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Two Ships Passing

October 4, 2011

Day 6

Noon Position–
By GPS: 06.52.55.S by 148.38.15W
By Sextant: 06.57.4S by 148.39.0W
Celestial Nav Note: last two days sun sights have given me cocked hats with a long north south axis. Not sure why. Am taking fore and afternoon sights at 9:30am and 2:30pm respectively so as to avoid this very thing. But my azimuths are almost due east and west. Because I’m so close to the equator? I am more certain of my latitude shot than the others, so the longitude reported here is simply mid way between the two other sights on the latitude line. Cheating, a bit.

Course: 30 degrees true
Speed: 5.2 knots
Wind: 12 ESE
Sea: 2 – 4 E
Sky: 50% occluded. Extended and leaning cumulus, like a great chef’s top hat about to fall. Bar: 1012
Temp: 79 degrees

Since last noon: 117
Total for passage: 604
Daily Average: 121
Note: We are making better time through the water than is being reflected in our last two daily runs. Why? The equatorial counter current should be running between 10S and 5S and in our favor–but have we already entered the east to west equatorial current? Or is this Murre’s leeway? I wonder if any other Mariner owners have logged leeway on various points of sail.

One gets use to being alone on the ocean, except for the company of birds. It’s a big place. Water goes by and by; the sky is blue and the sea bluer and a sense of ownership develops over one’s temporary province, such that sighting another craft is a thing to notice with alarm.

I rose at midnight after my hour-interval of sleep to check the horizon expecting to see, as usual, nothing. But two points to starboard was a glow brighter than a rising planet. I watched it for a time, and as it did not change, I reset the alarm for fifteen minutes, and went back to my bunk, hoping the glow would drop back into darkness. Two intervals of short sleep later, bright white deck-lights began to pop above the waves, but I could not discern navigation lights, so the vessel’s direction was not clear. My ship warning device (AIS) shrugged but said not a word.

I put on my jacket (Murre is still throwing water at me) and propped myself in the companion way hatch for a good long watch. Stars upon stars crowded the moonless sky, taking the stage from usually bold Orion and the glittering Scorpio, and I gazed upward, wondering aimlessly, until my neck hurt. It wasn’t until half past one that a red light began to show on the ship, and its full length visible in lights. For a while I thought it stationary. But ever so slowly our courses converged, it became brighter and more distinct, and everything suggested that Murre was passing it–a truth difficult to believe.

My first thought upon sighting a ship is to take evasive action. Even if it is miles away, I want to hove to or change course or do something that immediately resolves the question of collision in our favor. But this tactic, I have found, can prove troublesome if the actual course of the other vessel is unknown–an evasion can go bad if one runs the wrong way. So on this night I decided to wait. I like to say that the odds of hitting anything out here are nearly nil. So prove it, wise guy!

After a time white bow and mast lights became distinct, the red running light, very clear, and white deck lights blazed almost like fire, even though the ship was several miles to windward. And ever so painfully slowly Murre did indeed passed it. By three in the morning, the ship was mostly astern, and suddenly, and as if she’d just spied us, she made a hard turn to port and was below the horizon by four.

The phrase “two ships passing in the night” conjures an image of purposeful, almost mythic, obliviousness, but fails to capture the fearful maneuvers in the mind of the captain on the **smaller** ship.

And I did bathe today, as promised. You have likely been bathing at least once a day for most of your life. The operation probably takes twenty minutes of your early morning, and so you wonder why it worth mentioning at all. But on a bouncing ball of a boat no easy chore is easy. One hand is always holding on, as are both feet, and if it’s rough, all four appendages may be employed in keeping one attached to at least one moving surface, so that taking a bath in the cockpit and out of a two gallon bucket (blue) requires half the morning. But the ocean water is light and warm. It was refreshing. Thank you for insisting.


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