The wind picked up to 18 knots that night, and Natoma sped at nearly nine knots straight into the moon, which lay a silvery highway on the sea for her. The waves were confused, because the wind had changed direction, and the swells came at Natoma from odd angles. The moonlight created deceptive shadows in the seas, umbras that spooked the helmsmen. The bright stars bobbed as if yanked on strings; the flapping blooper seemed wraithlike, and a quiet wail came from the mainsail. The captain stood the 2300-0300 watch, as he did every night. "This is not the night to have a democratic cockpit," Dalziel said. "It's a night to have only the best helmsmen at the wheel."
The crew slept fitfully, shirtless and without covers, for it was still hot. With Natoma on a port tack for the first time since the beginning of the race, the lee bunks now became weather bunks; those crewmen who had been rolled securely into their pillows for eight nights now felt how the other half had been living, and they had to put up barriers to avoid falling out of bed. One crewman dreamed he was on a flying trapeze over Manhattan.
It was a noisy night; things that had taken nine days to settle into place on starboard tack were now desperately rearranging themselves, giving rise to visions of a dresser being pushed across a floor; rats gnawing on bedposts; walnuts dropping into plastic buckets; a tin can being kicked down the street.
At breakfast the crew wore the look of fatigue that one sees in truck stops at 3 a.m. And on this, the 10th day, squalls began stalking the boat. By dusk there was at least one squall in each direction on the horizon. Looking like columns of sooty smoke, they were small spitting tempests that patrolled the seas and shoved boats around. After dark, they became phantoms.
Shortly before daybreak the next morning, a squall caught Natoma from behind. The wind shot from 18 to 40 knots with no warning. The spinnaker bulged with air and pulled Natoma faster and faster, until she was out of control and moving at 16 knots; then it tossed her on her side. Natoma protested, a long soulful groan from the stressed wood. A drawer flew open and fired a Top-Sider across the cabin; a wayward cantaloupe rolled from the galley; Freyermuth's brass divider and pencils scattered on the cabin sole, followed by the navigator himself, who was thrown out of his nook with a thud and slid into the stove.
Yarnold and Armstrong released the spinnaker sheets and then scrambled forward to pull in the wayward sail. But the squall passed as swiftly as it had struck, and Natoma rocked upright. At the helm was Gordon Hargreaves, 46, the port watch captain, on his third Transpac with Natoma, and the crew thanked their stars that there had been experience at the helm. "The boom must have been in the water this time," said Yarnold, "because I was walking on the portholes, and I can't normally do that."
It was the final knockdown for Natoma in the '81 Transpac. By 1300 that afternoon, July 13, she was a tropical 236-mile sail from Diamond Head. The sun glared white on deck as Yarnold listened to a Joni Mitchell record broadcast from a Honolulu radio station and the finals of the domino tournament could be heard in the cabin. Things slowed down to such an indolent pace that even Freyermuth came up on deck again, for...if not for some sun, at least to lie in the shade of a lighter-weight spinnaker that had been hoisted, staring skyward and pondering—who knows, with his 72 years' worth of things to think about—probably the future rather than the past.
Twenty-four hours later, at 1322 on July 14, Natoma crossed the finish line 11th in Class A and 40th in fleet on corrected time. Her elapsed time was 11 days, three hours, 22 minutes and four seconds. The boat was met by a couple of wandering windsurfers and two cabin cruisers manned by Natoma's official hosts in Honolulu, who threw bottles of champagne and beer to the crew with abandon, undiscouraged by the bottles that missed and sank with a glug.
Merlin, as expected, was first to finish; she had reached Diamond Head at about the same time the squalls were stalking Natoma. Her elapsed time was eight days, 11 hours, two minutes and 31 seconds, only 46 seconds shy of her record. Which seemingly would prove that the ocean's waves never change, but merely rotate around the globe like a roll on a player piano. And that hard sailing is worth the trouble. The overall winner on corrected time was Sweet Okole, a 36-foot Class D boat with a 90-hour handicap. Battered, jury-rigged boats straggled into Honolulu for days after Natoma finished.
Although not her best placing, it was Natoma's fastest Transpac, and it was a respectable showing, not bad for a luxury liner. And as the captain had promised, she was ready to go on after the finish. Freyermuth, Yarnold, Brad Armstrong and Kraus would join the Dalziels on their journey through the South Seas to New Zealand; the others had banks or machine shops or spouses pulling them back to the mainland. But they would have liked to go on.