but could not sleep. I lay tense and rigid, waiting for the next sea to hit. Nothing mattered to me now except survival. My main fear was that one of the spinnaker poles would break loose and hole the hull. I found that by shining a torch through the cabin ports I could see the poles where they lay on the deck, and I was relieved to find the lashings still holding. I decided then that I had made a blunder, and that the south-east heading would take me into the eye of the storm, not away from it. However, the ship seemed better off on this tack, and I left her.
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