Night watches

Elemiah's Atlantic Adventure
Ian Cole and Rosemary Bointon
Sun 13 Jul 2008 01:16
Somebody has to be responsible for keeping watch, all through the day and all through the night. During the day, we don't stick to rigid watches - whoever is out and about is on watch. At night though, we have adopted a system of 2 hour watches. We have fallen into a pattern of Roger 8-10, Ian 10 - midnight, Rosemary midnight to 2, Curtis 2 - 4, Hannah 4-6 and then round to Roger again.

So what do you do when you are on watch in the middle of the night? On the leg from Nova Scotia to Horta, we were very busy actually sailing the boat - our autopilot was not functioning properly and also we had a problem with the steering. The last few days we have had no wind and so have not been sailing at night but under motor. We have been under autopilot (fixed in Horta) too so there has been less to do.

But, as Roger said, when you are on watch, what you do is keep watch. This means scanning the horizon for other ships and checking the radar. It is easy for a ship to sneak up on you from behind or maybe from under a sail or behind the dodger where it can be difficult to check. The scan needs to be a complete 360 degree check. I do it every 10 minutes or so. First, I scan round generally and then I sweep round with the binoculars. After that, I check on the radar as well. Great excitement if a ship is discovered but there have not been that many - a couple a day I suppose since Horta.

It is amazing how different it is to be away from all the light pollution. When rain clouds abound, it is just black. In the fog off Nova Scotia, there was an eerie puddle of visibility, maybe as little as a few hundred yards and then grey nothing. Now there is just darkness although the sky varies enormously during the night. You can nearly always see the horizon, although sometimes it is obscured with cloud or mist. I watch the clouds pass over - some lighter and some darker. Sometimes you can see it raining in the distance. You ask yourself whether it will pass over Elemiah. Will we get wet? But generally the rain clouds pass in front or behind us - or sweep away to rain on Africa or Northern Europe.

Between the clouds, the stars are bright. Earlier in the month, the moon rose and flooded the sea with light. It has been obscured by clouds the last few nights although last night I saw a beautiful moon set at about 00.30. After the moon has gone the stars are even brighter. The milky way arches over us and I have learnt to recognise the swan flying down the milky way. Curtis and I have both been looking at the constellations. Scorpio has been very bright. The archer next to it - then up to the serpent holder. Curtis and I spent a whole hour last night looking for Hercules. There are so many stars that he is not easy to see. Going round, there is the herdsman, the great bear with the plough inside it, the dragon, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda and on... It is easy to feel very insignificant - a little speck on a vast ocean, itself a speck in the universe.

Back again to the routine sweep of the horizon - every 10 minutes. Is that a ship's light or a star rising? Better check the radar.

Then I might go down below and make a cup of tea. The cabin is warm and cosy with a pool of light by the galley and the soft glow of the Garmin by the navigation table, showing our course or the radar. I am always amazed that the 2 hours has already passed - where did it go? I was so occupied that I did not notice that time had flown.

Rosemary and Ian