Night Watch

Monday May 24, 2004

Enroute to Rangiroa in the Tuamotus

S 11o 05.7 W 142o 16

Yesterday, Lillian left Ua Pou in the afternoon and began the 550 nautical mile trip to the coral atoll of Rangiroa in the Tuamotus. After the 3000 mile trip from Galapagos to Hiva Oa, 550 miles sounds close, except it will still take four nights. With just Peter and me to stand watch, we want to get into a routine as quickly as possible. The watch schedule we have adopted is six hours on, six off.

Sunset in the Pacific

Since Peter is taking the 6:00 pm to midnight watch, I try to get to bed immediately after dinner. I do sleep more soundly now, as opposed to the first few months of this adventure. Back then, especially in the Bahamas when the winds and waves were stronger and we were becoming familiar with Lillian, I would awaken at any clamorous noise and rush up to the deck to see what was going on. Now we make less noise, and when we do, it is usually intended. If Peter does need help, I know he’ll call out. So now, if I’m  awakened by activity on deck, I typically assess it as something Peter can handle and fall quickly back to sleep. Yesterday, due to a combination of the new schedule and the humidity below, it took me awhile to fall asleep, but once there, I had a very nice snooze up until it was time to get ready for the midnight watch.

There is a ritual, of sorts, in preparing for a night  watch. The first step is to change into watch clothes, which at this latitude is a bathing suit, T-shirt, and life vest with rescue light. Then one selects the music to help carry him through the watch. We have a limited amount of CD’s  aboard, so we play them over and over and over again. This is a real test of a musical selection. One of my favorites is a collection of sailing related rock and roll that my younger sister Amy put together. I had never appreciated how many songs have references to sailing and the ocean. I consider using the collection as the lead off for the evening, but one of the songs is by Elton John  with the line,  “there’s  a boat on the reef with a broken back.”   I guess Amy wants us to remember to be careful. Given that we are headed towards the low lying coral atolls of the Tuamotus, albeit over 500 miles away, I decide that’s  not the mood I want to set for the start of the trip. Instead, I select some vintage Jefferson Airplane mid-sixties rock to wake me up.  Then I grab a copy of Peter Freuchen’s  book, “My Life in the Frozen North”, a gift from friends Doug and Rhonda Brewster, and head up on deck.

Peter greets me with a  “hello,” a status report, and a “ I’m  tired and going to bed”.  He has Lillian moving strongly at over 6 knots, with the mainsail reefed, in case of a squall, and the two foresails out. I move into the helmsman’s  chair and for the first hour listen to Grace Slick sing  “White Rabbit” over and over, while I let my thoughts wander, watch the phosphorescence and keep an eye  for traffic, just in case. Coffee is purposefully delayed until 0200 to give me something to look forward to and also to time the caffeine effect for the wee hours. As 2:00 am approaches it’s  well time to change the music and start the coffee water. By 2:30 am, I’m  under the influence, dancing at the helm to Stevie Ray Vaughn playing Hendrix, glad that no one can see me except perhaps Peter, who wouldn’t  care.

By 0300, the coffee’s  losing its effect, this being the first night on a new schedule. The next goal, on a night without a moon, is to make it to the rejuvenating first hint of dawn, at approximately 0500. That  the toughest stretch, like driving across Kansas.  One pastime is to reference the GPS, check the speed, check the average speed, check the course deviation, check the time of sunrise, around and around. I also stand up and do stretches. During Peter’s watch, I often see him doing endless pushups and sit-ups.  It is also a good time to read by pen light. Peter Freuchen’s  book is an excellent selection. His book chronicles the incredible hardships of life and exploration in Greenland at the start of the 1900 . In comparison, having to stand a watch on Lillian is an embarrassment of luxury.

Last night, the time finally managed to trickle past to 0430, and I figured half an hour till first light would be an easy stretch of reading as I pull out Freuchen’s  book. As if on cue, raindrops began to fall and quickly increased to a heavy downpour, necessitating a quick securing of windows and hatches, and drenching me in the process. The rain stopped as abruptly as it had started. But, before I could dry out and start reading, a loud  “pop” announced that the metal ring in the clue of the large Genoa had completely ripped free of the sail, so the sail was now a fifty foot high banner, flapping wildly in the wind. Now, for the remainder of my watch, I had something to do in securing the sail. By the time the sun rose and Peter came on deck to relieve me the sail was secured, Lillian was back up to six knots, and Peter and I were back in a routine.