A gust of wind, invisible save its shadow, sweeps across Lake Michigan, darkening a surface already heaving from the storm. Glancing to my side, I see the next wave bearing down on us, towering over our forty-foot sailboat. In seconds, it rolls underneath the hull, lifting the boat momentarily before plunging us into the trough. The sails start to flutter, a warning. The wave is pulling us too far off the wind, threatening to jibe the boat and fling the boom to the other side. If that happens, the sheer force of twenty-eight knot winds grabbing the sail as the boom flies across the cockpit could sever the mast.
Frantically, I muscle the wheel to pull us back on course. And then the gust slams into the sails, yanking the boat up into its clutches, up to where it threatens to suck the air from the sails and stall the boat. I turn the wheel hard in the other direction.
One hour into a seven-hour journey, my arms ache as I referee these two powerful forces of nature. Even after Rubin reefs the headsail, making it smaller, I am overpowered. I don’t want to voice what I feel, that with each roar of the wind, each wildly frothing wave spilling alongside our boat, I am afraid.
Intellectually, I know our thirty-year old sailboat is designed for this type of weather, that I am safe. Emotionally, I am not convinced. In between gusts, I anxiously scan the distant horizon, skies the color of dirty cotton balls etched in metal-gray. If I can just see the thin silhouette of the harbor light, I know we will be okay, I tell myself.
On calm days, particularly when backlit by a sky streaked in the soft pastels of sunrise or the flaming shades of sunset, I find lighthouses and harbor lights romantic. Not today. Today is about survival. I am looking for that towering structure built of cement, steel, stone, and iron, constructed to withstand the indifference of nature, designed to guide weather-battered boaters, like us, to safe harbor.
Once on land, when my feet are firmly planted in the sand, I promise to photograph this harbor light that withstands the merciless pounding of wind and waves. For like the wildflowers that edge the wetlands or dot the forest in spring, this light reminds me to pause and be grateful for every moment of life.
For "romantic" shots of Lake Michigan's lighthouses and harbor lights click here: Beacons of Hope
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