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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post How Scary is it for a Sailor on Night Watch?
Created by John Eipper on 07/18/21 3:41 AM

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How Scary is it for a Sailor on Night Watch? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 07/18/21 3:41 am)

When commenting on my post of July 16th, our esteemed moderator asked: "What does a sailor on night watch think about during those long hours?  It has to be spooky out there."

Oh, no, at least for me it was never spooky, but the feeling can change according to the weather. In the open seas with no traffic and very good visibility, night watch was a great pleasure. I used to have with me a short-wave radio to listen to the news from various foreign sources.  I  have already written about this on WAIS.

In good weather and clear skies, especially with a full moon, the mate on watch is practically alone. Generally one or two seamen accompany the mate, one at the helm the other on stand-by on the other side of the deck, but in the open seas we may have the automatic pilot and then only one seaman will be present. In my opinion, an officer alone on watch should not be allowed for safety reasons.

In the vastness of the ocean, you really enjoy the beauty of the world and life, and your thanks to God flows easily, while the remembrance of a faraway girl is also with you.

In rough weather or fog the feelings are different, as you have to fight against them. If the weather is very bad you may have to slow the vessel and steer in a way not to be stroked directly by huge waves. A change of course to catch the waves at 45° may be imperative. If there is dense fog, especially in congested areas, a reduced speed is necessary too. The owner will be upset about the delay but he will be even sorrier if the ship is lost. In bad weather the continuous presence of the captain on deck is imperative as well. I lost a lot of sleep in these conditions but being young it was not a problem.

There are no atheists at sea in bad weather.    Instead of thanking God for the gifts received, a prayer to Him to improve the weather is the right thing to do. In the past ages collective prayers were common, but now they are strictly personal.

My 1958 encounter with the two American warplanes was not terrifying.  Being an officer on watch the reaction was of curiosity and of being ready to face whatever might happen. Nothing wrong happened. The pilots of the planes were just protecting their convoy, which was nearby.

Our esteemed moderator has also mentioned the involvement of the Empire in Vietnam. Being a Bastian Contrario I am still convinced that the Empire was right to help its ally South Vietnam. At the same time, I am also convinced that the Empire did not want to fight the war in the appropriate way and therefore the internal front collapsed. Let me also say that the draft-dodgers were a shame, and even more shameful was the fact that later a couple of them could become President.

However, fighting a guerilla war in a foreign country is extremely difficult. The foreign-friendly army may not fully understand the local language and customs and even the same war, especially if it is trained to fight conventional enemies. Therefore they may quite easily make big mistakes that will antagonize the locals. The invited army should be only of support and should have the attitude of helping but not imposing its rules, even if it has much more firepower.

On another topic, I always love the posts of my dear friend Tor Guimaraes and for a long time I've had a question for him: With God the Universe so well presented, what about the human afterlife?

JE comments:  I filed this one under Religion.  Alone in the ocean in the depths of night, for lack of a better word, must be a spiritual experience.

Eugenio, a navigational question:  what is rationale for the 45-degree rule when facing waves?  Wouldn't hitting a wave straight on, at 90 degrees, make the ship less likely to capsize?


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  • A Sailor's Night Watch (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/19/21 4:36 AM)
    Eugenio Battaglia wrote: "In the vastness of the ocean, you really enjoy the beauty of the world and life, and your thanks to God flows easily, while the remembrance of a faraway girl is also with you."

    This is a wonderful description of the mood of the night watch on a yacht as well as a ship.


    I love the night watches. When I am in the watch rotation myself (when racing or well crewed and on a long passage, I am not), I always take the 02:00-06:00 (or 00:00 to 04:00 depending on the system we are using). On my boat, we stand watches outdoors in the cockpit, so the whole night sky is spread out above us. Far out at sea there is no light pollution to obscure the stars and planets and galaxies and it is a breathtaking experience. At least when you are in a season and at a latitude where there is real night.


    I have just been sailing for almost a month in the Baltic Sea, and this time of year at these latitudes (we reached a point only 40 miles South of the Arctic Circle a couple of weeks ago) there is no real darkness, as the sun never gets far enough below the horizon not to be producing at least twilight. Maybe not as mystical as watching the stars and planets, but the impossibly long sunset becoming sunrise is wonderful too.


