From Bored to Terrified

This is an excerpt from Warren Cullar’s newly finished book My Dad, Napoleon and Me, a creative nonfiction motivational book. This is a fragment of the story “South China Sea,” in which he sails from Hong Kong to Manila in a 32′ sailboat with his friend Bill and three strangers, illustrating one of the steps from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich: Decision.

From Bored to Terrified

By Warren Cullar

The sea softened, now only lapping sounds where boat meets water, and then calm with no sounds from the ocean. The sails fluttered and died. The sails hung from the force of gravity, loose, but ridged at the same time. We were adrift in a sea of glass and the water became a mirror reflecting a silver orb. The harvest moon glowed above the horizon; its intensity was blindingly strong. The interior of the cabin was dark, yet so hot and humid one chose to sit on deck and pull a hat down to block out the headlight beaming moon.  The stillness and flatness stretched in all compass directions toward a horizon that did not want to end, but continued on until morning. Sitting became uncomfortable, silence became boring and thinking was dull from the waiting. Gradually our spirit boat of dreams turned in the vastness of the dark ultramarine ocean. The “Ugly Duckling” made one revolution every hour in the unseen current and this became our keeper of time and two days passed.

New Friends

New Friends Ink-line drawing from Sketch Book (2004)

A poem I had memorized when I was in high school …“and the sun comes up like thunder out of China across the way.” The next morning the sun did not come up like thunder, it more or less appeared behind a bank of gray clouds, slowly turning a magic sky canvas into breathtaking colors of blood red and deep purple streaks, promising a change in the weather.

Mid morning the wind came lightly and life entered the dead sails and they fluttered and filled. The arrow at the top of the mast swung into the direction of the wind and we were out of the doldrums. Hours passed and sailing could not have been better. The day passed uneventfully and in the afternoon each man took his turn to stand, lean back into the sail sheet, and scrub down with sea water soap. The evening meal was devoured with smiles all around. We told jokes, tales of women in our lives and bonded the likes I had never seen before.

The first signs of our day ending were a scattering of dark clouds to the north coming up our stern. We all noticed, yet no one said anything about what we all knew was coming. Silently, I remembered the old sailors rhyme, “red skies in the morning, sailors take warning, red skies at night, sailors delight,” and our morning had been a spectacular sky canvas painted in red. Les took precaution to radio our position on the hour to Manila for the remainder of the night because it was going to be a long one.

The howling wind and heavy spray came first, followed by the thunderous waves. We were all wearing chest harnesses that wrapped around our necks like wide suspenders and snapped onto the cable line that was permanently attached from the bow to the stern. I pulled myself along the forward deck attached by my umbilical cord to the mother ship of safety. There was as much water on the inside of my yellow slicker as  there was on the outside because each time the bow sliced into a wave, a plume of water rose and crashed down on the deck. I rolled across the cabin housing underneath the boom to pull lines and this time to skirt the jib sheet. All of this was done by feel of the boom and the safety line, I was cold, wet, hungry, my hip hurt, my hands were raw and I had to go to the head. At 2:00 am the interior of the cabin was dark and wet as I worked my way to the bow toilet amid tons of sail bags the size of arm chairs. My muscles wouldn’t relax enough for me to defecate; I sat in the darkness hanging on and rolling among the heavy sail bags, feeling the continuous crash of the bow into the angry waves.

Back on deck everyone was doing some job, repeating orders as loudly as possible, “coming about,” dangerous as hell when the boom swings. I repeatedly tasted salt water.It was dark and nothing reflected because there was no light until the harsh crack of lightning, then a split second of blinding light, the terrible scene of tilted ocean, boat and men was burned into my mind. Tomorrow, I would have time to be scared, but for the awful moment, I was skirting the jib in a storm that was sending our small boat up into the waves and down the other side. Men pray to all sorts of gods for rescue in moments like these and I did the same, “God please let me live till morning,” and I did.

The next day, a gray morning with a light rain greeted us and the sea was casually rolling and resting after a hard night in the storm. We were spent, exhausted and hungry, our cabin floated in four inches of water and the diesel engine had a leak in the line, only a few drops an hour, but enough to make your stomach sick from the fumes. My head hurt, my body ached and my hands and elbows were raw from rolling under the boom on the rough surface of the cabin housing. We made a plan to open the forward hatch for ventilation, reasoning that the small amount of rain didn’t matter in the scheme of things. We took turns bailing out the cabin and secured the leak in the diesel line. With the water removed, the forward hatch open, a wind catcher installed, and the line leak fixed we were feeling better. I started cooking a big pot of oatmeal and Bill toasted bread over the burners on the swinging stove, melted some butter, opened a jar of strawberry jam and breakfast was wolfed down with plenty of coffee. Everyone had been served and as I sat down to eat, Les threw up next to me over the side. I went ahead and ate my oatmeal, thinking to myself, “I can do anything in this world.”

By mid morning the clouds were breaking up, the sun was shining and our spirits were lifted. Everything that was wet from the storm was on deck and tied to the lines and railings, catching the sun and wind. We spent the better part of the day cleaning, drying and organizing everything. The cabin deck was dry by nightfall. Our evening meal was a big salad, bacon and eggs with oranges topped off with Oreo cookies. It felt like a feast and the night sailing was peaceful and relaxing.

Beginning next Sunday on the 3rd of August, read a 2-part series on Warren’s business relationship with his writing coach Jacob Pousland.

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