Thursday 28 November 2019

Watch Keeping on the Atlantic

The cockpit glows in the light of fluorescent tails that snake out from behind each hull. Phosphorescence sparkles in our wake and occasionally a larger glow, like a depth charge, drifts to the surface, then floats away and fades. The sound is like waves breaking on a shore as we surge through the night, spoilt only by the rumble of our engine, propelling us in the absence of wind. In the distance, with some envy, I can make out the faint red glow of a spinnaker, its gossamer fabric floating in the light wind, illuminated by a navigation light, drawing its cargo quietly but purposefully downwind. Once I am awake, the 3 am watch is quite magical, and improves daily as night temperatures increase and skies become more dramatic.

The role of the person on watch is primarily to keep a sharp look out for
other shipping. To assist us in this task is the chart plotter, a large
screen at the chart table, which is the hub of the boat's navigation
systems. On its display is an electronic chart, with our yacht plotted in
the centre, and a dazzling array of information about the boat's
performance, wind angles, sailing speeds, satellite positions and even a
barometer and sea temperature gauge, currently reading 23.9 degrees. The
screen also displays coloured icons that represent vessels in range of our
radar and AIS systems, highlighting those that might invade our safe zone.
Alarms are set so that if any vessel comes within two miles of us, the
plotter emits a loud beeping sound and a red notification on the screen
indicates that there is a potentially dangerous target, giving us ample
time to take avoiding action.

Whilst on night watch it is too easy to remain inside, glued to the
plotter, so we spend most of our time outside, at the helm, always wearing
a lifejacket at night, and in heavy weather also with a harness that clips
onto strong points in the cockpit. No one ever leaves the safety of the
cockpit at night without a second crewmember in attendance and even then,
only if absolutely necessary and with a harness clipped on to secure
webbing stays that run the length of the deck. At the end of a three-hour
watch, we write a summary in the boat's log, a dark blue hard-back
Smythson log book, complete with gold leaf, given to me by Tom. This has
taken over from our last log book, given to us in 2011 by Andrew and
Jeanette, and recently retired, after recording 40,000 miles at sea.
Finally, on goes the kettle and we wake the next watch keeper, giving them
a handover, with a cup of tea, before disappearing into the comfort of our

Mervyn has been Mother today, producing an array of delights from the
galley, only thrown off his side briefly when Andrew appears in the saloon
in a towel for no apparent reason. Breakfast is sausage sandwiches with HP
sauce, lunch is home made quiche, coleslaw and salad, and supper is a
three-course extravaganza comprising Iberian ham and cheese slices with
olives as a starter, a main course of beef stroganoff and for pudding,
banana custard. By the end of supper, no-one is interested in the planned
movie night, instead staggering to their bunks to digest the feast,
leaving me on watch until nine when I hand over to Oults. At mid night he
will pass the baton to Rosie and then at 3am I am back on watch until 6am
when Mervyn takes the dawn watch and a new day at sea begins.

Tonight the wind has increased slightly and backed towards the north,
generating more apparent wind and allowing us to finally set some sails
and switch off our engine. In these light conditions we only make 5 to 6
knots, but with no waves it's peaceful sailing and the gentle motion rocks
us off to sleep, with only the watch keeper awake to guide Hera through
the night.


  1. Any plans to work Andrew??? Clearly a tough life on the ocean waves!!!

  2. Omg you are having restaurant style food. What a feast...
    Love to all Lisa x