The attack came out of nowhere. It was early Tuesday morning, around the times roosters crow and we would surely have heard them if the nearest rooster were not a thousand miles away.
Ulli and Rick were on watch while the rest of the crew placidly slept in the rolling, jumping, cold, and humid vessel. Despite numerous reassurances that the cold weather would only last the first three days out of San Francisco, we are now on day 8 and the weather is still cold and gray. (There sure are a lot of things I was not told before I hired onto this here crew!) So while some of us brought plenty of warm weather clothing and just a bit of cold clothing, we now find out that the proportions should have been reversed. Someone asked what should we do with the dirty laundry; another crewmember said, "I dont have that problem I am wearing mine." The reason for the change is that the wind conditions have forced us to go north so as to have more favorable conditions, as opposed to the traditional atmospherics where you tend to get into the tropical climate more quickly.
Its a hard chore to steer a vessel at night. The points of reference are gone, not that there are many in the open ocean. On this night we could see barely out to the bow of the boat, the rest was somewhat of a blur. We steered only by out instruments trying to maintain a particular position relative to the wind, we wanted speed if not necessarily an optimum heading. So we followed the instruments and steered left and corrected right which once in a while led to an overcorrection and then back left, and so it was for a good portion of the night.
The noise of the sea was continuous, both the waves coming against the boat and the occasional wave breaking and rushing towards the boat with a fast approaching and loud liquid swoosh. The waves crashing on the bow mixed in with the green and red light of the navigation lights which tell other vessels of our position and direction. Very often we would see explosions of green or red ahead of us.
Ulli and Rick took turns at the wheel. The never stopping turning of the wheel has a way of taking its toll, especially at 4 in the morning. Ulli in an analogy to be expected from a national of an Alpine country, says that staying on your feet while at the wheel while the the boat is jumping underneath requires the agility of a skier. And indeed the comparison is apt; your legs and knees flex left and right and up and down to maintain a balance and avoid falling and catastrophically turning the wheel as you go down.
This time it was Rick at the helm. It was he who became the target. Off to the right over the water there was a fluttering in the dark, it seemed green and red as it went through the loom of our navigation lights. The mind registered the movement and thought of a bird, and then quickly countered itself saying but a bird so far out?
The impact came all of a sudden, direct and hard, smack on the right side of the chest. Any pain was dulled by the hit being square on the life vest, over the metal automatic inflation capsule. Rick exclaimed out in surprise, Ulli asked what was that? A loud flutter and flapping was taking place on the floor of the cockpit. Rick cried out that a bird had flown into him. Ulli asked if Rick was hurt; the answer was no. Then the flapping creature was illuminated by the light off the compass and we saw, just as we smelled, the largest, Mother-Of-All-Flying-Fish we had ever seen. It was about a foot long, Ulli said it was like a Trout, Rick thought it weighed around two pounds. And it flapped and struggled trying to get back in the water, spewing scales and the most horrendous imaginable stink. Rick held onto the helm as Ulli pursued the fish. There was a quick comment by Rick about keeping keeping it for eating. Ulli, who was doing the chasing and getting smeared with slime and smell, got the creature in hand, and proving that possession is nine tenths of the law, gave a strong no, did not bother to further discuss the issue, and the fish went over the side.
Ulli went of to wash, Rick later followed and found a most propitious and surely providentially placed bottle of FeBreeze with which to douse clothing, foul weather gear, and flotation device.
The next morning, as the sun came up we saw a cockpit full of fish scales, the remnants of the attack. Cleaning them removed much of the smell but the memory of the attack remains. A rumor runs among the crew that this was a trial assault by sinister competitors, we remain alert for any eventuality.
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