The longest 4 hours

The last words I heard from my husband via cell phone: “We’re just trying to survive!” Time: 1:01 a.m. on Monday. After that, I waited. And waited. It would be the longest four hours of my life before I’d hear his voice again. Would I hear his voice again? Only the omniscient God knew the answer.

My husband and eight other crew members left Chicago Harbor Saturday afternoon for the 103rd Chicago-Mac Race (289 nautical miles on Lake Michigan) and raced to Mackinac Island. The boat, Swiftsure, is a 50-foot Nelson Merek sailing vessel. The crew had numerous sailing and racing hours logged. But never in all their sailing history had they experienced such horrific conditions. 

First, I contacted Mary, wife of another crew member. We were already bedded down for the night after watching the radar and reading Chicago Yacht Club Facebook posts warning of an impending storm. “Mary, are you awake?”

“Yeah, did you hear from Steve?”

I swallowed. “Yes, and the storm hit their boat full on, but all the guys are fine…”

“Oh no!”

“Steve says everybody on their boat is okay, but he wanted to tell us first before we started hearing or reading about capsized boats and bodies missing.”

“Where are they now?”

“Somewhere by the Manitou Islands. He couldn’t talk long—only to say the wind blew out the mainsail and the boat’s retired. They’re trying to make their way southward toward Petoskey-Harbor Springs to dock.”

“So they quit the race?”

“Yes, the last thing I heard him say was…we’re just trying to survive!”

My head rested on a soft pillow, my weary body on dry sheets as I tried to imagine what their morning experience must have felt like. Thoughts of them tangling with angry wind, turbulent waves, lightening, hail, and pelting rain made my insides sick.

Prayer chain: that’s what we needed, so I set up a conference call between Mary and I, two dear sailor-friends, and my son and wife.  Together we lifted our pleas heavenward asking for protection over the sailors. Encouragement also came in the form of many Facebook prayer posts.

My Bible lay on the nightstand next to me. I opened it to Psalm 55. Hungrily, I read the first verses, “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught…my heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me…As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me.”

My eyes read further to Psalm 57. “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” I repeated over and over again: “Have mercy on me, God. Have mercy on my husband and the crew and all the sailors. Please, have mercy, God!”

With the words, “God, have mercy,” on my lips, I slipped into a semi-sleep until Steve called about four hours later to tell me the joyous news: the crew landed safely on shore at Petoskey Municipal Marina. Counting my blessings, I sobbed, and cried out: “Thank you, God, for saving them, for having mercy on them and on me. Thank you for allowing them to live another day.”

Note: Such was not the fate of two sailors who perished in the water before they could be rescued from their capsized boat on that harrowing morning of July 18, 2011. My heart and soul goes out to the families and friends of Mark Morley, 51, skipper of WingNuts, and Suzanne Bickel, 41. May God’s peace, comfort and love rest on each of their burdened shoulders. 

Teresa Kay Lasher©2011

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