Night watch

It’s 3:30 A.M. and I’ve just come on for my three hour watch. We rotate
through three different shifts on our passages. I think the hardest is
the 9 P.M. to Midnight. Often the other two go off to bed after dinner
and so that shift really is 7 P.M. to Midnight. We try to stay up with
whomever has that shift, but it’s hard when you know you need some sleep
before your shift. However, after that shift you’ve got a good night to
sleep, so it has it’s advantages over the Midnight to 3 A.M. shift.

What are we watching for? Ships. Out here in this part of the Pacific
there isn’t much traffic and I have yet to see anything on any of my
watches. Those large container ships that haul cargo to the islands
we’re visiting are out there somewhere. They move really fast and can go
from a blip on the horizon to bearing down on you in fifteen minutes or
so. We have what’s called a hand bearing compass to help us determine if
the ship we see is on a collision course. The one we have now is new and
is built into a very nice pair of binoculars. If over time the compass
heading you see while looking at the ship doesn’t change, then you’re on
a collision course. If it changes you’re not. Luckily, in all my sailing
the ships I’ve spotted were never headed towards us.

We also keep an eye on the sails if we’re sailing or the engine if we’re
motoring. The later of which we are currently. This passage has been
slow and the wind only co-operates for short intervals. We watch the
wind to see if it’s time to change from motoring to sailing and visa
versa. It’s a great time to listen to audio books. We have quite a
selection on board, with most of them nautically themed. “The Revenge of
the Whale: The True Story of the Whale Ship Essex” is the book I just
listened too. It was a great story, but the writing was just average. It
is a bit spooky though sitting here hearing about guys in a life raft
having to resort to cannibalism to survive. This was the 1820s though
and we’re way better equipted if anything drastic forced us to leave

We have an emergency life raft that is filled with supplies. We have
extra water set aside to take with us. The most important item though is
the EPIRB. I’m not sure what all those letters mean, but I’m pretty sure
the last two are Rescue Beacon. This device, when activated, will send a
distress signal up to satellites as they pass over us. After several
passes our location can be determined.

The moon just set and now it’s dramitically darker. The stars are
brighter, the sky glorious. I can see the milky way and if I don’t look
right at it, the Magellenic cloud. Your eyes and brain trick you if you
try to look right at it. Somehow, if you look at it and away and at it
again you can trick your brain back into seeing it.

Night watches can be, get this, cold. Yes, even here in the South Pacific
the nights can be cold. I don’t mean cool. Tonight is warmer than the last
couple, but still I have on sweat pants and a light jacket. Last night I
had all this on plus I was sitting under a blanket. The main sail is
flapping around and I’ve got to do something about it…….

It’s now 5:00 A.M. I played with the main sail for a while, gave up and then
gave it another go. Finally, I got it to stop flapping and making thundering
“thwaps”. Of course, what worked was one of the first things I tried. I
don’t know why it didn’t work the first time. During all this our wind has
shifted to the south. This is great. Maybe we can sail, I thought. So, I
tried. I idled the engine and pulled out the jib. Yeah, we could have
sailed, but our speed was less than 2 knots. At that rate we’d get to Niue
in two weeks. I pulled the jib back in and pushed the throttle back up and
away we go, back up to 5 knots. If you want to know how fast we’re going, go
get in your car and drive to the grocery store at about 5 m.p.h. Then slow
down to 2 m.p.h.

Our fuel will only last so long and they we’ll have to sail the rest of the
way. I’m voting to save at least enough to motor from Niue to Tonga, but we
do have to get to Niue first, so that may not be practical. We don’t know if
Niue will have diesel for sale or not. If they do, I imagine it will be the
most expensive diesel we encounter.

We’re about to cross into a new timezone. We will be GMT -11 soon. That
means we’re one hour eariler than Hawaii and 7 hours early than the East
Coast and 11 hours earlier than London. In a couple of weeks we’ll cross the
International Date Line and then we’ll be in a different day from y’all.

Our trip odometer will hit the 1,000 nautical mile mark in the next couple
of hours. I can’t believe we’ve traveled that far already. This zig-zag
course to Niue has certainly added a good number to the total. So much for
“as the crow flies”.

Our best to everyone and let us know what you’re up to. We’re not getting
much email with news from family and friends. Howard is still sending us the
headlines, which is a big hit. Susan says “that’s all you need. Just the