What To Expect When Sailing At Night

Published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel under the pen name, Elizabeth Rose. Chris is known as “Jason” in the I Heart stories.

The next harbor was about a fourteen-hour sail away.

Jason and I decided to work through the night in three-hour shifts so while one person slept, the other would steer the boat to keep course and basically avoid hitting any oncoming vessels.

I took the seven to ten shift which meant Id be on deck from sunset to the first part of the night then back again from one in the morning until four.

Jason stood watching nearby as I put on my foul weather gear (waterproof overalls and coat, rubber boots, and life vest).

I could tell he was a bit reluctant to let me have the first watch.

Make sure to steer clear of crab pots,he said.

Stay vigilant and make sure to keep the correct heading.

He lingered nervously in front of me, the way a parent would before handing the car keys over to a freshly licensed teenager.

I got it, babe,I said. Ill wake you up if I need to. Promise.

He hung around for a bit checking the swell, the wind, the compass, before heading into the cabin.

I glanced periodically through the companionway hatch to check on him.

He sat upright in the quarter berth (a single bunk tucked under the cockpit) staring at the floor and picking at his cuticles for about twenty minutes before laying down.

Then There Was One

Finally, it was just me and the boat.

The vastness of ocean felt like a monster breathing down my neck and it took a few minutes to wrap my head around the fact I was floating on a tiny ship on the infinite sea.

Then the sun dipped below the horizon and a new world laid out before me.

It seemed that every star in the Universe came out to play that night, seeming to drip from the sky like stalactites hanging from the roof of some ubiquitous cave.

The waves gently rocked the boat from side to side and the ocean swell nudged us from behind.

Back and forth, to and fro. I was in a trance, hypnotized by the salty air, the movement of the boat, and the darkness that surrounded me.

Then something in the water caught my eye.

Over the side of the deck, bioluminescence flickered in the boat wake, lighting our path like a match head striking flint.

I sat back and tried to cement the moment in my brain. Mentally filing it away so I could come back and relive again.

I counted shooting stars, almost twenty of them, and watched cargo ships pass by in the distance, their bright lights twinkling on the horizon like a miniature floating city.

Before I knew it, my shift was over and Jason climbed on deck to take the helm.

I went into the cabin and peeled off my foul weather gear then crawled into the quarter birth to try and sleep.

The loud hum of the motor became a calming white noise and the swaying ship felt like a cradle rocking me to sleep.

I slept soundly for about an hour then rested in some sort of awakened dream state.

Round Two

At one in the morning, Jason kissed me on the head to wake me up.

I wiped the sleep from my eyes then slipped back into my foul weather gear and I took my place at the helm.

Life in three-hour shifts, our new normal.

The weather had changed since my last watch.

Thick lines of clouds rolled over and masked the starry sky.

I put in my earphones, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and got lost in the story, feeling a type of kinship to the sailors on the Pequod.

After about an hour, the moon crept up beyond the horizon.

Its bright orange crescent shape made a full appearance before disappearing into the clouds.

It didnt seem long after that that my shift was over.

Jason took the helm and I stepped down into the cabin to peel off my foul weather gear.

I brushed my teeth then slipped into the quarter birth and fell asleep.

Rocked by the waves and soothed by the white noise of the motor, I dreamt hard.

Three hours later, we made our first stop and pulled into Westport, WA in the dense morning fog.

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