Thursday, March 31, 2011

Night Passages

Sunrise at sea.
The sun is setting.  We are sailing along, close hauled, in comfortable seas with winds 12-15 knots.  Behind me the sky is a palette of  wispy reds, yellows and purples.  Ahead of me hues of blue fade slowly into inky black on the horizon.  Night is falling...or rising, rather.  The first, brightest stars begin to pop up in the darkening sky.  I settle in, check our course.  Look at the chart. I take stock of what I have around me.  I have my PFD (inflatable life jacket) and tether on, the sails are set correctly, my headlamp is within arms reach as is our LED spotlight.  The autopilot is right on course and our buddy boat, s/v Earthling, is about a mile off our port side.  Our navigation lights are on, I have a high protein energy bar in my pocket and there is a red bull with my name on it in case I get sleepy.   I have another three hours to go until Scott comes back up to relieve me.

Night sailing is something special.  As night fills the sky your senses become exponentially heightened.  Your eyes adjust to the darkness, your ears become almost super-sonic, your skin feels every puff of the warm, tropical breeze.  It's not cold, unlike our last night passage over three months ago along the east coast.  No, tonight it is mild and warm - much, much more pleasant but it will be very dark.  The only moon that will appear won't do so until my next watch at 4am and it's nothing more than a Cheshire cat's smile.   As the sun sets flying fish pepper the water around me, leaping out and soaring hundreds of yards.  They amaze me these fish, I had no idea how far they actually flew or that they could actually steer themselves while in the air.  Sometimes I mistake them for birds soaring low on the water, but then they flop into the water with a splash and my confusion is cleared.

The darkness envelops the boat and we sail along.  Phosphorescence, an ocean phenomenon, dance in our wake as we push through the water.  These tiny, neon green specks light up as our waves awake them and then they dim behind us.  The only other thing I can see in the water are the whites of the waves as they crash around us.  There is a tad bit of anxiety that comes with sailing in the night.  What if a whale is sleeping at the surface in front of us?  What if a sudden unexpected squall blows through?  What if something suddenly breaks?  So many what ifs.  But you cannot dwell on these thoughts, because there is nothing you can do about them - so you sail on.

Before you know it, the stars are out in full force - blinking and twinkling all around you.  I look up and sigh, just staring up.  Is there anything else in this world that can make you feel smaller than the ocean and the sky?  Here we are - floating in the ocean being swallowed by the sky.  It's incredible.  Falling stars are everywhere.  If you look up for at least five minutes you are sure to see them.  I see one that actually shoots across the horizon and leaves a tail behind it, like a comet.  Hmmm...I wonder.  Was that a star, or something else?  Your mind goes into overdrive in the night.  You think you hear voices in the wind, in the creaks and craws of the boat's movement - more than once Scott and I would pop our heads down below and say, "did you just call me?".  But we didn't.  Just our overactive minds playing tricks on us.  Suddenly I think I hear a baby crying, but no, it's just a lost bird screaming for it's friends into the wind.  Our boat becomes a haven for one such bird during one of Scott's watches.  He clings to to the bow pulpit for dear life, knowing not where we will take him - but resting his wings so he can continue on when he's ready.

In my slumber I am awoken by Scott.  "The wind's picking up" he says, "we need to reduce sail." I lumber out of our sea berth (I wasn't sleeping soundly anyway, I could tell the wind was up because I felt the waves building) and hop into the darkness that is the cockpit and take the wheel.  The wind is up and we are overpowered, heeling at an angle of 20 degrees or more.  The wind blows through the rigging and howls past our sails.  We roll up the jib and I turn the boat into the wind to slacken our mainsail so Scott can reef.  He puts in one and then I suggest putting in the other.  The wind has climbed to 17 knots and t's better to reduce sail early.  Better to be safe than sorry.  We unfurl the jib and turn away from the wind and begin to sail again.  Much better.

I think the sunrise might be my favorite time on a night watch.  The world lights up again, slowly and surely, and the sun paints the eastern sky.  The waves are lit up and the flying fish return.  I make toast and tea and just enjoy the dawn of  new day, except that Scott is back on watch in twenty minutes and I will soon be going back to sleep, letting the wind and the waves rock me to slumber as the sunlight dances in and out of the cabin through the windows.

12 comments:

s/v Skylark said...

Night sailing is may favorite part for sure. You really captured the feeling of being on your own little boat in the middle of a very big sea at night prefectly!

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

What great writing! I felt like I was there! We've never sailed at night and because of what you've described we look forward to it, but we know we'll be anxious because of those "what ifs", like the whale! Glad you had a beautiful and peaceful passage!

Neophyte Cruiser said...

Your description of night sailing captures the magic. However, I can't imagine a wisp, like yourself, 'lumbering' anywhere...

Dan N Jaye said...

Lovely! This is what I remember - that it both is, and isn't, as dark as can be. And that the stars are so much more numerous, and so much brighter, than you ever realized ...

Albert said...

What a wonderful post. To this day when I talk with friends about multi-day races, or transits, they always ask - where do you stop at night? And the answer of course is nowhere - because who would want to miss what you described?

Windtraveler said...

Thanks for the nice comments everyone! Glad you enjoyed!
Cheryl - you will LOVE it...just make sure you choose nice weather, because when the weather isn't nice - it's a WHOLE new experience ;)
D&J - true THAT!
Phil - thanks for the compliment, but you haven't tried to get our of our sea berth around our lee cloth - hahah ;)

Windtraveler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

How do you make toast underway...in a fry'pan perhaps ?? Juast curious. Cheers, P.

Windtraveler said...

We have to EAT underway! We make toast the old fashioned way (whether at anchor or at sea) - over a flame on top of a heat diffuser, works faster than a frying pan. :)

The World Tour said...

Beautiful text Brittany.
Hope to see you guys somewhere soon.

xx

Tytti said...

Very beautifully described!

I also have been thinking about Your earlier post about "traveling sailor or sailing traveler" as I've been reading Lars Hässler's books (swedish retired attorney) - he is a "sailing traveler" - think :)
http://www.amazon.com/Occupation-Circumnavigator-Sailing-Around-World/dp/1408112019

JD, Jen and Ruby said...

This is a most beautiful piece of writing. Talk about descriptive! Inspirational and informative too. Wow.

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