On a morning late in June, mist drips from the needles of Douglas-fir and western red cedar on the outer coast of Washington, near Cape Flattery, the uttermost end of the earth. The cries of gulls and seabirds echo above the slow drumming of the surf in sea caves eroded from the cliffs. The fog horn on Tatoosh Island plays counterpoint.
Sailing, at least sailing small boats long distances far from shore, is a technology often practiced in discomfort and occasionally fear, practiced in a realm of enormous forces that cannot possibly be controlled and sometimes not even survived. A sailor can manage risk by playing probabilities, by carefully choosing routes and time of passage, but the risks of sailing small boats across oceans are still significantly greater than vacationing onboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise line. So why do we do it? Why do sailors go to such expense and effort to place themselves in harm’s way?
In September of 2004, Hurricane Ivan approached the Gulf of Mexico. It was a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 130 mph. In the offshore oil fields, 75% of the manned oil platforms (574 platforms) and 59% of the drilling rigs (69 rigs) were evacuated. When the storm passed, five rigs were adrift and seven sunk outright. Numerous platforms were heavily damaged. Seabed pipelines were shifted as much as 300 feet, many were leaking, and some couldn’t be found at all, buried beneath tons of mud that had slid down submarine canyon walls.