John calls it the Dog Watch, I refer to it as the Night Watch. After the sun sets at around 6:00 pm, everyone starts to disappear, off for showers and a restless sleep before their designated hour. By my watch at 8:00 pm, I sit alone at the helm staring into an abyss of darkness. The pilot house is completely dark but for the panel lights giving off a low orange glow. Outside the stars shine overhead but provide no light upon the water. The navigation lights, a pale green on the right and a soft red on the left, cast an eerie shadow on the foredeck. What am I watching for? How will I see if an unknown something appears?
I sit in the captain’s chair, one hand on the wooden handle hold to balance myself with the incessant rocking up and down of the boat. The wind blows through the open window and door. What was that? There, the sound again. Sometimes it is soft whispering, occasionally moaning cries. Faintly I hear music, chords of an orchestra, the high pitched wails of a saxophone, drumming with a syncopated beat. I poke my head tentatively out the door into the night wind to try and catch the actual words, the messages of the night.
I choose not to share these moments with the others, in case they opt to lock me in the hold. But one day Jenny admits that she too hears the night voices. One so persistent that it kept calling “Help Jenny Help”. She thought it was John down in the engine room and went looking to see where he was.
Literature chronicles the tales of the sirens of the seas, beautiful songstresses luring sailors to rocky shores, even Odysseus was drawn to their song. I will not say I find the whispers enchanting, but they are mysterious and other worldly and they seem very real when I am alone on the Night Watch…
The albatross is another mystic of sea literature.
And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner’s hollo!
In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white moonshine.
-excerpt from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
We watch the birds here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, wheeling about the sky, searching for fish, seemingly unaware that land is hundreds of miles away. As the sun sets, we are visited by, perhaps not an albatross, but a red footed booby bird (kudos to Julia for identification). Landing on the forward rail, it grips the stainless steel with its webbed feet, fluttering back and forth in time with the boat’s rock and roll. The ride, like ours, does not look comfortable. Unlike the mariner of the poem, we do not shoot the albatross nor do we harass our red footed booby. We wonder at its persistence and marvel at its tenacity. We take it as good luck and a sign of good wind and weather to follow. In the morning, the booby is gone leaving only his “fog smoke-white” poo behind.
November 16, 2011
Local time 2:03 pm
Position 08 19.73 N 150 22.48 E