Sailing to the Galápagos Archipelago

Night Watch

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.



Without the distraction of daylight, it's easy to enter a contemplative mood, so I also wrote down some of my feelings and emotions.

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