We were well out from shore, the shoreline a distant haze, the mountains rising majestically out of the wet horizon.
“Strike the sails,” Peter clipped in a tone that indicated he meant business.
“Why, Simon?” said another of the fishermen among us. “The night has not yet fallen. The skies are clear. The stars are only beginning to show themselves.”
“I smell it,” said Peter quietly.
“Smell what?” joked Thomas. “We all know Simon, do we not?” He continued jokingly, “The only thing he smells is the stink on his upper lip.” As the laughter began to rise, we heard both anger and urgency . . .
“Strike the damn sails!”
Instantly, John and the others jumped, reaching for the lines.
The wind hit us like a rolling boulder from the north. The sail could not be reefed quickly enough to avoid heeling over sharply. Matthew, no seaman, almost fell out. The other boats were hit as hard as we. Some did not reef their sails at all; we could hear ripping as they heeled sharply and water gushed over gunnels.
Torrents of cool air tore at the water’s surface, which undulated and splashed small whitecaps back, as if angry at the wind for disturbing them. Time arrested itself while these small whitecaps heaved into threatening waves. Another mountainside of wind. Our boat kicked, heaved and heeled as the lake vomited into our boat like a sick sow. Water swirled around our feet, and I could see fear on the faces of those who were not fishermen.
“Bail!” screamed Peter.
I looked for something—anything that would allow me to move water out of the boat. Nothing. No container of any sort. I cupped my hands and began to toss water back into the sea as fast as I could.
All of us madly began to slap at the water in the boat as it heeled again and a massive amount of water sloshed into it. It was at once obvious: it was impossible to fight this. We were going to sink! Already our boat was wallowing. God knows what was happening to the other boats! It was a figure of speech, an expression of futility. The thought flitted into and out of my head so fast that I did not recognize its significance. The bow dipped into a trough between the waves. Looking up, I saw a wall of water descending on us. Had it hit us full force we would clearly perish.
Oddly, I thought of Jesus. At the same moment I heard Peter scream, “Master!” Then the wave hit. The boat filled with water and began to sink. Again, Peter’s voice screamed against the wind, “This is the worst I’ve seen. Steady the tiller! Bail! Merciful God Almighty! Bail!” With the sea legs of a cat, he made his way aft where, incredibly, Jesus still lay asleep. How could he sleep through this? Mad thoughts went through my mind. Had he taken some kind of medicinal potion? Another wave hit. The boat continued to fill. He slept on, undisturbed, his clothing soaked to the skin.