Even a hard night watch has a magical quality about it. Last night was a hard one. The wind which had been steadily building during the day, and surging us forward at a fast clip, finally gusted high enough to round us up beyond the wind pilot’s ability to correct course. So at 9:30 p.m., in the midst of Anson and Devon’s chess game in the cockpit (magnetic board and pieces from my family’s cruise in the 1970s), the three of us reefed the jib, with Anson doing his foredeck magic to re-run the jib sheet to prevent chafe and reposition the block to maintain good sail shape, while Devon played Mark’s role of magician’s assistant and I steered. The result: when the wind blew 25 knots, gusting to 27, we sailed at a nice clip and surfed waves in grand fashion; when the wind dropped to 15 to 17 knots, Anthea was underpowered, wallowing a bit in the troughs of waves and unable to race with the swells. The motion went from awkward, jerky, back and forth, as the confused seas had their way with us, to glorious rushing forward through and down the swells.
Devon and I tucked into our berths, while Anson took an extended watch until midnight to give me the few hour nap I needed before my watch. Sleep was elusive in this sea state, so I was groggy as I took my shift, instant coffee and midnight snack in hand. But as I settled into my nest of bean bags behind the helm, the moonlight softened the waves, revealing only broad outlines of the swirling mass beneath us. The 25 knot gusts, lasting up to five minutes at a time, ruffled the moonlit waters into a shimmering trail racing towards our stern. The motions, which felt random and capricious below, made sense to my body as I felt the wind on my face and sensed the contours of the waves. I felt at peace, secure in Anthea’s seaworthiness, and lulled by the combination of wind and sea.
The good night watches approach delirious. The three prior nights we had steady trade wind conditions, enabling Anthea to slip forward at a steady 6.5 knots even with her nighttime rig of a reefed jib. The moonlight and night air altered my perception of the sea and sky, so I felt as if we were hovering above, rather than moving through, the seas. Then Anthea would surge forward as she surfed a wave, lifting our speed into the 7 and 8 knot range, sending an exhilarating surge through my body as well. The alternation of magic-carpet-like movement above the water, punctuated by the high of surfing speeds, filled me with alternating wonderment and joy. Anthea was in her groove, carrying us across the Pacific in grand style. Under these conditions I savored my coffee and treat, filled my senses with the cool night caress of wind, the sound of waves against the hull, and the visual feast of moonlit waters. I lingered in this feeling of peace and well-being for several hours in an almost meditative state of wonderment. When sleep threatened to return, I opened my book and read for the rest of my watch, awakening my mind by traveling with the characters in a novel. Joy!
The gusts have calmed and the steady wind has returned. We’ve let out the reefs in the jib and Anthea is once again surging confidently through the waters. We’re not piling on the canvas and achieving top speeds, as we are being gentle on the boat and our bodies. Super fast is fun, but tiring. So we’re content to stay in the mid 6 knot range, surfing in the 7s, and making steady westward pace. All is well.
Latitude 10 degrees 50 minutes North
Longitude 125 degrees 49 minutes West