Creating a Hook to Grab Readers’ Attention

rough-seas-sp_t2_33What grabs readers’ attention, compelling them to commit their time to read a story? With this prologue, I attempted to hook readers’ interest in my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

The boat hummed with built-up pressure. We were going too fast. I hated to wake Bruce, so I waited until the change of watch to call him. Finally, at ten in the morning, I gently shook him awake. He’d only slept for an hour, but that was enough to hold him until two that afternoon when I’d again take the watch and he could sleep a bit more.

Bruce’s eyes flew open and he was immediately awake. I doubted if he ever truly slept while we were at sea.

We were both exhausted. This 3,000-mile leg of the journey from Samoa to Hawaii would be the most difficult of our entire journey. We beat against the wind during the whole passage, making the boat climb each wave and then pound the ocean’s surface coming down. During the past three days, we had passed just west of a tropical depression, and the stormy weather tried our patience and made our lives even more difficult.

“We need to shorten sail. We’re pushing the boat too hard.”

Bruce stood and reached for the overhead rail to steady himself against the boat’s crazy lunging. “Okay, I’ll be right up.”

Once on deck, he slipped on his life vest and harness, glanced at the compass to confirm our course, watched the raucous seas for a moment, noting streaking foam atop the 10- to 12-foot waves, and looked up to survey the already reduced mainsail. He stepped to the upper deck and eased the halyard. Knealing and leaning against the boom to free both hands, he pulled the mainsail down, preparing to take in another reef.

I stayed in the cockpit to handle the coiled halyard. I heard a loud bang, a noise I hadn’t heard before, and looked up. “Bruce, what was that? Bruce!”

No answer. He wasn’t there. I let out a garbled scream. My worst nightmare! Bruce had fallen overboard! The boat surged ahead as my mind whirled with what I must do. I’d rehearsed it often enough. Forcing myself to think, I went through the steps.

Reverse our direction. I always knew our reciprocal course—180 degrees from the direction we were headed. I had to start the engine. I had to drop the sails or they would work against me. I needed to throw the man-overboard pole, but I had to see him first, so he could get to it. Wait a minute! Was there an electronic box on the pole that I was supposed to set? Oh, God, I can’t remember! My mind screamed with panic.

But where was he? I looked around—I’d lost him already! Had his lifeline failed? The waves were so high, he would be out of sight as soon as two or three swells came between the boat and him.

Truly, I had always thought that if one of us fell overboard, I hoped it would be me. I knew Bruce could find me, I seriously doubted I had the skills to find him.

In this prologue, I tried to capture the essence of the story— a high seas adventure—plus create enough suspense to compel the reader to delve into the rest of the story.