    All of this presumes the weather is good. In bad weather, no watch, day or night, is a pleasure. Like Eugenio on his ships, we maneuver to go up (or down) big waves at an angle, dodging breaking crests if those are present. Going straight up you can lose your momentum and lose steerage way, fall off and get rolled, which usually results in dismasting; going straight down you can run out of control and bury the bow into the back of the next week [wave?--JE], causing a pitchpole, a disastrous situation even worse than getting rolled. So you try to steer a delicate slalom. In weather big enough to cause a lot of breaking crests (normally something from Force 10 or above), we head downwind under bare poles and trail a drogue (a quarter mile of dyneema rope with cones sewn into it, to slow the boat down almost to stopping, hold her stern into the wind, and prevent her from falling off the crests of big waves. Lash the helm down and everyone goes below to wait for it to blow over.


    There are, of course, no atheists in such scenarios.


    JE comments: Places with no atheists--foxholes and storms at sea. To this list I'd add getting hauled in to HR for any infraction, real or imagined.  Cameron, I think you meant "next wave" instead of "next week," but since I speak landlubber I was unsure about making the edit directly.


    Happy sailing!  When time permits, please give us an overview of your Baltic ports of call.  Any chance you stopped in one of my favorites, Gdansk/Gdynia?

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    • A Sailing Trek in the Baltic (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/20/21 3:46 AM)
      Our sailing this year has taken us so far from a fishing port near Copenhagen (Rødvig) to Wismar in Germany, one of the Hanseatic League cities and at the Southernmost point of the Baltic Sea. This was where the long-distance race we participated in started on Midsummer Eve. From there we raced--under sail alone, no motor permitted--through the whole Baltic Sea past the German island of Rügen and the Danish island of Bornholm, rounding the SE tip of the Swedish mainland and past the Southern tip of the Swedish island of Öland, then to near the shores of Gotland, hoping for some wind, and from there up to the Stockholm Archipelago, through that into the Aland Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia.

      We then transitted the entire Gulf of Bothnia to Sweden's most Northerly port of Töre, near the Finnish border and the city of Kemi in Lapland, not far from the Arctic Circle, where the race finished. We finished 12th out of 52 who started and 8th among the monohulls, ahead of some pure racing yachts, which pleased us. Seven and one-half days and nights of sailing hard with only one 15-minute stop to pick up a new spinnaker (but losing half a day getting into Sandhamn to do that). One of the most challenging nights of the race followed the brief stop in Sandhamn--the only reasonable way to rejoin the race was to sail through the entire Stockholm archipelago, a maze of tens of thousands of skerries and rocks, not all of them charted. Dead upwind, so tacking the entire way. At night. This required three on deck at all times, one on the radar set, and another navigating and doing tactics, so no one got any rest that night.


      We had a fantastic crew this year and had a great time. We would have finished even better but in our enthusiasm we blew out a spinnaker and lost half a day replacing it.


      After celebrating the end of the race, we sailed 2 1/2 days and nights south to an island near Sandhamn in the Stockholm Archipelago to visit a friend who has a house there. From there overnight to Hanko in Finland to visit another friend, then from there through the beautiful Finnish archipelago to Helsinki. From Helsinki we crossed the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, spent a few happy days there, then we sailed West into the Estonian islands, visiting the historic resort town of Haapsalu with its Swedish built castle and gingerbread summer houses of the 19th-century Russian aristocracy. From Haapsalu, we sailed to the remote and atmospheric Estonian island of Ruhnu, settled by Swedes for centuries until those were evacuated to Sweden at the start of WWII. From Ruhnu to Riga, where we are now.


      I have actually never visited any Polish ports. It's a bit out of the way of our usual migrations through the Baltic. I will sail back to Cowes in the UK in stages later in the summer, and it is possible I will visit Gdansk, which is certainly on my list.


      JE comments:  I followed your route on the map, Cameron.  For the last two summers my exotic travels have been limited to the trusty world atlas.  Cursed Covid! 


      Congratulations on your excellent showing in the race.  Any news from Riga?  By the by, please share with the locals that tiny Riga, Michigan (pronounced "Rye-Ga" with a hard "I") is not far from WAIS HQ.

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