Tag Archives: night watch

Heading South…


Last the Maggie crew and we took a taxi across Panama City in search of a Whole-Foods-like store someone had described to Tim.  No luck.  But we saw a “gourmet delicatessen” along the way, and a nice-looking restaurant next to it.  So that’s where we went, and we had a delightful dinner, and then bought cold cuts, cheese, chocolate and other goodies.  We don’t have much in the fruits and veggies department; oh well.

Got underway this morning.  Sunny, hot and no wind.  Motored for about three hours until a little breeze came up directly behind us.  Put up the big spinnaker and had a delightful day of sailing.  Mid-afternoon the wind picked up and we started zipping along at nine knots.  Almost immediately we got a bite on the fishing lure we were trailing.  It ran all the line out of our reel before we got to it.  Luckily the fish pulled free of the hook rather than taking our gear.

Within minutes we had another strike. This time we reeled it in and gaffed it, but it got free before we could get it safely aboard and sedate it with some rum. It was a big one — two feet long, at least, and probably ten pounds.

Not to worry… within minutes we had another strike, and this time we successfully landed a small tuna. Maybe twenty inches long and five pounds. Tim and I sampled the sashimi as we filleted it. Very good! We made nori rolls with sticky rice, plus empanadas and salsa on the side. Lots of tuna left over for another meal.

It was a beautiful evening, blowing a comfortable (for going downwind) twenty knots, and we continued to fly the spinnaker into the night. Bad idea… Though the night was beautiful, the wind gradually increased, and with it the waves began to build, and by the middle of my watch (Bill and I switched watches, so I have 7 to 11 now) things were getting hairy. Top wind speed reached 28 knots. Top boat speed hit 17 knots, surfing on the waves. We were hitting 15 knots regularly as we surfed. We were overpowered, but I didn’t want to wake the others (if they were able to sleep in the mayhem), so I tried to wait it out. But the waves were pushing the boat off course faster than the autopilot could adjust, and the spinnaker would occasionally collapse as we headed up too far, and then collapse the other way as we would bear off too far. We were risking breaking something (probably the spinnaker), so finally I called, “All hands,” and we got it down. Now we are ambling along under jib alone, at about 6 knots. MUCH more peaceful! I think I’ll be able to sleep in my berth in the bow.

Wonderful day. Glorious night. I know I’m repeating myself, but I’m SO happy to be moving again.


A day of just the sun and the ocean and a few pelagic birds and us. Vast emptiness. Profound aloneness.

Baking Bread…? Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

I’m hungry, so I investigate what we have left in the snack locker. Seeing no cashews or Snickers bars, I choose Saltines and peanut butter.

I’m tired. The last hour of this middle-of-the-night watch can seem interminable. It’s 0147. Crap, the last hour hasn’t even begun.

The ship has passed, and no new ones approaching. The wind has been steady for a while at about 17 knots. We’re doing fine with no reef. A big cloud is approaching, however — blotting out a patch of stars; registering deeper darkness than the ambient moon-set-three-hours-ago-sky. It’s 0158.

At this point of my watch I don’t want to do anything. I’m just hanging out until I can go back to sleep. I hope the wind doesn’t change. I hope no more ships appear. I just want an hour and two minutes to pass uneventfully. I have to force myself to stand up and go out to the cockpit and scan the horizon. Then I put away the peanut butter and crackers.. I check the charge level of our batteries. Our hydro-generator chafed through the line that holds it down, so it is out of commission tonight. So our batteries are getting somewhat low, but the silver lining is that I don’t have to listen to the annoying hum of the generator. Our wind generator is doing well, but it can’t keep up with our usage. It’s 0217.

My eyes are burning. I close them. Just for a minute. I wish I dared to close them longer. How do single-handed sailors survive? Earlier today we sailed past a huge floating drum/float/buoy. It was big enough that it would have done tremendous damage if we had hit it. We didn’t see it until it was already alongside. At night, no chance of seeing such a hazard. All small boats on the ocean are taking a calculated risk. It’s 0228.

Orion is about to set, soon to be followed by the Milky Way. The infinity of stars is amazing. I wish my eyes were sharper, so I could see more of them. An airplane blinks a trail northward. The North Star is lower in the sky each night, marking our progress south. I stare upward trying to keep my eyes open, and am rewarded with a shooting star — a good one, that leaves a trail glowing in the sky for a second before it is gone. It’s 0237.

I close my eyes…and jerk awake! How long was I asleep? Only for a second, I think. Time to make my way to the cockpit for another look around. No ships. No wind change. No big devoid-of-stars cloud patches. I’m on the home stretch now…counting down the remaining minutes until 0255, when I will wake Tim, brief him on the conditions, and go right to sleep.

Baking Bread…? Part 1

Not much fresh food left. I decided to start a batch of bread. I had the thought that I might do the baking during my night watch, between 2300 and 0300. That way I wouldn’t interfere with the cook preparing dinner, and I’d be heating the galley at the coolest part of the day, and it would provide a diversion for me on what seemed, at sunset, like it might be a rather boring time.

At 2300 when I replace Bill on watch, I am in my usual just-woke-up-after-too-little-sleep fog. Bill asks if I want to shake out the reef in the mainsail, since the wind has gone very light. Also he points out an unusual vibration/sound that he can’t identify. I go into the galley in search of the source of the sound, and find water on the floor. A quick check below the floorboards shows water there, but not a lot, so the water is coming from above, not below. Setting the water question aside, I check the fridge and freezer as potential noise sources. Nope. Venturing into Tim’s sleeping area, I find it. He’s got his wall-mounted fan running on high speed. Mystery #1 solved.

I taste the water on the galley floor — it is fresh, not salt. And I notice that our filtered drinking water spigot has a small but constant stream running from it. Yikes! A check of the starboard water tank shows that it is nearly empty. The port one is full. The stream of water explains the empty starboard tank. But the stream runs into the sink, so why there is fresh water on the floor remains a mystery to be investigated in the morning.

What about shaking out the reef? Bill is still waiting before going below. It starts to rain. Oh well, yes, the wind is very light; let’s do it now while two of us are awake. We do it, and Bill heads to bed. The noise of the winches plus our deck light has woken Tim. He asks if the starboard rudder is okay — a new concern he came up with earlier to explain water in our engine room. Assured that there is nothing going on with the rudder, he goes back to sleep.

The rain stops and the wind comes back. We’re moving along very nicely now. Eight and a half knots through the water, but only 6.5 over the ground. Two knots of current against us? That seems like too much for out here. It seems like we always have current against us. Is that real, or is it that our through-the-water boat speed is over-reading? (We know that it over-reads, and we compensate for that; but maybe we’re not compensating enough?) Maybe both are factors.

Our navigation system shows three ships nearby. One is already clear of us, headed north. The other two are overtaking us, one on each side. This requires my attention, to be sure we are clear of both of them. By the time the second one has safely passed, there is a new “blip” headed our way from the south.

The wind is now blowing 20 knots. Maybe the reef should go back in the mainsail. Or is this just a passing cloud with a little wind of its own? I’ll wait, and watch both the wind and the approaching ship.

I decide the bread can wait until morning.