Night watch: the time of your sailing day right after you’ve eaten dinner so you want to snuggle up in bed and sleep, but alas, you have a moving boat in moving waters with obstacles like other boats, ship wrecks, buoys and land, so you cannot sleep. You must do what’s called NIGHT WATCH.
For us, in the Atlantic Ocean at the beginning of December, this means wearing 6+ top layers (undershirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, vests, scarves and foul-weather gear jacket) and 3+ bottom layers (long Johns/yoga pants, pants and then foul-weather gear pants) and sitting outside navigating the boat around any potential dangers. Through the entire night.
When you’re on a NIGHT WATCH in December in the Atlantic Ocean you will…
Start off feeling good. You’re layered up and awake. For this particular story, your night watch starts at 10:30 PM and will end at 3:00 AM.
At 10:30 PM, you’re warm and enjoying the dancing beams of light that the moon shines on the water.
Around 11:00 PM, you’ll check all of the navigational tools: You’ll check your position, your waypoints, the depth of the water. You’ll check your speed, and your distance. You’ll zoom in closely on your AIS to see if there are any boats coming your way that would require an alteration of your course. Once these have all checked out, you’ll go sit back down.
For about an hour, with intermittent checking of navigational tools, you’ll try to read. Using a headlamp and moon beams, you’ll move the book at funny angles so you can get through the next paragraph.
When this gets frustrating and you notice that the headlamp really messes with your human night vision capabilities, you’ll put the book down and stretch a little (while trying to compensate for the waves that are tossing your body left and right or front and back or, really, whatever way the waves want to toss you).
That stretch will feel good, send warmth through your body and you’re feeling focused again!
Now it’s 12:30 AM. The temperature has dropped but you’re still good, just noticing a slight chill in your fingers.
You’ll look at the stars and planets, naming each one made-up names because you can’t remember their real names. Except for Mars. Everyone can remember Mars.
Around 12:45 AM, the Coast Guard will come on the radio and give a report of everything you should be worried about. This particular night, it’s a floating log that’s 17 - 18 feet long. How it became a floating missile for any passing vessels, they do not know. But they’ll provide you the coordinates and basically wish you good luck.
Now, you’re running to check your longitudes and latitudes! Because what if, I MEAN WHAT IF, that log was right in front of your boat?! And the Coast Guard waited until 12:45 AM to tell you about it when it would’ve been helpful information to have at midnight or 10:30 PM when your watch started for that matter!
At 12:50 AM, you’ll calm down when you realize you’re nowhere near this floating log. Your heart rate will lower.
Around 1:00 AM, you’re starting to feel cold and bored. You ask yourself why you didn’t pre-download “Stranger Things” on your iPad because that would be perfect right about now (except for the whole screens messing with your night vision thing).
At 1:15 AM, you’ll go inside to make hot chocolate or tea. Mostly because you’re now freezing (you’ve been outside in low temperatures for 3 hours with the wind smacking your face) but also because you’re getting a little bored and making a hot beverage will break things up a bit.
Around 1:20 AM, the waves will make your tea pot slip around on the stove, so you’ll have to make sure to hold it there over the flames. This will feel good and warm your soul.
By 1:35 AM, you’re back outside with your hot beverage. You’ll wrap your hands around it for awhile because it feels warm and welcoming. You’ll watch the steam rise from the cup as it hits the cold Atlantic winds. You’ll try your darnedest to not let the waves spill it all over you because then you’d be a weird mix of freezing, boiling and sticky.
At 2:00 AM, dolphins show up and you will - mark my words, you will - have a long, philosophical and existential conversation with them. They’ll listen, but they’ll also be jumping in and out of the water even when you’ve asked them to stop doing that and just listen.
They’ll be fed up around 2:20 AM because you’ve asked them a lot of tough questions and they want time to think some things through.
You’ll start to think about trying to read again around 2:25 AM. But, no.
You’ll start to think you’re hearing your cell phone text-message sound notification, but, no. You don’t have cell service. Then, you let that hard fact sink in. You'll immediately want the dolphins to come back.
You have only a few minutes left on your watch. These will move the absolute slowest. Slower than any minute has ever moved before. And yes, slower than watching the clock tick to your 5:00 PM quitting time at your 9-to-5. You’ll dose a little, drifting in and out of sleep but every noise yanks you back to the reality that you’re on a floating boat that could hit something any second and you shouldn’t be dosing off!
Eventually, it will be 3:00 AM. You will go inside and wake up your sleeping partner with hot chocolate ready for them because all you want to do is jump into those blankets and close your eyes.