Night Watch.

On overnight passages we keep watch in shifts. After dinner one of us says goodnight. The other keeps us safe and stays up with a multitude of entertainment be it listening to the waves splashing off the bow and curling along the boat, trimming sails, adjusting the course, listening to music or podcasts and always looking at the sky, moon and stars.

Last night’s crossing from Playa La Bonanza on Ísla Epirito Santo to Altata on the mainland in Sinaloa was special. I watched the moon set for the first time, consciously. It was a crescent moon, skinny but bright. Out on water, there is so little light pollution that the nights are clear and every object in the sky is magnified. A magnificent moon that was! Surrounded by all the stars in the sky, a crescent moon fits right in and doesn’t outshine the Milky Way. As it was setting, the moon turned orange and gradually into darker oranges, it looked like a copper bowl as it went down towards the sea and was eventually sucked into the black of sea and sky. The moon left no trace, total contrary to the sun, which after setting makes the sky explode in colors.

The moon had left and seemed that every single star was on the firmament. Like fairy dust clouds, thousands of more distant stars surrounded the brighter ones. The sky was three-dimensional. The stars were moving across towards our starboard side and slowly dipping into the sea one by one; very slowly but perceivable. The stars made it more difficult to identify lights on the horizon.

The one on watch stands up every twenty minutes and actively searches the horizon for lights and ships. With our boat speed, that would give us about one hour until we’d meet that ship; plenty of time to react. So, tonight the lights of very few ships met with stars on the horizon.

Early morning, dusk rose and swallowed the stars. Only Venus was still visible, as the sky turned from black to light gray to blue and rosé. This display of changing pastels lasted for another hour until the sun finally came up, blasting the night away.
Radu woke me up one mile from the shore, where we were to enter Bahía de Altata, a nearly completely enclosed bay. We knew that there would be waves breaking on the beaches on either side of the bay’s entrance, but this morning they ran up from the south along the beach, at about 15′ (2 meters), we couldn’t cross them nor did we find the break of the channel. The water was getting shallow and neither the port captain nor the local marina answered our hails. We turned around fearing to run aground in the middle of the waves, which had foam crowns with tunnels great for surfing, and decided to continue onto our next destination: Mazatlan.

Every day and night and every moment is so different. Tonight the moon hangs above large, brightly lit fishing boats dotting the coastal waters. With radar and careful watch, we are trying to stay clear of pangas and fishing nets. As much as we want to sail, all electronics are on to help us tonight and we need the motor to keep the batteries and equipment charged.

The sea is glassy, no wind, the moon reflecting on it’s slightly rippled surface. Humidity is high, water is dripping off the mainsail, we left up in hopes of good winds later. It’s easier to raise the mainsail together, the headsail easy alone, so we left it up and it’s flapping a bit in now oncoming wind. Unfortunately the wind direction didn’t change and in the morning heavy fog squelched any wind. We sat and waited for the fog to lift and Mazatlán to open its harbor again.

Expect the unexpected. We make plans and truly nothing goes according to our plans. And that’s the beautiful, and so often challenging, truth of it.

Tonight we are on our way back to Mazatlan. We changed our plans and decided to stay in Mexico for a while longer. Both our mothers are in their mid-seventies and aren’t doing so well. This occupies our minds and we don’t really feel like starting the next leg of our adventure rather we would like to stay from where we have easy access to communication and airports. If we would have traveled south we would have needed to go as far as Panama by June and outside of the hurricane belt. And as we are already in late February we would have hurried down the 2000 miles…

On this night watch, the Imagine is bashing up into waves and wind, as this time of the year the winds come from the north and we could only choose a not-so-bad-low-wind weather a days time high northern winds are expected and we hope to be in Mazatlan before the come up. Tonight the moon was only a sliver and set fast after sunset and the whole firmament is all out. Once in a while a dying star whizzed across the sky on it’s last hurray, leaving a quick and bright line and a brief flash. Every time the Imagine bashed and sliced a wave, a ripple of foam traveled along both of her sides, like a fanning ballet tutu, and on the foam were riding tiny specks of bioluminescence; the waves sparkled!

Spending time outside, in the dark under the stars is amazing. Never before did I spend a whole night looking up. Once I went to the desert during meteor showers, but lying comfortably on blankets looking up to the sky, I fell asleep after an hour or so. On watch sleeping is not an option, only short naps. The alarm goes on every twenty minutes as a reminder to check the horizon for ships. So, I am awake watching. The reward is to see the magic of the night.

From Mazatlan it takes us a day and night sail across the Sea of Cortez to the Baja. I back in the cockpit just after midnight. I am listening to music, I find Jazz fits best. I enjoy the complicated movements of Charles Mingus’s intoxicating Pithecanthropus Erectus. It was very dark with full sky of stars, when the moon came up red like a candied orange slice amongst the twinkling. I was still up at sunrise, high humidity had laid a low cloud on the water catching the sunlight, forming layers of a purplish gray on the sea, then orange and yellow melting into a light green where the clouds met the light blue sky.

It was another overnighter to Puerto Peñasco, crossing the vast Northern from Ísla Ángel de la Guarda. I didn’t see the sunset nor the moonrise, I was below sleeping tight to rest up for my night watch. These watches have worked for us recently. We allow the other to wake up by themselves and that is usually after five hours.

When I woke up, the moon shined bright and clear from high above. One day shy of full moon, it’s very bright on a cloudless night sky. Hardly any stars can compete, only few dot the sky. The sea is calm with small rippling waves, the moonlight glistens on the water, fractioned into a thousand piece mosaic floating towards me, narrowing as the moon sinks towards the sea.
The moon is setting, now a deep orange round lantern and in the east dusk is already illuminating slowly the sky.
With the upcoming sun a little wind came up and I let the headsail out fully, tell tales flying, we pressing on onto Puerto Peñasco. Time for Bossanova, Astrud Gilberto’s soft voice and Cocovado’s lyrics fit this morning perfectly:

Quiet nights of quiet stars
Quiet chords from my guitar
Floating on the silence that surrounds us

Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams
Quiet walks by quiet streams
And a window that looks out on Corcovado
Oh, how lovely…


Sunset sailing.

Early morning.

Surreal sunset.

Arriving in Mazatlan.