Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting Ready for A Few Nights Out

When we depart Newport, Oregon on Thursday, we will be out at sea for two nights in order to arrive in California on Saturday.  When we are on an overnight crossing Bruce and I split the night, each taking a watch for six hours and sleeping for the other six hours.  The kids usually stay up with us for an hour or so of our shift to keep us company.  We turn on the autopilot, and when she is working properly we are able to rest, read, play cards, have snacks, and even write, but not to sleep during our watch, for we always need to keep an eye out for other ships passing quietly in the night.

Of the 80 days that we have been sailing so far, we have only done five overnight crossings.  Bruce has a lot of experience with this from his years as a merchant mariner, tug boat crewmember, first mate aboard a cruise ship, and project manager aboard fiber optic submarine cable ships.  The rest of the crew are just getting the hang of it. 

I am no longer afraid of the overnights, in fact I have begun to enjoy the solitude, the feeling of being no different than the birds and whales and sea lions traveling the ocean day and night.  I am growing to love the sweetness and simplicity of it, the uninterrupted time with the three people I love most in the world, the quietness.  Still, the all-nighter thing is hard to recover from at 47 years old, nothing like the ones I pulled in college when I could go to classes and carry on the next day as if nothing had happened.

One of the big tricks I know I need to master in order to have a pleasant overnight experience is to sleep at OTHER times of day.  It reminds me of being a nursing mom, at the beck and call of an infant who needs to nurse every hour or so around the clock.  Back then, I resisted the nap; it was nearly impossible for me to sleep when the baby slept, because I yearned to have my own time, do my own thing, read that book or take a bath or do that laundry.  I do the same thing aboard Northern Passage.  I fiddle and fuss, I don't want to miss anything.  I resist.  Bruce is a master napper.  He will sleep anywhere, anytime.  I wonder if he has always been this way, or if he learned it from his years at sea.

Although this 6-hour shift from 9pm-3am is hard to get through, it is not without its rewards.  I found this bit of writing (below) from a perfect night watch a few weeks ago.  It is difficult to capture the magic that occurs during that time of night out on the sea.  So, while I drift to sleep at 9:30 tonight in an attempt to bank the hours I know I won't be getting out there, I'll attach this bit of night watch writing:  

     A moonless star-filled night on the Pacific Ocean outside Washington state.   It is 1:27 am and I have another hour to go on my night watch at the helm.   
     Steering through the black night on black water is a little bit like driving around at night without streetlights or headlights on a road that is constantly rolling beneath you.  Although we are steering a course, our 51-foot boat feels miniscule in this great body of water.  
     The bouyancy of a boat has always been soothing to me, though, the gentle swaying, the lapping and pulsing of water along the hull, and it seems even more magical at night.   As a kid growing up in Chatham, Massachusetts one of my favorite things to do was to go out in our little dinghy under the full moon, and drift.
     Tonight is about as perfect a night as a sailor can ask for.   A slight breeze keeps two stabilizing sails full while following seas push us along.   The air is crisp but not cold, the sky a magnificent display of light - first sunset colors, pastels painting the entire sky and now starlight wonder.
     We bob along, the subtle glow of the gps chart plotter and the green of the radar keeping me alert.  I have kept busy tonight, making tea, reading a book, reefing and adjusting the mizzen sail, playing and singing along to music, and now with head sticking out of the cockpit, looking straight up at zillions of stars, I write. 


  1. Oh, the elusive Perfect Nap. Enough to be rested, not enough to have that wee "tired" hangover at the end! I guess I'm about to re-learn. We're taking off for Papua New Guinea today... 5ish days, depending on if we can stop at a reef along the way...

  2. Dan is a master napper and I can proudly say that after 26 years of marriage, it has finally rubbed off on me. Nothing pleases me more on a day off than a major nap. I do it BIG TIME--jammies back on (or in the buff) under the covers, shades pulled down, favorite pillows bunched up around me and preferably with a dog at my feet (that we she has nothing to bark at!).

    I am enjoying your blog and wishing I were with you!


    Cuz Ugh

  3. Love all of your writings, Jen. One correction: you are only 46 years young, not yet 47, right?! I'm sure I'm only 43, and you are only three years older than I. :-)