“Fisherman in a Storm,” Ensign, Mar. 2000, 58–60
My conversion story begins in Cornwall, the southwesterly part of England that juts out below Wales and above France into the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. My family on my father’s side were sailors. In fact, my father went to sea as a young boy and has sailed around the world more times than he can remember; consequently I was hanging around boats almost before I could walk. Before long I became a fisherman and joined the crew of a Falmouth fishing boat.
The sea around this part of Cornwall is treacherous and has, over the years, claimed the lives of thousands of seamen. Mine was one of the lives nearly lost, but instead it was changed by the events of one fateful day aboard our fishing boat, the Lady Mildred.
I met my fishing partner, Roger Pepper, at six in the morning as usual. We listened to the weather forecast as we steamed down the harbor and out into Falmouth Bay. The forecast called for increasing winds from the southwest to force 9 (defined as a strong gale capable of damaging buildings). We didn’t worry much since the forecasts were seldom accurate; besides, we could get back in before the weather got too bad.
We arrived at an area some 10 miles (16 km) east of Falmouth and settled into steady fishing. At about midday the weather was rough enough that most other boats were heading for home. But we carried on fishing, concentrating on catching as much as we could. When the sea became so rough that we could no longer stand up without holding on to something, we stopped to survey the scene.
Looking around we realized that all the other boats had gone home and that the waves were in excess of 30 feet (9 m). The tops of the waves were being blown off in a stinging, blinding spray, and the sea was boiling and roaring like a cauldron. We knew we had to head for home.
We crept forward, the boat nearly standing on end as she struggled to climb over each wave, then crashed into the trough on the other side. Each time the boat plunged into a trough, she buried her bow under the sea so far that all we could see was a mass of green seawater covering the wheelhouse windows and pounding the deck behind.
By now the wind was gusting to force 12 (hurricane intensity), and the coast guard was reporting 100-mph (161-kph) winds. Then it happened: the Lady Mildred barely managed to climb to the top of an enormous wave, hovered on its crest, and plunged down the other side. She hit the bottom with a deafening crash, and we were immediately thrown to the back of the wheelhouse by the water gushing through the holes where the windows had been. The boat struggled to the surface but was immediately swamped by another wave and then another; each time she was taking longer to surface and was lying deeper in the water.
Roger managed to close the throttle, and we looked behind to assess the damage: all our fish and fishing gear were gone, and many of the deck boards had disappeared. The lifesaving gear had been washed away, and the radio was full of saltwater.
Another huge wave washed over the deck, adding even more water to the foundering boat. We looked at each other and realized we were going to sink. The next wave would probably do it. The sea was a mass of white water, and we knew there was no way we would survive if she went down.
I crawled aft, where the pump was, and tied myself to the mast, pumping as fast as I could while Roger struggled to keep us heading into the wind. As each wave assaulted us, I was completely submerged and knocked off my feet; only the rope around my waist kept me from being washed overboard.
I was terrified and sure we were going to drown. I hadn’t even had the chance to say good-bye to my wife and my little son Christopher. How were they going to manage? Would Christopher remember me? Who would look after them? For the first time in my life I prayed. I asked God to look after my family and not let them grieve too much. I asked Him to save us and promised to start attending a church. My prayer was a desperate and humble plea from the depths of my heart.
It seemed that all at once the sky brightened and a momentary gap appeared in the waves. I yelled to Roger to turn the boat and head for the port town Mevagissy. The battered boat slowly lurched around, and we headed landward. I continued pumping as we steamed on, the boat’s stern rising in the air as the seas picked her up and hurled us forward amid a roaring froth of water.
After what seemed a lifetime, we came into the shelter of Dodman Point. It was lovely to know that I would see my family again. People lined the breakwater, their faces strained and pale, but as we approached they broke into smiles, waving to welcome us into the harbor. We steamed on toward the other boats, but just as we drew alongside the landing quay our engine stopped.
We moored and spent 30 minutes explaining what had happened. Apparently, other fishermen had been worried and were about to search for us. While Roger telephoned for someone to fetch us, I pumped the rest of the water out of the boat. Before long I needed a rest, and I wondered how I had managed to pump for four hours nonstop during the storm. While I rested I decided to find out why the engine had stopped.
When I pulled out the dipstick to check the oil level, out came a stream of water. The engine was full of saltwater and had seized solid. Over all, the boat was a sorry sight.
Just two days later I sat at home thinking how lucky I was to be alive. I had completely forgotten my promise to God, but it became clear that Heavenly Father had not. At about 2:00 P.M. there was a knock on the door. When I opened it I saw two smiling, smartly dressed young men. A feeling of recognition and comfort swelled inside me, and I invited the two missionaries in before they could utter a word. They seemed like two long-lost friends, and I knew they were there by the power of God.
I listened intently to their lessons. I read the Book of Mormon. I had no doubt whatsoever that the message they brought was true. It was as though a cloud had been lifted from around me, and suddenly I could recognize familiar surroundings. I felt I had found my purpose in life. I had found the truth. It was a feeling of coming home, a feeling of absolute satisfaction, a feeling of arriving home safely from a long voyage and being welcomed with open arms by long-missed friends.