Alone with the night

“Cress…… creSS… CRESS… CRESS!!!”
“Huh?… What?… What is it?”
“Its 2:45……err sorry… Its time for your watch” Roland says apologetically, as his words and head lamp come down the companionway and into my brain like thunder and lightening. Consciousness hits hard. I groan involuntarily and struggle up onto my elbows. I manage to mumble into the darkness, “Yeah… okay, okay… I'm awak…..I'm coming.” But I am alone again: Roland has gone back to his watch leaving me to get it together in the darkness. This is the only thing I don't like about the 3 am watch –
waking up for it in the deepest, darkest hour of the night!

It seems like only seconds ago I was tossing in my berth, fast awake, fighting for sleep. Like most nights at the equator, the night started out insufferably hot below decks. During the day, Conversations II soaks the tropical heat into her very bones, and so takes a while to cool every evening. For awhile, I had dragged my sleeping back up onto the aft deck, and managed a brief nap before one of my mates, headed for a pee at the rail, threatened to step on me. And last night, like most nights, as
skipper, I was up for almost every watch at some point to help out with stuff like sail changes, the self steering or checking to be sure we pass a safe distance from an approaching freighters. I don't go to sleep easily at 9 pm at the best of times, but with the heat, the motion, my sunburn and the laughter from the cockpit, it was hopeless.

But getting up for morning watch is worth it. It's the only time to be alone on a small boat. I reach out in the dark for my own headlamp and find it stuffed between the mattress and the side board. I put it on over my tender sun burnt scalp – ouch – and then turn it on – ouch again. Like a Cyclopes, the cold blue eye of the LED lamp strapped to my forehead hurts my eyes as it lances around the cabin, taking in the details of accumulating laundry, half read books and ships equipment stuffed here
and there. Now, with the light, I can better sense the ships motion but not see it, except for the gently swinging towel.

Despite myself and the night, I had fallen into a very deep sleep and now the swim to wakefulness was going to be a long slow climb to the surface. I needed coffee. I force myself to keep my eyes open and after a moment roll my feet to the cabin sole, then lurch out of the berth. I stand braced against the berth till I figure I am wake enough to navigate to the two steps across the bouncing cabin floor to the cabin door. Fortunately, the dark passage outside to the galley is narrow and short. I am
soon filling the kettle, counting down the moments till the blessed aroma of freshly brewing coffee fills the cabin with its promises of wakefulness.

While I wait on the kettle, I time the ships roll and lurch for the navigation station. I slide onto the familiar bench seat and my head lamp lights up the ships instruments now idling in the darkness. As I check how we are doing I can hear Jim's sleep filled breathing just a few feet away. I scroll through the data pages of the GPS were the ships track overnight is shown against our intended course. Pretty good considering all the wind changes. The guys are doing great job of keeping the boat on
course, though last night it was less critical. We have left behind the cluster of atolls called the Phoenix Group and are now back out onto the open sea. I check the voltage on the ship's battery bank and see they are down to 12.1 volts. That bloody freezer is killing us. It never shuts down in the tropical heat, so it greedily consumes the lion's share of every day's electrical quotient. Even though we use personal head lamps, not the ships lights, run through the dark without running lights and
turn off all unnecessary electrical equipment, every morning the batteries are crying for a charge. It's too early to run the engine – Marcel in the crew cabin next to the engine compartment needs his beauty rest – so I reach over to the electrical panel and snap off the fridge breaker.

“Take that you greedy so and so” I say with some satisfaction in the dark.

The kettle is boiling and I see I am due on deck for my watch in about 3 minutes. I hate to be kept waiting at the end of a long night watch, so I don't want to keep Rolland waiting either. While my left hand holds the contents of the cupboard in place against the roll, I slide open the cabinet with my right hand, and take out the coffee and place it in the sink. That way when it spills, it can't get away. “This morning I going to make this puppy extra strong” I say to myself with a smile. I am remembering
what a friend once said to me when I complained his coffee was too strong, “Cress”, he said “There is no such thing a strong coffee, just weak people.” Very funny.

I climb up the companionway ladder with my coffee in hand and greet Roland behind the wheel.
“How as your watch?” I ask.
“Pretty darn fast” he says,” and I hardly touched a thing all night”
“Good sailing!”, I say as sit-down on the cockpit seat and brace myself with my feet up onto the opposite seat. Not yet fully awake I sit and hungrily sip my coffee while I get my night vision and get used to the rhythm of the seas running under the boat. I see from the instruments we are sailing along at 7.6 knots, with the wind on the beam at about 15 knots. This is good sailing. “Yup”, I say “Pretty darn good sailing indeed”.

I bid Roland thanks as he descends the companionway headed for his berth, and I step behind the wheel. The boat is steering herself nicely. Within a minute, I see the cabin is in darkness, and I imagine Roland is asleep already. Ahh, the night watch – I have the universe and my coffee all to myself.

I step out of the cockpit and head for the aft deck for a good look at the night. I wedge my coffee cup under the rail and stretch out across the rope locker on my back, hands behind my head, looking skyward. I have seen this sight a thousand times before, and it never fails to move me. Under the cloudless, moonless night sky, I am looking into the farthest reaches. I gasp involuntarily. I see clouds of stars enfolding upon themselves into infinity; I imagine I am seeing back to the beginning of
time. And there I see, during another night watch at sea, god's face smiling back me. I guess I am not alone with the night after all.
C. Cresswell

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