Night Watch

I’m not afraid of the dark…

I’m not!!!

Ok maybe just a bit…


It’s my turn on watch. I’ve just emerged from being snuggled up with a #1 headsail in the V berth after a luxurious four hour ‘sleep’. Well I use the word sleep loosely. I think I was just laying there with my eyes shut listening to the sound of the waves rushing past the hull just millimetres from my head.

The cabin has been rearranged since I went to bed and I didn’t hear that so perhaps I did actually fall asleep.

There are three of us on board and the auto helm is doing all the work. There is no wind and so we are motoring along through the pitch darkness. Three people on a two hour watch rotation is a luxury. Two hours on and four hours off mean we will make it through the night without having to get up and down too many times.

At this time of the year at 43 degrees south we only get about 7 hours of darkness. But I still find myself counting the hours until the sun will show her face again.

The treat of watching the sunrise is reserved for the one on watch. It’s always coldest before the dawn so the sunrise is the reward for being up so early.

My sleep deprived brain slowly calculates that I’ll probably miss the sunrise watch. I’m currently doing the 1.30-3.30am. It’s currently 1.51…

I’m not afraid of the dark but I just can’t see where we are going! It feels like I’m on a space ship, hurtling through darkness. The sky is filled with a million stars. Our wake glitters with the phosphorescent light. My treat on this watch is watching shooting stars and if I look really carefully I can even see satellites tracking across the sky. It feels surreal.

My brain tells me we are off course. Sailing to an unknown destination, heading in to the abyss, but the compass and GPS says we are on track.

There are lights ahead. Is it a big ship far away or a small ship really close? Or is it a UFO? I have no way of telling without AIS to advise me, I’ll have to make my own assumptions. I feel myself being hypnotized by the light and I want to follow it. I’ve made that mistake before and nearly got tangled up with a fishing boat. But the auto helm is in control right now. It doesn’t care for frivolous things like lights. It’s sole purpose is to hold a steady compass course.

The auto helm is making a squeaking noise. Sounds like it is torturing mice. I make a mental note to try and sort that out sometime. I didn’t notice it during the day but at night it is annoying. My ears pick up all the familiar boat sounds. The engine rumbling away, the sails flapping in the apparent breeze, a halyard clanging on the mast. For a moment I swear I hear a mans voice, but my crew are still fast asleep.

There are snakes on the boat. Sugary ones and i gobble up a few to give me some power. Nothing like some midnight snake snacks. I wonder what flavor that last one was and can’t decide between orange or lime, funny how your vision plays such a big part in telling the flavour of things.

The cabin is bathed in a red glow and I watch my crew snoozing below. The red lights don’t destroy your night vision. But iPhone lights do.

We are sailing up the north eastern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. We are about 18 miles south of Cape Campbell. The sea is flat calm. I can see car lights on the land in the distance and can just make out the shadow of the hills.

I’m thankful it’s calm right now. We got a hiding here heading in the other direction in January. I ponder how different a stretch of water can be on any given day. Campbell light is winking at me in the distance. At least I think it’s Campbell light…?

Without my friend ‘Captain Paranoia’ aka Naomi Wilde on board, I’m having to do all the worrying myself. Of course there really is nothing to worry about… I’m sure we won’t hit a whale or a container or a log or a fishing net. But it’s so dark… I just don’t know. We sail on blindly. Hoping for the best.

I fancy a cup of tea but can’t be bothered putting the kettle on. I wish I’d bought a thermos. So I settle for a slice of my mums home made Christmas cake instead. Laced with brandy and covered in nuts, it warms me up from the inside. It’s freezing tonight. Supposed to be summer but I’m wearing about 5 layers of clothing and I’m still shivering.

There is no moon out tonight but I eye the horizon suspiciously. In January the damn moon gave me the fright of my life when it just suddenly appeared in the middle of the night and seemed to be rushing straight for me. Thinking we were about to be abducted by aliens I screamed and woke Andrew up. A sleep deprived brain plays tricks on the imagination. Thankfully I learn that I am not the only one to have made this mistake before. Sneaky moon, showing up at strange hours of the night.

I hear dolphins beside the boat. With vision impaired your other senses are in high alert. I smell their breaths and hear their splashes and can just make out their shadowy bodies as they leap from the glittering waves.

A shooting star flashes past the constellation that looks like a pot. Is it Orion’s Belt? I think I’ve got an app that will tell me. I’ll check that out soon.

Some breeze on now. I’d better get back to sailing my boat. We will be in Cook Strait soon. Making a mad dash across that notorious body of water with a southerly front chasing us down.

Enjoy your cosy bed and uninterrupted sleep. Don’t mind us. We are on the sea having an adventure.  

27 thoughts on “Night Watch

  1. A lovely post that captures both the magic & terror of night sailing. When we were offshore we spent a lot of time matching radar returns with visual observation along the east coast of the US. We also did 6 hour shifts since there were only two of us. We found ourselves better rested. Be well…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. fantastic writing and story telling, can’t wait to get your first book…!! 😉
    Hope you’ll get to see some of the sunrise as well, a very special treat after a night watch full of stars, voices and snakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a love/hate relationship with night sailing. I love it when the stars and moon are bright and I can actually see something. I hate it when there is cloud cover and I’m flying blind. There is just no way to relax on that kind of watch. Nice post, indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fantastic post, Viki! You know, I just adore night watches in the tropics – the stars, the bio-luminescence, the rushing water, the rain squalls – but I wasn’t such a fan this summer in the high latitudes… fog, intense cold, high winds, ice… not fun. Fortunately there wasn’t much darkness, though!! Thinking I should go back to the tropics?!
    Have fun out there!
    Cheers,
    Ellen

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Night watches are special: the Milky Way, the phosphorescence, just you and your boat… We just had a night run, but a balmy one in the tropics, and like you guys we do 2 hour watches. The best part is when we get to destination, anchor and treat ourselves to bacon and eggs before crashing into bed!

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Last Friday night, my wife and I made our first night entry ever on Meander. It was not a choice. It was an act of desperation, one required to get us off the Chesapeake Bay at the end of a long day gone wrong before gales predicted for our area after midnight descended on us. I’m trying to pull a post about the day together now. Meanwhile, after reading about your watch, I find myself looking forward to a night when the sky’s imagined aliens are all we have to fear. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a great article! It completely describes that feeling of comfort, trust on the boat yet a bit of anxiety. And the sound of the water rushing past next to your head, such a strange feeling…. I got scared once when Venus appear at dawn on the horizon, so bright! and I was convinced it was a trawler aiming directly at us, I woke up the skipper…(oups). And when we are under sail, going good, I love sitting on the bridgedeck (always clipped on) singing with all my lungs over the waves thanks to the MP3. No one can hear me… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think your senses are on special high alert – things like moons and bright stars appear as something else! I must try singing too! I am sure the dolphins would love my voice! 😉

      Like

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