Night watch

It’s two hours into my night watch and I’m tucked into the corner of the cockpit, watching a light on the horizon to the right that may be a ship. There are low clouds over there that make the light appear and reappear as we ghost along at 3 knots under 5 knots of breeze. I’ve checked the AIS and there’s no ship showing, but it could be a fishing boat or even a yacht that doesn’t have an AIS transceiver so I pick up the binoculars and try to focus on the light, difficult to do as we roll with the South Pacific swell on our beam. I can’t quite make it out. 

To set my mind at ease I turn on the radar and as the scanner warms up I reach into the trug we use on passages to hold our inflatable lifevests and tethers while we’re not wearing them and feel for the big Ziploc bag of pretzel rods. It’s been four hours since dinner and a snack would hit the spot. When the radar’s up the scanner shows nothing, no ships, no squalls, nothing but the bit of sea clutter always right around us. I check the various distances to confirm there’s nothing, then turn off the scanner to preserve power and settle back in to my cozy corner with two pretzel rods and my book. After two or three pages I put the book down and just stare at the black night sky dense with stars. Jack likes moonlit nights but I love the new moon, when I can take in the planetarium-perfect bowl of twinkling heaven and make wishes on falling stars. 

I keep my eye on the light I thought was a ship. After a while it disappears below the horizon and I conclude it was a star setting along with Venus in the western sky. Jupiter shines above me and the Southern Cross is now visible again to the southeast. On these calm starry nights I find an hour can go by with my mind completely blank except for the odd thought about this constellation or that. This is remarkable because I usually have a very busy mind, always planning, listing, analyzing, what-if-ing various scenarios. Watching the night sky alone in a small boat in the middle of the ocean is meditation and makes me feel as calm and peaceful as I’ve ever been. 

The alarm on my iPhone goes off, appropriately named Stargaze, and even though there’s been no change in sound or motion that may indicate the boat needs attention, I reluctantly rouse myself from my comfortable corner and lean over the side deck to look forward for ships, then check the other side. I climb up to the helm and check our course, flip on the light that illuminates the sails and check their position and all the lines I can see to make sure everything’s as it should be. All is well and I tuck back into my nook and reset the alarm in case I should doze off. 

The rest of my watch passes like this, listening to the sounds of a sailboat underway, the water rushing by, the creak of the wheel as the autopilot steers our course, the mainsail softly undulating an S-curve above me in the light air, and I watch the night sky as ocean voyagers have for thousands of years before me. I feel a kinship with Cook and Bligh and all the legendary explorers, as well as our friends who crossed this ocean last year while we had to turn back after we lost our rig. 

I’m surprised when Jack appears to take over, so lost in the moment am I. It’s 1 am and time for me to go to bed. Jack will have a late rising moon on his watch, but I’ll be fast asleep.


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6 Responses to Night watch

  1. George

    I know this poem by heart.

  2. Anita

    Marce, you have such a way with words. I am right there with you, in your cozy corner eating pretzel rods. As I read this post, a calm came over me. May the rest of your trip be calm, but with winds blowing gently in the right direction. You are getting close.

  3. gordoncassidy

    Lovely entry. Feel like I’m right there with y’all.

  4. Diane Sanderbeck

    Thank you for this post, Marce. I just closed my eyes and smiled, imagining what it must be like to see that many stars in the middle of an ocean. You are a terrific writer and I look forward to your posts as you make your way west. Fair winds and following seas.

  5. This may have been my favorite post yet — so beautifully written. I agree with Anita; I felt as if I as right there with you. ~Jessie

  6. The longer you’re out there the more in tune you become. Your land-based problems disappear and you just enjoy each day for what it is.

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