Windhaven: A survival at sea novel

I’ve done some sailing, but never was my or my boat’s survival in doubt.  If I ever get caught in such an extreme situation, I hope I will be as brave, determined, and lucky as these sailors.


Noah Wells is a last minute replacement crew member on a 70 foot sailboat set to race nonstop around the world.

All goes well until they are well East of New Zealand in the inhospitable Southern Ocean. A Rouge Wave turns an exciting race into a race for survival.

The huge wave hits Windhaven, taking all their communications, rendering the engine inoperable, and taking several of the crew. Noah and “Iron Lady” Leigh Tag, though injured, fight for days to keep Windhaven afloat. Once the storm has passed, they work for months through crisis after crisis, performing medical procedures they are untrained for to reach South America thousands of miles away.


Now published in e-book and paperback editions – March, 2023

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Following is an excerpt from Windhaven.

Finally, Noah worked up the energy and the will to do something extra.

The four hundred and fifty square foot jib had been the workhorse foresail since well before the wave. It looked fine from the cockpit sixty feet away. Noah had been laying on his bunk thinking about everything and nothing when he realized he hadn’t been forward of the mast in a month. That led to the jib that had been the unsung hero who brought Windhaven to its current position, wherever that was. He really needed to find their position, not that it mattered.

But the jib mattered.

Noah rolled out of his bunk and shrugged into his foul weather gear. He could tell the weather by the boat’s motion and sound. The wind was coming up and besides the usual long roller waves from some far off storm were smacking Windhaven amidships.

He checked on Red still in his latest comma, losing way too much weight, the fingers on his left hand playing an unseen piano. Red was one of the more frustrating problems they had. Neither Noah nor Leigh nor the remnants of the medical emergency book had any idea of how to help him, short of making him eat and drink and changing his sheets. Leigh and Noah were getting tired of it.

Noah passed Thomas who had pretty much shut down. He was no help at all.

In the cockpit Noah said to Leigh, “We need to check that jib. It’s been months since anybody checked it out.”

By ‘We,’ you mean you. I hate to admit it, but I’m exhausted. We haven’t done shit in, what, three or four days, and I’m more tired than when we were balls out racing.”

I know what you mean. I just got tired of lying on my bunk. So, I’m going up to the bow and look around.” He studied the darker gray clouds creeping up astern. “More weather coming I suppose.”

As always in the Southern Ocean.”

Yeah. Do you think we’re north of forty degrees?”

Aren’t you the navigator?”

Noah swung a finger back and forth between them as he said, “I am one of the navigators. Tomorrow, I’ll take my turn. We really do need to know where the hell we are.”

Safety tether in hand Noah made his way forward. He snapped onto a fixed safety line as he moved forward and snapped on to another line. He stepped around the main sail still lashed down and tried to ignore the fact that they needed to do something with it, soon.

Forward, he checked the clew where the sheet was attached with a bowline knot, the sailor’s workhorse knot. The sail itself appeared in good shape, dirty, a bit worn, but not bad for thousands of stormy sea miles. The sheet itself was not so good. It had frayed where it rubbed against the clew grommet for all those miles. It needed to be replaced because right then that sheet was one of the most important items on the boat.

To check the outside of the jib Noah ducked under the sail’s foot. The tack, the point where the sail attached to the bow of the boat, had a few threads loose, was dirty and shiny but looked okay. The shackle that held it all together did not. It was worn and the pin had loosened. Gripping the jury-rigged forestay with the hand holding his lifeline clip, he leaned down to get a better look.

Windhaven’s bow dipped into a wave trough then rose up, fast, and lurched to port. Noah lost his balance and tumbled overboard. In the split second between Noah’s life or death he stretched out his arm and clipped on to the top lifeline.

The lifeline was original equipment on Windhaven. It hadn’t been properly inspected in years. In the tumult of preparing the boat by a deadline it had been missed. One end terminated at a stanchion that made up one side of the gate amidships. A screw on circular terminal held it in place. But, over time, that fitting had unscrewed.

When Noah’s full weight yanked on the lifeline the terminal popped off and began running through the stanchions. The forty-five degree water immediately sapped his strength and breath as it dragged him toward the stern, the loop of wire growing bigger as the lifeline ran through. Once free, if Noah couldn’t grab it and keep it from slipping through his hands, he’d be left behind with little chance of rescue.

The cold water paralyzed him. He glanced up at his tether and saw that he had clipped on. Then he saw the lifeline slipping out and knew what it meant. Windhaven dragged him through the water. A wave engulfed him. He had to breathe. He emerged coughing, fighting for air, his cry for help a piteously audible croak.

The lifeline ran out of the last stanchion. Noah grabbed the slippery coated wire with cold hands. He finally found his voice. “Leigh! Leigh! Help!”

A wave broke over him, pulling him under. The pressure of the water drug him back. The lifeline slipped through his weakening hands.

Leigh leaped over the cockpit coming and ran down the deck. “Noah! Look at me.” She dropped onto her stomach by the open gate. One hand gripping a stanchion, she leaned half her body over the edge, arm outstretched.

Noah, felt the end of the lifeline slip through his hand, leaving him unattached to Windhaven. He rolled over and stretched an arm out to Leigh. Not close enough.

As if knowing this was Noah’s last chance, Windhaven surged toward him. Their fingers touched. Leigh, with only a leg pressed against the right stanchion let go the left stanchion and grabbed the toe rail. Those few inches allowed her to grasp Noah’s wrist. He swung against the hull, one second hanging straight down, the next rising up as a wave passed.

Grab the rail,” Leigh ordered.

On the next rise Noah twisted over to grab the rail. But as he did he twisted out of Leigh’s grip. Immediately she reached around and pressed her hand on his hand gripping the rail.

Windhaven rolled to starboard allowing a wave to spill onto the deck. A foot of water swept up the deck slamming into Leigh, doing its best to push her overboard, too. Her hip and thigh wrapped around the stanchion were all that kept her aboard.

Noah, reach for me.”

Too cold and scared to speak he reached out and they managed a solid wrist to wrist hold.

Keep hold of the toe rail.”

Removing her hand from his she scooted around with her back to the cabin side and feet against the rail. When the next wave lifted Noah up she pulled his shoulders over the rail. With his free hand he gripped the stanchion and when the next wave, a big one washing up the deck, rose up Leigh pulled him halfway over the rail. Not waiting for another wave she leaned over grabbed the seat of his foul weather pants and hauled him on board like a fish. They ended up in a jumble, but onboard.

Cold and exhausted, hearts racing they took a minute to catch their breath.

Between breaths Noah, said, “I… thought… that….”

Yeah, me too.”

Thank… you….”

I told you I didn’t want to have to run this boat by myself.”

Then I don’t have anything to worry about.”

Then don’t piss me off. Come on, you need to get warm.”



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