I wake up at 2:55 am, 5 minutes before my alarm is set to go off. Its probably because I’m not having the soundest sleep of my life as I cruise overnight from Antibes, France to the Corsican town of Ajaccio. I’m up at 3 in the morning because the crew take turns to ‘keep watch’ as our 30 meter sail boat uses her motor and auto-pilot to get us where we’re going. I’ve never done anything like keep watch before and in a nutshell what I have to do is make sure we don’t collide with whoever else is out there.
I make my way to the cockpit to meet my captain who has been doing his two hours of watch before me. Initially he had wanted me to do it first, from 11pm till 1 but I was falling asleep over a half eaten plate of dinner and was quite obviously in need of rest. It had been a busy day of preparation before we left Antibes and I was knackered. The unfamiliar to and fro motion of the boat didn’t help either.
Just after leaving the port my captain had given me the lowdown of how the radar system works and what I should look out for in terms of vessel lights on the horizon. It’s been over a month of remaining stationary in our berth and now that we’re A for away the bombardment of new and important information starts coming my way. Our boat’s radar system is not what you would call ‘top of the range’ but I trust my captain’s faith in me and my ability to do what he is asking, so I try not to freak out about misinterpreting the dam thing.
The radar screen is black with a mirage of green dots that mean nothing unless they are somewhat bigger and consistent, in which case they’re other boats. There’s a trick to see if they’re headed in a direction that could mean a possible crossing of paths, He also shows me how to change from auto-pilot to manual in case of an emergency should I need to change our course immediately. But tonight he sleeps in the saloon and encourages me to wake him if I have any questions or doubts. He shows me a boat on the radar and takes me out to the deck to look at it through binoculars, taking extra care to lean against the cockpit wall so I don’t go for an unwanted night swim. I see the boat through the binoculars and its just a light on the horizon. My captain is like a dad and is without a mean bone in his body. He offers me a coffee and brings it to me like he takes it. Espresso with no milk or sugar.
I’m alone now. It’s pitch black and when I’m on the deck all I can make out is the white wake being made by our boat. I’m not often taken aback by things but I look up and am impressed by the stars I see, including the Milky Way. But the stars are not still, they’re swimming around in the sky. Except they’re not swimming, we are, our boat is dipping deeply from left to right. This also makes it hard to walk. I thank whoever that at least I’m in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and not a massive ocean with huge swells. The night is as calm as they get. The sea like a lake.
My heart skips a beat as I see a light on the horizon but almost immediately realize that its the moon, a glowing red toe nail. Its beautiful. Minutes pass and to the east, the horizon starts becoming visible and the red sliver of the moon shines a path on the water between it and me. To the west I can see nothing, its still pitch dark. I haven’t watched a sunrise in ages and this is a great opportunity to do it. But I’ll only get as far as pre-dawn because as soon as the chef is up and taking over from me I head back to bed, leaving him alone with the impending sunrise.