Bare Horizon

Open OceanAfter the ships passed, I slept and drifted until the sun crept over the Zodiac and shook me awake. I awoke with a sharp headache and a tight pain in my stomach. The muscles in my arms and legs had become stiff and sore and it was all I could do to unwind myself from the fetal position. The cold wind bit and clawed at my body as I stretched out. My soggy clothing had become more of a burden than a defense, and I debated stripping it all off, but I had no idea which was worse.

The Zodiac bobbled in the chop, the waves punching me through the thin rubber floor, and when I tried to sit up nausea caved in and the world spun like a merry-go-round. I immediately fell back and breathed deeply, waiting for it to pass. Every so often I opened my eyes for a moment. The sky had become hazy and filled with low, merging cumulus. A coming storm. I hoped that I was above the system and not directly in its path. In the South Atlantic, storms the size of Australia were not uncommon, but even a minor system might capsize the Zodiac. And if I fell in the water I’d die of hypothermia in less than 30 minutes. The thought of it weighed heavily on me and whether it was the hunger or the nausea or the sheer helplessness of my situation, emotions welled up and I had to choke back the tears.

But I did not have the luxury of self pity. Once I got out of this mess I could lie under a blanket on dry land and weep all I wanted. But not today.

I forced myself to get up and start the engine. The skies whirled, but I got a handle on it and the outboard roared to life. I thanked the U.S. military for keeping their gear in such good order. Again, I steered perpendicular to the sun, hoping to get as far north as I could, somewhere where the water was warmer, somewhere I could flag down a ship. As I drove, saltwater sprayed incessantly in my face. I itched at my arms and chest, and constantly fidgeted and pulled at my clothing, but nothing worked and I felt like hell.

I drove until the sun was directly overhead, then stopped to check my watch. 4 am, Antarctica time. I did some quick calculations. Antarctica is actually on New Zealand time, which is UT+12, so I subtracted 12 hours to get Universal Time: 4:00 pm. The timezones of the world are separated by 15 degrees of longitude, so a 4 hour difference between high noon in the Atlantic and 4:00 pm Universal Time meant that my longitude was approximately 4×15= 60 degrees west. Relatively close to the eastern coast of South America. Finding my latitude was impossible, but if I continued northwest I’d eventually smack into the eastern coast of Argentina. That is, if I had enough fuel, which I didn’t. The gauge read 1/4 tank. How many total hours had I driven? I had no idea. I hadn’t paid any attention. I swear, I’m pretty good at getting out of difficult situations, but it seems every difficult situation I get into is the result of careless or impulsive decisions. Well, perhaps it would kill me this time. Bring it on.

The rains came while I was waiting for the sun to edge west. It didn’t appear to be a bad storm, but the waves crashed like cannon blasts and I was nearly thrown from the boat with each strike. I cursed myself for not saving the soldier’s helmet to catch the rain. Bad planning, once again. However, I managed to craft a rain catcher out of the outboard’s plastic cover and drank liberally. My headache immediately subsided and the effect on my attitude was staggering.

I waited a while longer until I could tell which direction the sun was heading, then set my course northwest into the bare horizon.

A few hours later, I spotted a ship.