Long fingers of oily black churning clouds reach out over us and shut off the sky like the giant hand of God.
The wind freshens and backs to the east. A cold rain glosses Moira, seeping deep into our hearts.
We fall off, roll in the 110 lapper and reef the main. As the heel of the black hand reaches us, the wind shoots up to 30 then to 40 knots and the rain turns into a torrent. Sea rears up into immense waves, coming from the northeast, southeast and from the southwest - all at once - peaking into triangular crests. They toss Moira about like a toy. Pillows, books and anything not secured are strewn everywhere down below as if we had put Moira into a giant washing machine.
Lowell Fink is at the dinette, trying to drink some coffee as I swing below. "Glad you came along?" I ask.
"Mortified," says Lowell with his usual big shaggy smile. "Where are we going?"
"Who knows? Somewhere towards Elizabeth Reef. I can't see anything out there. We probably won't get a sight today."
"Elizabeth Reef?" Freddy looks at the chart. "What time could we reach it?"
"Oh, not till tomorrow night. When this passes over we'll head on back towards Lord Howe Island. If I can get a noon shot today, that is, otherwise we'll just dodge south and head on for New Caledonia."
"Best of luck," Lowell mutters. Right now it looks like we won't see the sun again for a week.
"Not luck, weather magic." I get out the sextant and check it over with great confidence. "You do recall our session with the Witch Doctor in the Solomons?"
"Well, how about some nice weather, then," Lowell lurches as Moira drops 15 feet straight down and hits the trough with a crashing thud.
The barometer is still falling. I tap the dial and the red needle plops down to 1001 hpa.
At 11:15, 15 minutes before the sun should transit, I go topside with the sextant and look up at several thick layers of black churning clouds. A moment of fear touches me, the feeling of being somewhere at sea in a storm but not knowing exactly where. "Come on Sun," I whisper into the wind. The wind drops a little and I step out of the cockpit and work my way aft to sit on the after locker for my noon shot. Lowell looks out from the cockpit and shakes his head. His mouth moves but the wind cuts off his words. Probably something about the impossibility of getting a sun shot today.
As I think those words, the clouds overhead swirl and break between us and the Sun. Ten minutes to transit and there is the Sun, big and bright and beautiful. I take a sight - quick but accurate. As I call "MARK" to Lowell, I hear "Whoosh" right behind me. I turn and look down Moira's transom and there is a big female Killer Whale, an Orca, less than a meter from our stern.
"Uh, Hey, Burnam Burnam sends his best," I stammer out. She rolls and a penetrating black eye looks at me. She rolls back, says "Whooooooosh" again and dives beneath Moira's keel.
"Say what, old buddy?" calls Lowell, pencil poised for the sextant reading.
I call back the reading and take a second shot as the clouds part again. The clouds clear for about two minutes exactly as the sun transits and I have our position. As I climb back into the cockpit, cradling the sextant, the clouds close over solid again, leaving us in a dark gray afternoon. But at least we know where we are.
"That was spooky," Lowell hands me the paper with the sextant readings and the times. "I looked out there and here we were bathed in sunlight. As far as I could see, in every direction, it was all gray and dark. One shaft of sunlight and its right on us. Damn spooky."
The wind dies down to about 10 knots as I work up the noon shot. Freddy, who has been snoozing aft, comes out and announces "I just had a weird dream about an orca."
"Really? Well one came to visit us while you were asleep, it passed about a meter away from you, right under where you were sleeping."
"It did? Did you say Hi from Burnam Burnam?" Freddy grins.
"Why, naturally. It even said,"Whoosh" back."
"Maybe she heard it echosounding," Lowell suggests.
"Sure. Tell me Lowell, what does an Orca sound like underwater?" I ask, smiling. He shrugs - it is an admission he does not know and there are some things we'll never know.
I take the first watch. As Freddy and Lowell sleep, I think about what comes next. Where we will go, what we will do. Night watches are good for this kind of cogitating.
Moira takes the seas cleanly, saying she likes being free again, heading out into the Pacific, with no real destination, nothing planned. I start to think about the dolphins, and the dolphin book, but turn it off. I don't want to think about them for awhile. Not for a long while. My mind turns to the I Ching.
I have not asked I Ching much of anything for quite awhile now. In a way, I am almost ashamed to confront the Oracle. It was right, impossibly accurate, wonderfully strange, beyond the realm of explanation. And I was wrong, impossibly stupid, beyond excuses.
While Burnam Burnam might be right about it being a highly successful experiment, it hurts whenever I think about the three dolphins out there in Bulley's Lion Park. And it's not my ego, either. I hurt for all the dolphins suffering in little swimming pools all over this planet.
It's over, OK. Forget it. We'll see what the Moirae have planned for us next.
I check the softly glowing compass and look out into the wet, rainy night to scan the horizon. Nothing. The horizon is empty, an endless, black circle on a Magic Sea.