The salty perch above is the top (or, for all you lubbers, the first platform as one ascends the mainmast) of the U.S. Coast Guard square-rigger Eagle, and the lady in the middle is SI senior writer Sarah Ballard. (After 20 years of appearing on our masthead as Sarah Pileggi, she's reverting to her maiden name.)
Last June, Ballard took to sea aboard Eagle to view the Bermuda-to-Nova Scotia Tall Ships race from the decks (and tops) of a competitor. The voyage quickly became more than Ballard—or anyone else—had bargained for as the 295-foot Eagle sailed into a storm that capsized and sank another racer, 117-foot Marques (SI, June 11). Ballard turned in at 10:15 p.m. or so, concerned about the foul weather but, having only the America's Cup and other relatively placid events to compare it to, not entirely sure this wasn't a standard evening on the high seas. Fifteen minutes after she went below, the squall blew up to 70 knots, and Eagle suffered a 50-degree knockdown. "As I was being thrown from bulkhead to bulkhead," says Ballard, "I thought, 'This is going to be a very long trip.' "
Bill Eppridge, who took the picture above and all but the opening photograph of the story beginning on page 90, was in his bunk when Eagle began to heave. He jumped onto the carpet of his stateroom in his stockinged feet, and as he slid down the sole (or, again for lubbers, the floor) toward the bulkhead, his socks twisted around on his feet and one was pulled clear off. "They say one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself," notes Eppridge. "That doesn't leave a hand for a camera, which can be a problem for a photographer in a storm like that."
It was a bright, calm evening when Ballard was persuaded—"shamed, really," she admits—into ascending the rigging along with the seamen shown above. The top where she stands is at the end of only the first of three levels of ratlines rising on the mainmast, but it's nevertheless high enough—about 60 feet above Eagle's waterline—for a thrill. "I was terrified," Ballard says. "My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating and I felt a tingling at the ends of my toes. Maybe it was a first-time thing. I suppose I could've gotten used to it."
September 30, 1984
After the voyage, Ballard reread the opening chapter of Moby-Dick. "I read about the damp, drizzly November in Ishmael's soul that he answers by going to sea," she says, "and I knew what he meant. After nine days, coming into sight of land for the first time, I didn't want to see it. I'd gotten used to the horizon, to the orderly rhythm of the ship, and all of a sudden the world came flooding back. I found myself looking at Nova Scotia and thinking about my mortgage."