Ode to the Night Watch

Underway across the Sea of Cortez

Underway across the Sea of Cortez


When you travel at 5 miles an hour, overnight passages are a fact of life.  While we prefer to stop and anchor every night, it is not always possible.  Sometimes there are no suitable anchorages between destinations, and sometimes if the wind is just right, it makes better sense to just keep going.  Our latest passage brought us from the east side of the tip of the Baja Peninsula to just north of Puerto Vallarta, a distance of about 260 miles which required two nights at sea.

While on passage, we maintain a constant watch, day and night, which means one of us is always in the cockpit scanning the sea for other boats, fishing gear, sealife, or anything else of interest.  We use a three hour watch system, with one person on watch for three hours, while the other person is off watch.  While off watch you can sleep, read or do whatever, but while on watch you must remain alert and attentive to the boat.  In the daytime we are often both out in the cockpit, but when darkness falls, the off watch person usually goes inside to sleep.

I have come to enjoy, and even look forward to the night watch, particularly the midnight to 3 am watch.  I am alone with only my thoughts and the sky above, with my Ipod providing the soundtrack to the night.  Familiar stars and constellations seem like old friends.  Venus, the “evening star” is first to appear as the sky begins to darken.  Then the constellation of Orion becomes visible, and later in the night our old friend the big

Sunrise at sea

Sunrise at sea

dipper appears.  Our little ships rolls along the surface of the sea as the stars wheel across the night sky.   On special occasions, when phosphorescence is present in the water, the boat leaves a sparkling, glowing wake.  The full moon appears so bright as to cast shadows.  There are moments that I will remember forever, like watching the full moon rise off the California coast while listening to Debussy’s Claire de Lune.  The coming dawn paints the sea with delicate gold before the full sun bursts above the horizon.  It is a time of reflection and of thought.


Dolphins off the bow

The daytime watch provides other diversions. While in La Paz, we attended a seminar on endangered sea turtles of the eastern Pacific, and signed up to be turtle spotters.  We record the species, latitude and longitude, water temperature and depth, and is possible, obtain a photo.  This can all be input into a smart phone, and the info is automatically synced the next time a signal is available.  On our recent passage we spotted 5 Olive Ridley turtles, as well as numerous whales and dolphins.   If the wind is light we set the gennaker (a.k.a. “the devil sail), but it can be a fire drill to get it down before too much wind fills in.  On approaching the mainland coast, we encountered numerous long lines, and despite constant, careful watch, managed to snag two of them, which we cut.

Flying the devil sail

Flying the devil sail

One we managed to tie back together after passing through it, but one we were not able to repair.  These are marked only with 2-liter pop bottles, which unless the sea is absolutely flat, are just about impossible to spot before it is too late.


It’s a big sail…

Over all, it was a great passage.  We had good wind (12-15 knots) the first day but little to no wind after that.  Had we left a day earlier, we would have had wind both days, but after a raucous sail down the Cerralvo Channel with 25-28 knots, we ended up with a torn sun cover on the headsail which required immediate repair before heading across the sea.


For now we are back in Puerto Vallarta, enjoying the good life with old friends and new, while we wait for a weather window to head south.  Looks like we will be headed south again in a few days.

At Insu Sky Lounge with the crews of Windswept and Paridesea

At Insu Sky Lounge with the crews of Windswept and Paridesea


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