500 hours afloat with fishermen: Part 5

The rage of the ocean

The sea is a place where evil storms suddenly flare up, and also the birthplace of many terrible storms. During this fateful voyage, the fishermen and I had a taste of the anger and cruelty of the sea as we had to cope with a terrible unseasonal thunderstorm.
September 29, 2020 | 14:50
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The rage of the ocean
Fishing before the thunderstorm.

The sea raged

I woke up at 3 am amid the shouting of the fishermen who were pulling up the anchor. I was surprised to find myself lying above waves just as sound and still as my home bed instead of the usual rough ones. Looking out the window, I saw that the sun had already dawned, causing the surrounding clouds to be dyed with pale golden color. After many generations living with nature, fishermen have had a life experience of: "If the cloud gets golden as chicken fat, you better watch out" (Ráng mỡ gà, ai có nhà thì chống).

Up in the sky were clouds of a frightening color, and the sea was unusual. The surface of the sea was flat, silvery bright like a giant mirror, without a ripple. According to the fishermen's experience, the water only has 3 colors: if it is bright silver, then the sea is calm; the color of blue means that the sea was smooth and black implies that the sea was crazy enough to take away people's lives. However, the seafarers are most afraid when the sea is calm because the quieter it becomes, the more terrible the storm will appear. Finding the water current to start the day, Leo laments: “The water stands too still, I really don't know how to distribute the nets."

It was only 4 am but the fishermen were all sweating while letting go of their nets. They had to use water to spray themselves to cool off. On the surface of the sea, the dolphins raced in a row, performing a strange dance in the sea. The atmosphere was suffocating. Breakfast was served, everyone ate in a hurry to listen to the sea weather at 7:00 from Icom.

The broadcaster sounded more alarmed than usual: “Hai Phong radio announce to the ships: currently a tropical storm has appeared in the north, moving abnormally in the Gulf of Tonkin and will spread in the area of ​​the Bien Dong Sea, on the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos. There may be sudden storms with strong winds of level 9-10."

After listening to the news, Nguyen Van Trung, who survived the Chan Chu disaster in 2006, said, “No storm, but there is going to be a thunderstorm. It's hard to handle because I don't know what kind of wind it is.” The generous talking style, which is a specialty of the fishermen, suddenly disappeared when hearing the omen. All the people on the ship were strangely silent. No one spoke. All waited for the moments to come, to withstand the cruelty and ferocity of the sea.

The rage of the ocean
The peaceful moment before the storm

Struggling with the big waves

Chef Nguyen Van Nhot, who has 19 years of living at the sea, put the rice cooker in a sack. At 2 o'clock in the afternoon, everyone was just sitting down for lunch when a cold wind came, dragging a wave in, turning the cabin all wet. Uncle Tam Hung suddenly stood up, shouting: "Let's just save the net".

Leo took his place, turned the key, pushed the throttle, and turned the steering. The ship jumped up and down like a drunk. I was sitting in a cabin, but Leo ordered me to put on my life jacket. At that moment at noon, the sea surface suddenly went bad. The false silence of the sea disappeared, replaced by countless silver-headed waves, running wild like millions of horses. The fishermen rushed to the side of the boat to try to save the nets, the nets of 1,500 meters long, 4 meters wide were torn apart by the waves, twisted together like ropes. Facing the risk of losing all the net, Leo lamented: "All this net costs up to 80 million. If we lose just a part of it, this trip will have a heavy loss."

On the side of the boat, the fishermen were immersed in heavy rain, high winds, loud waves pouring down on them. People fell to the floor. They had just finished pulling 3 nets but the waves got angrier each second. If holding on like this, they would risk losing their lives. Leo shouted "Let's go" and all 7 people who were pulling the net rushed into the wet cabin. Their legs, hands were shaking.

Our ship fell to the right and left as if it was to capsize, the detector screen still showed that the water below us was only 210m deep, so we cannot anchor the ship. Leo brushed off the throttle, pressed the gear forward, the ship dashed again at a speed of 7.8 knots. Seeing the accelerator, I understood it was opened at full speed. The depth detector screen indicated the numbers 180m, 95m, and finally, 40m.

The captain ordered to lower the anchor. The two anchors at the top simultaneously rushed down. The anchor is tight, but the ship still looked like it was about to capsize. Leo ordered to drop the "ròm". "Ròm" was like a water umbrella. When dropped, it prevented the water. However, the situation in our compartment has not improved yet. 9 people flipped up and down like a snail. The waves were still raging like a ten thousand horse, then flooded all over our ships. The whole ship crew went into the engine room. The buckets of oil were scooped up. Even though we know that oil was the blood of the ship, we still had to accept that whenever a big wave came, we had to throw away one bucket of oil. The waves were fluttering, opening their claws to swallow the ship, and suddenly the leeches were limping with all their strength. Quang Ngai people have the experience of throw oil to slow down the wave to prevent damages.

Seeing me wearing a life jacket sitting in the cabin with my body wet from head to toe, but the wind was blowing as if it wanted to pull the hood of the cabin and throw it into the sea. Trung reassured, this is only level 10 wind, this ship has passed level 12, so I can rest assured as this whirlwind would soon pass.

Just as quickly as it came, the evil thunderstorm passed away after only 2 hours, leaving the sea surface peaceful with white bubbles. The wind was soft again. We hugged each other, stopped crying and laughed again when we found that all 9 of us still presented, only I had a head hit. The thunderstorm only wiped away dozens of clothes tied to the clothesline and pushed the nets around. We must stay up all night to find all those things.

4 days later, the weakened power of a storm in the middle of the Trung Sa sea moved ashore and sank dozens of fishing boats. 1 person was killed, 3 were missing. 29 people jumped into the sea and swam into the bank to avoid accidents. All of the above victims are from the Sa Ky estuary, the place where we started in this stormy sea session.
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Valerie Mai translated
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