So picture this.
It’s a perfectly calm day on the ocean. There’s not even the tiniest whisper of a wind. You’re in a sailboat, and there’s not a ripple on the water. You’ve been out in the open for hours, floating peacefully without any other people or boats or shoreline in sight.
Suddenly you perceive something coming your direction. It’s a massive wave, and it’s coming out of nowhere. In less than a minute, it’s going to capsize your boat.
You’re wondering where it came from. How is it possible for a wave of this magnitude to instantaneously appear when the weather has been so calm and there’s not another soul on the horizon?
What the…? Apparently this can happen.
It’s called a rogue wave and it defies the human drive for predictability.
Jeremy and I decided to spend most of our first year as a married couple living on a 31-foot sailboat named Aviso. From September through December 1990, we overcame significant odds by making our way down the East Coast, arriving safely in the Bahamas. Given our level of experience—virtually none—it was truly astounding to me that we made it.
We made our way slowly—from our departure point on Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont—following the Intracoastal Waterway guidebooks written by Walter Cronkite (yes, that Walter Cronkite!) religiously.
We survived a number of challenges along the way to our destination:
Hitting a rocky shoal our second day out on the water; navigating locks and bridges on the Hudson River; experiencing an engine failure in darkening skies through New York City harbor; calling for a humiliating tow into Manasquan Inlet, New Jersey; sitting out a tornado warning in Annapolis; rocking and rolling through a two-day storm in St. Augustine, Florida; and enduring an overnight crossing from Miami to Little Turtle Cay, Bahamas.
And in between? Many golden days and silent nights.
While still not overconfident, I did feel that we two firstborns had a winning survival strategy: Uncover all of the potential hazards, be vigilant and responsible. Above all, remain cautious. Hopefully — I thought — if we avoided going out at night, stayed put in the harbor when the weather was bad, and monitored our marine charts and weather reports carefully, we could avoid nearly everything truly hazardous.
We had avoided watching Dead Calm and tried not to think about pirates. But we didn’t know about rogue waves.
After our arrival in the Bahamas, someone enlightened me on this unknown subject.
I was incredulous.
I thought I had the scary aspects of this adventure figured out. I thought I understood all of the dangers and had reconciled myself to mitigating them in the ways I could.
How DARE there be something so terrifying out there that I knew absolutely nothing about?
How could I make sure it didn’t hurt me if I didn’t even know it was out there?
What good preparation for the rest of my life.
Thankfully, no rogue wave appeared while we were aboard Aviso.
But there have certainly been rogue waves in the 20+ years since.
Unexpected illnesses, devastating losses, surprising and scary situations.
And there will certainly be more in the future.
This I know. This is life.
What else do I know?
Rogue waves no longer frighten me. No matter what comes.