Life at sea is a mixed bag of serene moments and unexpected situations.
Here is what a typical day looks like for me:
My watch may start at 12am and last for 4 hours. When I come on deck, I am briefed by Gordon about the wind, upcoming weather, what our compass course is and any vessels that may be nearby. If there is wind then we set our course and adjust the hydrovane so it starts to steer for us. We have a waypoint programmed into the GPS that gives us a rough guide where our course is, but mostly we just steer a compass heading. If there is not enough wind then we motor and hand-steer which can be very tiresome at night when you are already exhausted and visibility is poor. It is very dark! Sometimes I struggle to tell the sea from the sky. My eyes also play tricks on me – making me think I see a twinkle in the horizon when it is not really there.
Every 10 minutes I do a 360 degree look around the boat for vessels on the horizon. From that far away you can only see their steaming lights. As they get closer you can see their navigation lights which are red and green and tell me whether I am looking at their port side or starboard side. Altough most large vessels have AIS (Automatic Identification System) and show up on our GPS, there are many private vessels that don’t, so you can’t rely solely on the GPS to give you an accurate picture of the vessels around you.
Since it is so dark, seeing which direction the ocean swells come from is nearly impossible at night and therefore the boat is very bouncy. Luckily we all put on Scopalmine patches our first day and none of us have been very sea sick. We have all been keeping ourselves hydrated to combat it as well. Ocean swells are so much different than what we get in the sound, or even the straits. The period of the wave is much longer and the crests that we have seen have a lot of roll in them and not a lot of crash (thank goodness!).
Have you ever seen the night sky completely free of light pollution? It really is a sight to see. It was one of my favorite parts of the night watch and I saw the Milky Way Galaxy for the first time ever. I think it’s one of the few things that can still humble a person in an age where man’s technology has taken over nature. I feel very small out here and I like it.
3:45am comes around and I’ll go down below to wake up Lauren B. because his watch will start at 4am. When he comes on deck, we brief him and then I’ll go down below. It takes me about 30-40 minutes before I am asleep because if it is rough sea state, going to the bathroom and removing my many layers is a careful dance that I have to time just right if I don’t want to fall.
I’ll sleep from 4:30am to 7:45am when Lauren B. wakes me up to let me know my next watch starts in 15 minutes. There is no snooze button on this trip. Dressing takes about 10 minutes. I’ll make some hot chocolate or tea, maybe grab some breakfast and relive Lauren B. of his watch. Since we do 6 hour watches during the day, I’ll be on watch from 8am to 2pm. One of us will make lunch around 12, and then at 1:45pm I’ll wake up Lauren B. You get the idea. Every 3 hours we do a log entry that documents wind speed/direction, weather, sky conditions, barometric pressure, mileage and other notes.
Being on a watch schedule slowly seeps into me and my body learns how to wake up quickly and sleep under adverse conditions.