Sailing Through the Trade Winds

Night Watch


For me, a night watch has a completely different ambience than a day watch—literally a night and day difference.

On a night without moonlight, illumination is scarce; the horizon hides and the ocean looms in formless dark grays. The Milky Way's pale wash of light fills the heavens, and stars near the horizon twinkle madly—look at me, look at me! The Southern Cross hangs above the antipodal point shimmering and beckoning: come south, Pacific voyager, to the hemisphere of mystery and adventure.

With a half-moon, illumination is surreal; shadows are lacking and shapes are drained of color and contrast. Day's electric blue seascape is rendered in dim shades of gray, with glints of lightness where whitecaps form and dissipate. The Milky Way is drowned by moonlight but bright pinpoint stars glimmer; thus simplified the sky becomes a star chart of constellations both familiar and novel.

With bright moonlight, light puffy clouds glow luminously and drift across the gray sky. Opaque clouds heavy with rain display dark bottoms. A high broken overcast projects crepuscular moonbeams, rays that shine like ghostly apparitions. Our white sails in the moonlight, looking like angel wings, fly us through starfields in the sky, skimming us across vitreous black water spangled with moonbeams.

There is constant auditory communication as the environment speaks to the watchstander—the fluttering of a sail, or snapping as it dumps and fills, the thrumming of the rigging, the tuneful whistling of the windgens rising and falling in pitch as the wind throttles them up and down, the creaking of the boat manhandled by swell. The sea speaks in hushed tones—the swooshing of the bow wave, the hissing of the wake, the ocean waves making every permutation of sibilant sounds: swish, sweesh, schlup, smoorsh, srarsh, ...

I poke my head out from behind the dodger into the windward slipstream, as of an airplane, and hear the wind roaring past my ears and tousling my hair. The wind blows nonstop day and night; where does it come from and where does it go? Doesn't it ever get tired; doesn't it ever sleep? I feel a faint prickling sensation as spray droplets borne on the wind fly into my face. I feel the boat lurch and stagger as a wave thumps the hull, casting up a shower of spray that rains heavily on the deck and dodger and sluices off into the scuppers.

All alone on deck, I care for the boat and tend to its correct operation; I alone am responsible for safekeeping the three souls slumbering below (two people and one cat). The accurate navigation, the safe and vigilant watchkeeping, scanning the horizon for other ships—is there any other sign of life on this planet or are we truly alone? I have the luxury of spending hours nearly idle, communing with wide-ranging thoughts of past, present, and future; able to just "be", in this time and place, conscious of all my surroundings and being an integral part of them, at peace with them. Hopefully Neptune and Aeolus share the same feeling.

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