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Chapter 83
The storm came on slowly one afternoon. The clouds lookedas if they were stumbling along before the wind, frightened.
The sea took its cue. It started rising and falling in a mannerthat made my heart sink. I took in the solar stills and the net.
Oh, you should have seen that landscape! What I had seen uptill now were mere hillocks of water. These swells were trulymountains. The valleys we found ourselves in were so deepthey were gloomy. Their sides were so steep the lifeboat startedsliding down them, nearly surfing. The raft was gettingexceptionally rough treatment, being pulled out of the water anddragged along bouncing every which way. I deployed both seaanchors fully, at different lengths so that they would notinterfere with each other.
Climbing the giant swells, the boat clung to the sea anchorslike a mountain climber to a rope. We would rush up until wereached a snow-white crest in a burst of light and foam and atipping forward of the lifeboat. The view would be clear formiles around. But the mountain would shift, and the groundbeneath us would start sinking in a most stomach-sickeningway. In no time we would be sitting once again at the bottomof a dark valley, different from the last but the same, withthousands of tons of water hovering above us and with onlyour flimsy lightness to save us. The land would move oncemore, the sea-anchor ropes would snap to tautness, and theroller coaster would start again.
The sea anchors did their job well – in fact, nearly too well.
Every swell at its crest wanted to take us for a tumble, but theanchors, beyond the crest, heaved mightily and pulled usthrough, but at the expense of pulling the front of the boatdown. The result was an explosion of foam and spray at thebow. I was soaked through and through each time.
Then a swell came up that was particularly intent on takingus along. This time the bow vanished underwater. I wasshocked and chilled and scared witless. I barely managed tohold on. The boat was swamped. I heard Richard Parker roar.
I felt death was upon us. The only choice left to me wasdeath by water or death by animal. I chose death by animal.
While we sank down the back of the swell, I jumped ontothe tarpaulin and unrolled it towards the stern, closing inRichard Parker. If he protested, I did not hear him. Fasterthan a sewing machine working a piece of cloth, I hookeddown the tarpaulin on both sides of the boat. We wereclimbing again. The boat was lurching upwards steadily. It washard to keep my balance. The lifeboat was now covered andthe tarpaulin battened down, except at my end. I squeezed inbetween the side bench and the tarpaulin and pulled theremaining tarpaulin over my head. I did not have much space.
Between bench and gunnel there was twelve inches, and theside benches were only one and a half feet wide. But I wasnot so foolhardy, even in the face of death, as to move ontothe floor of the boat. There were four hooks left to catch. Islipped a hand through the opening and worked the rope.
With each hook done, it was getting harder to get the next. Imanaged two. Two hooks left. The boat was rushing upwardsin a smooth and unceasing motion. The incline was over thirtydegrees. I could feel myself being pulled down towards thestern. Twisting my hand frantically I succeeded in catching onemore hook with the rope. It was the best I could do. This wasnot a job meant to be done from the inside of the lifeboat butfrom the outside. I............
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