thoughts on watches

Thu 29 Nov 2018 13:13
22:26.2N 023:48.9W
COG 265 SOG 8kts.
Some thoughts by Kirsty.

Imagine it's 3.40am, your alarm has just gone off and you're on watch at 4am - how do you feel?
Like shouting Kevin the teenagers infamous line, quietly roll over and try to ignore it and snatch a few more minutes or get up and get going?
On Gitana, you get out of bed, get dressed, put your life jacket and safety lines on and head for the deck.

The watch system on board has to be something we can all work together on, it has to be something we all do together. Going back to the 3.40am decision, imagine you're the guy on deck still at 3.55am and the person who you're counting on to take over so you can go back to bed doesn't appear.

On Gitana we're working a 2hr on, 8hrs off watch pattern, which means for 2hours in every 10, you're in charge of the steering, keeping a safe lookout for other vessels at sea, keeping the sails full and keeping your sleeping crew safe. It's so important for so many reasons, for example some of the bigger ships travel so fast they can get from the horizon to you in minutes. We have a support system called the AIS that helps identify ships in the area, but it doesn't always show everyone.

It's now 4am, you've completed your handover, the person on watch before you lets you know about the boats they've seen, what course we're steering, what the wind's doing and anything else important we need to know... now you're on your own!

It's dark, well of course it's dark it's night time, but it's really dark! In front of you, you see 4 data displays that are glowing red, there's a glow from the cabin where the GPS, AIS and radio light up. Everyone else is asleep now.

The wind is blowing on your face from the starboard (right) side, you turn to look - all you can see is the dark sea with some white wave crests breaking, the sky is slightly lighter but still very dark, you can see clouds where they cover the stars and a million stars shining around them. Something catches your eye - a shooting star, you wish - you look again, it's already gone. You keep your gaze on the horizon, you keep scanning. The sea isn't flat, you're rolling off waves each time they roll past, you glance back and check your course - good, still on course and speed is good; your eyes go back to the horizon again. You see a light in the distance, a single white light, you blink - it disappears - are your eyes playing tricks on you? You look again. It's back, in the same place, then disappears again - you've got company.

During the watch your mind wanders, you've got hold of the wheel trying to hold your course, whilst scanning the horizon, at the same time listening for radio chatter from other boats, the waves crash and roll around you, you can't see a huge amount but your eyes adjust by the minute and you're in control. It's a busy couple of hours and your watch forms a key part of the 'rules of the road', a bit like the highway code for boats. We all take that responsibility every night, each one of us, on every boat out here.

The light stays on the horizon, you look more closely now and it's definitely one single white light. You put the auto-helm on (Poppy's driving now) and go to check the AIS. Turns out it's Raritan, you saw her two nights ago during your watch, you're sailing in the same direction - all is well. Back to the wheel. You check the course, check the wind, have another look around and settle in to the watch. A little later, you've got some choices to make - do you stick with the sounds around you, listen to the water rushing past the hull and how it intensifies as you accelerate down each wave, the wind moving the sails and the distant chatter on the radio (this time it's in French) or is it time to play some music?

This bit there's no argument about - it's personal choice. Some listen to tunes, some don't, many people love the head space this kind of trip gives you, others like the company of music from time to time. No headphones on deck though, it's a bit like cycling, you just don't otherwise you can't hear what's going on around you. So a quiet speaker it is so as not to wake the other crew and turn the deck into an early hours karaoke party!

Everyone has their own preferences, I prefer the sounds around me for a while, getting used to the rhythm of the waves, a gust of wind, the boat calls on the radio. After a while, I'll get some music going (I've got quite an eclectic mix thanks to my parents and daughters music interests), tonights watch had a little Queen, Bruno Mars, Ocean Lab - totally depends on the mood!

Your watch is still running, it's still dark, below decks is still quiet. You notice it's 5.40am, you spot there's life in the cabin as your watch replacement has started to get ready and move around. The next 10 minutes feel like the slowest ones ever, then relief - they're on deck, it's your turn to do the handover and then you're done for the watch. It's nearly dawn, do you stay for the sunrise or retreat to your bed for a couple of hours... choices to make again!

Good morning from Gitana!

By Kirsty.