"Cut, stream, close, and maintain!" I yell once we're safely aboard the raft, which rocks gently every time either of us moves. Of course, I only pretend to cut the painter line, our umbilical cord to the mothership and the only thing keeping us from drifting. Next, I stream the nylon sea anchor by simply tossing it overboard where lackadaisical currents soon fill the bag. Together, Coakley and I close the canopy with zippers and Velcro. Inside the resulting steam bath, we begin to maintain, the first step of which is to open the emergency kit and sort through the flares, freshwater rations, radar reflectors, smoke signals, thermal protective aids, and numerous other items designed to increase our odds of being rescued. Eventually, we open the canopy to let in a slight breeze. As the sun sinks beneath the horizon, Coakley reboards Ciao 2, leaving me to my own devices. Although Bell has picked a spot where the raft is unlikely to encounter much boat traffic, there's always the possibility of my accidentally getting smashed as I sleep.
The raft's standard lights, powered by self-charging sea batteries, plus a couple of blinking strobes thrown in for good measure, add visibility. For the next hour, I read my novel by the light of a head lamp and glow stick, now and then glancing up at shooting stars in the heavens overhead. The combination of the waves' gentle rocking and the scopolamine leeching from its patch into my bloodstream induces an irresistible drowsiness. I nod off.
Around 3 a.m. I'm awakened by a violent flapping. The wind has picked up to 15 knots, and the raft now bobs like a waterbed in mid-orgy. Still mercifully free of any seasickness, I find the sensations rather enjoyable. I locate the loose flap of fabric, secure it, and restore relative silence to my domain. Ten minutes later, I'm asleep again.
The blast of an air horn at 7:20 a.m., accompanied by much hilarity aboard Ciao 2, brings me abruptly to consciousness. Bell jokes it could have been worse. The raft was so quiet in the middle of the night, he explains, that he worried I might have fallen out. So he gently reeled the Switlik in on its 50-yard tether and found me sleeping like a neonate. "I wanted to blow the horn at one in the morning," he says, "but the others talked me out of it."
Coakley joins me back on the raft as Bell accelerates Ciao 2 in tight circles around us. In no time, we're bouncing about on four-foot breakers. Fun at first, but even these relatively light seas begin taking a toll on my not-medicated-enough stomach. Ciao 2 finally slows to a stop after I threaten to shoot off a flare to solicit Coast Guard rescue.
To be sure, I've no doubt now that the well-crafted Switlik could handle infinitely worse conditions than these-and significantly increase the odds that even the bottom 10-percenters might survive till rescue. But unless a real catastrophe at sea strikes, count on me obeying life rafting's Golden Rule: Don't do it (unless you have absolutely no other choice).