Sailing to the Galápagos Archipelago
|A murky equatorial sunset.
||A night view of the wind generators on the stern. We call the metal pipes they're mounted on the "goal posts". In the middle of the goal post frame, the stern running light provides some faint illumination.|
I have spent some of my most pleasant hours aboard Nine of Cups on night watch, sailing across the vastness of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by darkness and alone with my thoughts. The workload is generally light, the environment relaxing and serene. Lacking cloud cover, the sky is filled with stars; with moonlight, the scene is transformed into a ghostly facsimile of day. These are special times, to be sure.
On my very first night watch, I observed dramatic phosphorescence in the bow wave. As the boat shoved aside the water, it would break out with two kinds of biologically-generated light: swaths of blotchy dim light plus frequent discrete bright points. It looked like galaxies and nebulas, in a never ending stream, with the sparkling points of light representing stars and the dim light being background nebulosity. There were also some flashes of light from below the surface, scattered here and there. It reminded me of movies the astronauts have made from orbit showing a large area of thunderstorms at night. The next day I saw that there were jellyfish just under the surface; they might have caused the flashes.
While on watch, your senses are constantly utilized, both consciously and subconsciously. You have to pay attention to what's going on around you, in a seamanlike way, so your senses can pick up what the boat, winds, and waves are trying to tell you. At night, without the convenience of daylight, your senses are sharpened and sensory observations readily invade your consciousness. On my second night watch, I decided to write down what I could see, hear, and feel.
See - When I look around me, I can see things that are nearby and things that are far away. It's not a random arrangement of objects, though. There seem to be several "worlds", or environments, that surround me, each world nested inside the next larger world. The smallest world is the world of the cockpit, my cozy and comfortable immediate surroundings. The next larger world is the world of the boat, floating through the darkness like a miniature self-contained planet. Surrounding the boat is a small sphere of nearby space that is usually observable despite the darkness. The next larger world is everything "out there"difficult to observe (due to darkness) but certainly present. The final world, as large as can be, is the universe, definitely observable as the vast field of stars illuminating the celestial hemisphere.
- The cockpit - The comfortable and familiar appearance of the cockpit, with its multicolored illumination: the bright green light of the engine start switch, the faint glow from the other engine gauges, the pale fluorescent green of the GPS backlight, and the barely perceptible red glow of the compass light. Jelly, the ship's cat, curled-up on the other cockpit cushion, asleep and oblivious to everything.
- The boat and its nearby space - Looking forward, I see the lighted sailing instruments over the companionway and the pale orange/red light coming up from below (we have a fluorescent nightlight at the nav station). All the way forward, the red/green bow light reflects some of its color from the bow pulpit and casts a faint wash of colorless light over the water (too faint to perceive color). Looking aft, the high-mounted stern light makes the stern vaguely visible and faintly illuminates the wake trailing astern. There are occasional ghostly birds hovering over our wake, flitting soundlessly to one side or the other before wheeling and vanishing into the darkness. Hovering over the bow, they are lit in red or green light, looking weird and unnatural. (I call the night birds "sea bats" since they only seem to come out at night; I don't know where they go in the day.) Looking forward, I see the reflections and faint blurring of things viewed through the dodger, and overhead, the vague, looming shape of the sail, appearing gray and indistinct against the background sky.
- "Out there" - The pale, colorless moonlight reflecting from the waves and swell.
- The universe - The bright spots of starlight overhead, fading to gradual fuzziness as I look closer to the horizon. There's a several-day-old moon setting, which looks a little blurred in the low haze.
- While motoring, the droning noise and vibration from the engine stultifies all other sound and suppresses the calm peaceful feeling of pure sailing. Sailing slowly is better than motoring quickly, but sailing less than 1 knot is hardly practicalit would take us weeks to get there.
- The swishing, splashing, hissing sound of the seawater being forcibly pushed aside by Nine of Cups' sturdy hull. The flapping of the mainsail as the boat rocks (the unfurled sail provides a stabilizing influence but the flapping is annoying and can cause wear and tear).
- Normally I can hear the reassuring faint wheep-wheep-wheep of the wind generator blades rotating, but not tonight. There is so little wind that even motoring doesn't start them turning. It's not a problem now because we get all the amps we need from the engine-driven alternator.
- An occasional clink or clank or squeak of some piece of rigging working and announcing its presence.
- A very slight rolling from the slow Pacific swells. There seem to be two sets of swells: the main set moving south to north, and a smaller set moving north to south.
- The damp close feeling of saturated air as a hot, humid day settles into the coolness of nighttime.
- An itchy, icky feeling after several long and sweaty days without a shower (fresh-water showers on-passage are rationed and also messy and inconvenient to take). All my clothes feel stiffened by days of salt, sweat, and dirt. My hands have days of old sunscreen clogging their pores and feel really icky. My feet are ickiest of all, from walking barefoot on constantly damp decks.
- Earlier in the day, I stubbed my toe when I slipped on the wet decks. It is quite tender now and occasionally hurts as I move around.
Without the distraction of daylight, it's easy to enter a contemplative mood, so I also wrote down some of my feelings and emotions.
- The casual boredom of watchstanding when the workload is very low, but you still have to be there and keep watch, even though, likely as not, there will be nothing whatsoever to watch out for. Day watches avoid this (minor) problem because you can always read a book, but reading at night would burn up too many flashlight batteries.
- The slightly unsettling feeling of starting a new routine. After days of marina living, we now are "on passage", with a new set of routines, new priorities, new sensations and feelings, etc. Everything revolves around the watchstanding schedule, which regulates your life and determines your activities. On-passage, the goal is a quick and safe passage, so watchstanding and boatkeeping become high-priority activities with everything else taking a back seat.
- The slight uncertainty of what's going to happen when we arrive. It's still far enough away that I'm not fretting, but lurking in the background are fomenting concerns about anchoring difficulties, dangerous reefs, problems with officials, landing the dinghy through rough surf, etc. Plus, how will we spend our allocated time? Will we have time to actually relax and enjoy serendipitous activities at an easy pace, or will we be compelled to rush to try to do everything in a short time?
- I'm still trying to find my place in Marcie's and David's routine, to insert myself into their style of boatkeeping and cruising. Although they frequently take my interests and preferences into account, this is still basically their trip and I want their preferences to be paramount. Also, they are a very close couple who live and work together 24/7 on the boat. As an outsider now inserted into their little world on Nine of Cups, I must have an impact on their lifestyle. On the other hand, they have stated with conviction that I've been a model guesteasy to get along with and easy to please.