Editor’s Note: Everett Redus, 21, of Baytown, Texas, now one of four surviving brothers, has been traveling south to Patagonia, carrying and spreading the ashes of his slain older brother, Cameron, a senior honors student at the University of the Incarnate Word who was fatally shot by a campus policeman outside his off-campus apartment on Dec. 6, 2013.
The Rivard Report has invited Everett to publish periodic dispatches as he makes his way south and awaits word on a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his family against UIW and the police officer. Read more about Cameron’s life, death, and the aftermath here. Donate to Everett’s trip via his GoFundMe campaign here.
Not a young man was born who, at one point, did not dream of going out to sea – to wander blind into the rolling mysterious, and return home with tales of glory, or to cast their lots with the numberless claimed by the cold brine. After all, it is danger that gives appeal to adventure, and without risk there is no accomplishment.
But after leaving the Galápagos, all danger seemed to be at a great distance from us. Steady winds blew from the south south-east on sunny days that all ran together. The sea is never still, never the same from one moment to the next, though it never seems to change at all. It is as it always has been, an ever-mutating organism. This confounding characteristic of the sea is very impressive on the sailor. In an extended period of time, when nothing seems to vary, it becomes quite easy to lose all sense of time, especially since you are always moving forward and the sun will rise at a different hour each day. The only thing to do is to take comfort in the daily routines you form.
The watch rotation had become less pleasant since Otto’s departure from the Alabama. I lost not only a good friend and travel companion, but also a shipmate, so now we divided the hours between four crew members instead of five. We sat three hour watches during the day and two hour watches during the night. The biggest obstacle was finding new techniques for staying awake during the latter.
Each morning, as soon as the captain and three able bodies were awake, we would raise the big jib (front sail). This jib alone accounted for most of our propulsion, and due to its size it was taken down every day at sunset. It measured 85 feet in height and 42 at the base. It was far too large risk handling at night if something went wrong. I myself have been lifted off the deck and thrown through the air while holding on to that jib’s sheet. Managing this sail was quite difficult sometimes. We all had our assumed positions and we never rotated. I raised the sail with the hand winch at the base of the mast while Rhonda kept tension and pulled up slack on the line. Martin ran about making sure the sail unfolded properly, not snagging on anything, then trimmed it once I had it raised all the way up. The captain kept our nose in the wind until we were ready to resume our course.
You can’t raise a sail when it’s full, there must be a headwind, which means the sails will be flapping. So throughout this physically exhausting process we had to be careful not to get whacked by the jib, staysail, or the mizzen staysail sheets, all three of which would be thrashing about violently. Being hit with a piece of rope may not seem too serious, but I’ve been hit with blocks of wood that felt like kisses compared to a slap in the face by a loose sheet. Once I received so hard a whack across the jaw that I was left standing confused for several surprised seconds until I remember what just happened and ducked for cover. It was common to come in after tacking the sails over, or reattaching a block that had worked its way free from a u-bolt, and be covered with large red welts.
While lowering the jib in the evening we all had different positions, and mine was to stand up on the bow, on top of the liferail, with one leg wrapped around the forestay for balance. From this perch I could pull down the sail so that it folded neatly. This was typically the highlight of my day, as it was my favorite perch on the whole ship. The bow realizes the most vertical movement, and I would be dripping wet when I climbed down. It was the only place I could stand with nothing before me but sky and water. And when we had lowered the sail and turned back onto our heading, I stared face to face with the setting sun.
In the ever changing sea one constant remained– the sun’s rising astern and setting on our bow. We were goaded forward by every sunrise, and called onward by warm rays at dusk. We were endlessly, relentlessly, following the sun into the west. It has ever been mankind’s call to move further west. “Eastward I go only by force, but westward I go freely,” wrote Thoreau. In the west is where adventure was to be found, where treasure lay. Fresh beginnings beckoned those who no longer felt at home in the place of their heritage. Westward is the movement of the heavens, and one feels right in joining this path.
This spirit of discovery was surfacing into my consciousness. There was an excitement, an almost uneasy anticipation churning in my stomach. It had been sometime since I had felt this. I have grown quite comfortable traveling in Latin America. I can speak the language. I am rather familiar with the cultures. But now I was heading to a completely new place, an unknown place with different people, languages, and ideas. I had no reference for what to expect. It was easy to isolate this excitement and apply it to my daily routines. It made the monotony more bearable.
Things on the boat continued to go on and on and I was not at all sure how long we had been sailing. After a couple weeks, however, things began to change. The winds became confused, blowing from any given direction throughout the day, if it even blew at all. A monstrous hurricane was forming off the western coast of Mexico, some were saying the biggest in history, and perhaps it was tampering with our weather. Or perhaps it was just the doldrums.
With the wind left the flying fish, who had been so loyal since the beginning. A stiff breeze and choppy seas. There’s no achieving flight in dull weather. Rain fell daily, but it was a lazy rain. It came meandering from the horizon, hovered about us for a time, and then wandered off, preferring its own melancholy company. But if the rain was refreshing, it wasn’t exciting. It is the angry squalls that have to be accommodated, and that I was secretly praying for, but never came. They say the sea is unpredictable, but in saying this the speaker is usually implying that there will be storms, which is contradictory.
We had been favored by the fates, and saved from any foul weather. Even with the last week of confused winds we made a relatively quick passage. Twenty-one days after leaving the Galápagos I raised land in the small hours of the early morning watch. As soon as we dropped anchor I was man-over-board, swimming straight for shore.
We had made landfall on the French Polynesian island of Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas group, the most isolated island chain in the world.
I crawled onto the beach and stood on wobbly legs. Unclothed, dark-brown children splashed about, chattering in some language that was wholly foreign to me. The landscape was so far removed from anything I had seen before that I had trouble taking it all in. Deep green folds of vegetation covered razor-sharp ridges that towered up from the sea, resembling the gill-like roots of a jungle Ficus. Herds of wild goats roamed over the rocky hills. I watched as a man rode his horse bareback down the beach and into the waves. The natives were all severely beautiful people. They were tall and very fit, and nearly all the men and women alike were covered in strange and beautiful tattooing. Flowers peeked out from behind ears and the air buzzed with music and laughter. I was immediately spellbound by this exotic place.
The captain said that we would stay only a few day to refuel and resupply before we moved on. But a series of events had been slowly unfolding, resulting in my decision to stay on the island, letting the ship sail on without me. People imagine a sailboat as absolute freedom. It’s true you have freedom to go where you chose, but all the while being invariably stuck in the same place. Now I was free from the autocracy of a sailing ship.
After nearly a week, the Alabama was ready to weigh anchor. I climbed to the top of a steep ridge at the mouth or the bay. There I slept, and in the morning watched the boat that had been my home for four months sail out of my sight forever. I sat contemplating on that tiny, volcanic speck in vastness of the Pacific, and for the first time in a long time, I was alone.
*Top Image: Everett Redus climbs and awaits the Alabama’s departure. Photo by Everett Redus.