Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Void of all matter besides the liquid ocean and gaseous heavens the sea is an amazing place to call home. I adore living in the immensity of this natural world and have been to no other place on earth where so much of it can be seen at once. Granted it’s all blue, or in the middle of the night a purple grey, but the sheer scale of the ocean continues to awe and inspire me. On nights such as this when visibility is limited only by the horizon, the moon is full, the water rippled by a light wind and undulated by the swell from a forgotten storm, the majesty of seafaring is tangible.

Because of the moons effect on the sky the horizon appears as a sharp line delineating where a pale metallic blue meets the inky purple sea. Everything is circular. The horizon circumscribes a body of water in every direction beginning at eye level 14 miles distant giving the impression that you’re slightly depressed as if standing in the middle of a shallow bowl. Above the sky appears like a dome fitted perfectly onto this watery disc and with the moon shinning only the brightest stars are visible causing the winter constellations to stand out that much more.

The weather for the past three days has been exceptional. The sky has been clear and the air absolutely dry. Warm water and warm days at this southerly latitude normally means humidity but because the prevailing easterly breeze is blowing off Saharan Africa the air is completely dry. All night long I can feel the warm breeze as it blows through open bridge wing doors over my bare arms and legs. It feels like a fleece blanket just from the dryer is being wrapped around me.

On top of all these sublime conditions today is the winter solstice and to kick this celestial phenomena off a full lunar eclipse took place all morning long two points on the starboard bow. Through the entire watch the lookout and I viewed the full moon turn rusty red and the faintest stars become emboldened by the increasing dark. It’s enough sensory stimulation to give reason to doubt if this is really my job as if something besides the need to work calls me to live half the year in this place.

Our track has been laid well to the south of the major low pressure system that will be developing on the East Coast later this week. Because of this we will be entering the Caribbean south of Cuba through the Caicos passage and not the usual route through Hole in the Wall in the Bahamas just off Florida’s southern tip. Being closer to the Cape Verde Islands than the Canaries is why we’re having such a stellar run of weather.

It is drastic a contrast to the solstice I spent at work two years ago in the North Sea. We were on our way to Germany and the sun refused to rise until ten in the morning. The air was bitter cold and damp. This morning as the earth’s shadow recedes from the moon the sun is simultaneously warming the eastern horizon and it’s only five in the morning. Ideal weather at sea makes life much easier and I’ve noticed how it has also buoyed spirits. This is good because the holidays can be stressing for mariners stuck at sea.

Besides having awesome watches filled with stars and lunar eclipses I’m also elated because I’ve had a string of days with the crew doing nothing but chipping rust and painting without fear of rain and flash rust. It’s greatly increased both my own and the Boatswain’s sense of productivity though he continues complaining about how slow the guys paint. I agree that they are slow but as long as it gets done without drips, spills or holidays I’ll be satisfied.

I had an epiphany the other day while I was working overtime. A hydraulic cylinder had decided to start leaking and I was hurriedly trying to free a corroded block valve that would stem the leak if closed. Looking at my watch I grew frustrated that I was running out of time to get the job done before having to clean up for watch.

As I sat there wrenching and hammering away I couldn’t believe that there had been a day many years ago when all I could do at work was count down the hours until I would be released from my servitude. Back then I was mucking Alpaca stalls or stacking hay bales on the back of a trailer and spent as much time sneaking cigarette breaks as I did wheeling wheelbarrows of shit out of the paddocks.

It was such a different experience as a teenager needing money but really preferring to not work. Now all I want is more time in the work day to get things accomplished and always come up short. There is just too much to do on these big ships and neither enough people or time to get it all done. That’s the challenge though and probably the reason sailors make more now than the what the minimum wage paid in the nineties.

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