Light Show…..

Dear F&F,
January 26, 2009

When my alarm went off at 1:55 a.m., I knew I must have slept pretty well because I was a little grouchy about having to get up. If I am not sleeping well, I am eager to get up & go on watch. I have 2 \”night shifts\” & Scott 1. It just worked out that way & is fine with me. My best sleep is often after I am done with my 2-6:00 a.m. watch. Anyway, after splashing my face with water, putting on shorts & a tank top, I checked in with the Captain. We have a ship in view. The 3rd for his watch. I get the lay of the land & he hands the baton to me & goes to bed. Our handy dandy AIS (automatic identification system) tracker tells me the vessel\’s name, size, speed, direction, time & distance of closest point of approach. This is the most important to me. How close to me is it going to come & when. The software does a mathematical calculation between our boat\’s speed & direction & the same for the other boat. Commercial ships over about 200 feet long are required to have these devices on. They\’re very much like what an air traffic controller uses to track commercial airplanes. When it has calculated that there is no longer any possible chance of a collision, some of the information disappears from my screen. This frustrates me because I don\’t feel that relaxed until I can see with my own eyes that it has safely crossed my path, either in front or behind. There is only one thing for a concerned sailor to do: go get a piece of chocolate cake.

As I enjoy my snack, the \”Kiwi Arrow\” heading to Guatemala finally passes 8 miles in front of me. Just as I am starting to breathe easier, here comes \”Carnival Spirit\” behind us, en route to Acapulco. I see it with my naked eye before it pops up as a target on the navigation screen. One good thing about cruise ships is that they are lit up like Christmas trees. They do have the proper navigation lights, but also a whole lot of other lights. To be festive & allow the crew & guests see easier as they walk around I guess. Anyway, this 960 feet long by 105 feet wide party palace is going to cross behind me with the CPA (closest point of approach) at 1.8 miles. A miss is as good as a mile, but at night at sea when an enormous ship is in my neighborhood, further is better. I am obligated to hold my course. They are the \”overtaking vessel\” and must avoid me. Right. If I was really concerned I could hail them on VHF channel 16 that all vessels monitor when underway and get verbal confirmation that they see me. But I trust our tracking program & just watch & wait. As the cruise ship is as close to me as it will get I can see its life rafts & other details of the ship with my naked eye. It definitely gets your attention to have something that big passing you. They are cruising at 20 knots, I am going 7.5 knots so we aren\’t talking any great speeds. On the other hand ships don\’t have brakes. Just as I am feeling a bit better about the Carnival boat someone talks on the radio. It startles me to hear a voice suddenly out of nowhere. They have a heavy accent & I didn\’t catch what was said. There is no reason they would hail me now that they have safely passed me. Then another boat replies, \”Okay, green to green\”. As I look out to my right, I now see \”Kew Bridge\” a 523 foot tanker, heading northwest to Topolobampo. Usually boats passing head-on will proceed as cars on a road, passing port (left) side to port side. But due to each boat\’s heading, in this case, it meant less alteration of course for each of them to pass starboard to starboard. The starboard navigation light is green. Thus \”green to green\”. Whew. \”Kew Bridge\” is no problem for me. I can see him clearly without binoculars. His CPA is 3.5 miles. With all those fading out of view I am looking outside & at my screen every 10 minutes, or more often, to see what may pop up on the horizon next. Ship traffic is one part of the light show.

The second & much more fun part of the light show is bio-luminescence. When I took over watch from Scott it was really active. Our track behind us looks like glowing skid marks. There are intermittent lights that pop up, as if someone below has turned on a flashlight. There can be a wide area glowing, likely a school of fish or plankton. Then the really exciting one is zooming darting lights, like lightening on the water. Must be something swimming very fast. This is the first night of this trip that we have noticed so much glowing in the water. I don\’t know if there actually are more luminescent animals in the water, or because the sea is calm that we can more easily see them tonight.

The third part of the light show is the shoreline. Ever since coming on watch I can see a distant glow. Not straight in front of me, so it is not Zihuatenejo. We are still 40 miles away & would not expect to see it until much closer. But there must be another coastal town of size somewhat west of Z-town. Keep in mind that the coastline here runs almost due east. Just a bit slopeing south, but mostly east.

The fourth & final part of the light show is the starry sky. I can make out many constellations, including some I don\’t know the names of. There is no better place to stargaze than on the open ocean. Do you remember the song by Crosby, Stills & Nash \”Southern Cross\”? Well, it is out here too & a very cool thing to see. Being able to see the Southern Cross is another indicator that we are in the tropics. It looks more like a \”Southern Kite\”�.:)

A some what busy but lovely evening. All the ship action made the time pass quickly. Scott will be up at 6:00 am (45 minutes from now) & I will get one more nap before we arrive midday. I really love to be at sea, especially with such calm conditions. But it is always exciting to arrive in a new place, set the anchor & discover our next temporary \”home\”.

Scott & Cindy
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