Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Buff's America's Cup Adventure 11/13

Night Encounter

All that day we powered on eastwards.

At times I’d wondered what the outside world would be thinking, what the headlines would be. Most would guess yet another capsize, and search parties would be looking for splintered carbon fibre or support boats with engine failure. No one would be looking 1,000 nautical miles away, a distance that stretched further every hour.

Michael, Rachel, Ali and all were getting the hang of this beast, trimming more subtly, keeping the animal from bucking us off. Both hulls were clear of the water, with only the rare nose dip leading to “we’re going to die” thoughts.

In the afternoon I dozed again, escaping the afternoon sun in the shade of the jib, dreaming I was on a train flying across the Australian outback, back in the days of Walkabout. It felt good and I even forgot about the lack of beers.

When I woke the old fears returned, and I tried to have a quiet word with Ali.

“No worries Buff” he said. “We’re going directly from International Waters into Gaza waters. Palestine’s been recognised by the UN now, things have changed.”

There are times when I wish I listened to the news and this was one of them. I could tell that Ali would simply go where ever Rachel wanted to go, making her dreams become real.

In a way they all seemed to have been captured by the image: the great yacht, wing-sail mirroring the sky, flying metres above the water, racing to Gaza. It was that picture that kept them going, that mattered to them, more than the West-Eastern Yacht Club, more than the medicines or surgical spares, more than the memories of suffering and death.

Over dinner I got chatting to the bearded guitar player Samar and the suffer dude Gideon and we exchanged yarns and jokes as the sun set, and it was one of those best friends forever moments. They “got” Buff and I got them.

But I could tell the tension was rising, and they kept telling each other how amazing it was to be sailing a foiling cat at 45 knots. Which it was, but as the darkness fell the fears returned.

Ali had a GPS and he kept track of how many hours we had to landfall. At midnight we had our first encounter with the blockading fleet. A bright light appeared, a floodlight tracking us but whatever it was it couldn’t keep up, quickly dropping astern with shouts from a megaphone.

The next boats were faster, but not quite fast enough. A pair of them appeared at our bow, screaming at us to stop, but Ali just called out “trim, trim, trim” and Michael steered between them while Rachel turned on the VHF radio for the first time since Palermo.

“No weapons, no fight! We stay in International or Palestinian waters” she said. “We have that right under the freedom of the seas!”

They seemed calm but I was looking for somewhere to hide, and I was right for next thing the Israeli boats were firing at us, bullets snapping over my head.

Jeez, to be back in a bar, any bar, anywhere.

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