Then suddenly there was no moon patch from the horizon. The sock on the mainmast showed something coming from the east, where the wind should have been.
"Take the wheel," Van Kretschmar said excitedly. "I'm going below for the course. We're going to thread the needle now if we're lucky, boys." The wind surged up—12 knots, 15 knots. As dawn crashed out upon us we stripped and stretched out on the foredeck to bathe in the cascading bow wave. Columbine was charging now. The sea raced off our starboard quarter with a rush. The bow waves thumped and gurgled to the surface in water a deeper blue than words can tell. The true northeasterly monsoon we'd been waiting for was rising now, and rising joyously. But that morning, in the fragrant dawn, three ghost-white contrails from high-altitude jets had seared their way across the rosy sky. B-52 bombers, they were, silver and empty, heading homeward to the airstrip on Guam. I'd seen them many times in Vietnam dawns, and once seen they chill the warmest air.
That afternoon the wind died again. The sails went slack, and the sea around us seemed to bubble with heat. A milk carton drifted by. Only Stormvogel, we thought, would have enough room for fresh milk. A crushed pack of Salems followed. We doused each other with bucketsful of seawater. An electrifying cold splashed against parched, hot-and-salted skin, leaving still more salt and more parching—but it was momentarily cooling, like a refreshing drag on a menthol cigarette.
That night the wind rose again, but in the steaming forecastle bunk I dreamed of a mortar barrage with explosions more real than the sound of waves beating against the hull. Breakfast of corned-beef hash, with onions mixed in and a fried egg on top, was a welcome relief next morning. We'd been moving about five knots on a faint, broad reach and, as the sun rose, the wind moved aft. Frank Rothwell called for the spinnaker and, as I came up for midday watch, I saw him perched on the bow pulpit, neck arched upward watching intently the curve of the luff. The wind moved into the north—dead astern—and the yellow, blue and white chute ballooned. From 6 to 9 that night Columbine ran at 7� knots before the wind. The following watch had her up to eight. Constant van Kretschmar dressed for dinner in a stiffly starched kimono from Osaka's Hankyu Hotel. Again he sipped his Dutch gin and gazed with relaxed contentment up at Orion's belt. Frank sat silent, cocking his head like a bird, listening to the sound of the wind in the sails. The smell of cooking alcohol wafted out warmly from the galley below.
"Hey, O'Brien," Frank called, "come out and look at the stars." There was no answer. That night there was beef stew for dinner and no bread and the coffee was worse than usual.
Next morning in the glimmering light of the predawn, we saw the first landfall of the Philippines, the mountains of Luzon looming purple and brooding above the silent watchtowers of the Spanish conquistadores. At daybreak the wind died, but with agonizing slowness it began to freshen again. By 3 that afternoon the anemometer was reading 10 knots, with wind two points forward of the beam. The chute came down, and up went the No. 1 genoa in its place. Now we were homing. Off beyond Subic Bay batteries of 8-inch guns boomed in cadence. Before Columbine's bow parachute flares clung to the sky. "Steer for the flares," said Constant. The Capones Islands passed, and in the dark sky a U.S. Air Force jet rumbled high across our bow and disappeared behind the ridges of Subic Bay. The wind was building—18 to 20 knots. Columbine was bucking along at seven.
I went below and slept a contented hour. When I came up Bataan was still before us. Then, as the light hove into sight, a report on the quarter sounded like an M16 rifle firing off. The shackle pin at the clew of the mainsail had parted, leaving a big triangle of sail slatting about in the 30-knot blow with a heavy bronze ring in its teeth. After considerable heaving and grunting we got it under control, tucked a reef in the main and doused the big genoa. A few hours later, as the sun broke behind Corregidor, we had tacked over and were running for the line. Thanks to the shrewd navigation of Constant van Kretschmar, only one boat, Stormvogel, had beaten us to it.
When all the mathematics were done we found we were not only second over the line, but second on corrected time, as well. West Wind II, a 19-year-old Rhodes 27, had beaten us by 1 hour 28 minutes and 33 seconds for the 631-mile course. The margin might have been less but for the fact that Dr. Colfer, whose enthusiasm sometimes exceeds his skill, kept Columbine sailing along the finish line for a good three minutes without crossing. "Put her up, man. Put her up," the weary crew screamed at him as he kept her head off the gusty 30-knot wind. "I don't want to pinch her," Colfer replied. "Good God, man!" Van Kretschmar screamed back at him, "You're on the line now. All you have to do is put her over!"
At long last our helmsman got the point, luffed the big sloop up to windward just long enough to cross the line, and the horn on the destroyer that was serving as committee boat let out a blast. For those of us on Columbine, at least, the long race to Manila was over.