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A. Jenks Journal


In Gods hands

There are times in our lives when we are placed in situations and circumstances in which we become fully aware of how little control we possess over things. Its as if we live in a state of constant illusion until something out of the norm breaks the spell momentarily and gives us a very small window into the alternate state that is reality. I was describing this to Joe the other day in regards to my most recent car accident. There I was cruising along through life, my subconscious mind already projecting and expecting what it assumed would happen next, when WHAMO!!! Out of the blue we were in a full spin! I remember trying to control the car and quickly realising that for better or worse, I was a passenger along for the ride and my fate was in Gods hands.

One of the most memorable of these times was early on in my life. The significant event occurred on May 16th 2000. I was 17 years old and it was towards the end of our seven year tour of the Pacific aboard Messenger, our 43ft sailboat. We had left Tokyo a few days before and sailed to a nearby island. We were island hopping the southern Japanese islands and our tentative plan was to sail to Australia.

We left the island of Chiba in the morning and set a course to Hachijo Jima. It was going to be an overnight of sailing, but after nearly 7 years of cruising, we had experienced much longer passages (ie.23 days to Hiva Oa in the marqueses from Puerto Vallarta Mexico).  The day was calm and not conducive to great sailing and we powered with the engine for most of the day. I remember that by nightfall the wind had kicked up quite a bit causing the ride to roughen and the boat needing to be hand steered. My mother who often suffered from sea sickness had retired to her bunk with the dreaded nausea as Messenger started being tossed a bit by the increasing swell combined with an ever stiffening South West wind. I was at the helm while Dad continued to monitor the weather and adjust the sails accordingly while tracking our progress on the charts. I had continued to hand steer for over two hours until Dad was able to stabilise things and allow the wind vane to take over steering. At this point he went below to catch a precious couple hours of sleep leaving me to stand watch. I spent the night observing and monitoring the boat and her progress, while regularly checking the horizon for other ships and vessels.  I can remember really enjoying certain aspects of being on watch at night. I have never since in my life seen such an amazing sky. With no nearby lights from cities, the stars seem to be within reach and there are so many of them, it is breathtaking. You get a lot of time to think when your out at sea. There are no distractions. You are but a tiny speck in the universe, a little cork bobbing in a massive sea that is sometimes kind, and other times full of fury. This is true no matter where you are and what you are doing, but out in the middle of the sea, you really feel every bit your size.

Dad was exhausted from the constant adjustments and sail changes that this particular evening had required, so when he finally was able to get some sleep, I was determined not to wake him….

I was getting tired, but I knew that every minute I could hold out would afford Dad some precious sleep. I stayed on watch for hours. I had been instructed to wake Dad if anything big happened or any change to the heading or wind speed. I was keeping a close eye on everything and on this particular night I was able to let him sleep for a few hours. I waited until the first light of dawn before going below to gently wake him. Everything always seems scarier in the dark ( or so I always had felt) and first light seemed the right time to end a shift. I remember Dad looking at me surprised when I told him that we had made it through the rest of the night and the sun was about to rise. He was so grateful and I was proud to have afforded it for him. I briefed him on the night, and he checked and replotted the course before sending me below to sleep. I still remember peeling off my wet gear and crawling into the dry soft bunk, half asleep and physically exhausted. No sooner had my head hit the pillow that I heard Dad calling me through the porthole in the cabin from outside in the cockpit. In my drowsy state I thought he must be needing me. I stepped back into my foul weather suspenders and boots and raced up the stairs. I found dad standing and gazing at the sliver of sun rising in the east…. “Amber look at the sunrise, I didn’t want you to miss it”. It was truly stunning, and as much as I was appreciating it, I was just grateful to see that everything was ok and Dad was alright.. I retreated back to my bunk and laid down once more. Exhaustion had sunk in and I drifted into sleep nearly instantly. I don’t know how much time had passed between sleep taking hold and Dads scream to get on deck, but it seemed as if it had been only moments. There was an urgency in Dads voice that I knew not to ignore. I flew up the stairs and out from behind the dodger to see what had placed the fear in my Fathers voice. There, off one side of the bow just off in the distance was a water spout. A tornado. in the middle of the ocean with no land or help in sight. It was huge. It was moving fast and it was scary. There was a sound of a giant audience clapping as the tornado was sucking up water and it was spewing out of the top and slapping the water as it landed back into the sea. In a panic I asked Dad what we were going to do. Dad left me where I was standing, gaping with horror to run on deck and dump sail. I watched in horror as this monster traveled closer and closer. All of us have seen the devastating affects of tornadoes on strongly built homes and cars. We could only imagine what one of these things would do to our tiny sailboat, completely vulnerable and alone in this massive ocean. I remember feeling a cold chill up my spine, it would be the first time in my life that I contemplated death. I remember the prayers were fast and furious out of both of us….our lives and safety hanging in the balance of Gods hands… And then it happened… the monster split in to two parts and traveled on either Side of us before finally spinning off into little un impressive nothings.

There is nothing normal or every day about sailing across the pacific on a relatively small sailing vessel. My childhood and subsequent life has been chalk full of rather unique situations and experiences. Some experiences good, some frightening, some horrendous. All have been character building and every single experience has drawn me closer to understanding on a deeper level how fragile and precious life is and how deeply I have benefitted from trusting in God. On my own I believe I would not be here… but for the grace of God… and I am grateful.

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