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your watch!

Posted by on July 24, 2012

sunset over Bassetts Island, Cape Cod

When one is on a night watch during an offshore passage, it is comforting to know that the other person is sleeping somewhere nearby. That way, they can be alerted when help is needed, or awoken when it’s time for their watch.

Before I continue with the present, I must back up to a situation that occurred during an offshore passage we’d taken on our first boat. In the fall of 1998, we had sailed out the Beaufort Inlet on the back of a cold front, and the seas were still trying to settle themselves. It was early into the passage, and we were already worn out. A few nights into the trip, my watch was coming to an end, and Wil was asleep on a settee in the main cabin. I called out to Wil that it was his watch. No answer. I set the autopilot, and went to the hatch opening. “Wil, your watch!” I called. No answer. I went below and again said, “Your watch.” No answer. I shook Wil and said his name. Still no answer. I shook him harder, and he still did not stir. Instantly, I became terrified that he was dead! I reached to check his pulse. He suddenly jerked awake. I had never been so relieved in my life! He was just plum tired.

Now to the present day storyline.

The starboard aft cabin is directly below the helm, and is an ideal location for the off-watch person to sleep. All that’s required to wake them up is a knock on the hatch or a stomp of the feet. However, this particular cabin now happens to be Colin’s. Since Colin was sleeping in the cockpit the first two nights during last week’s passage, we were able to use his cabin for whoever was off-watch. When Colin was ready to have his cabin back, we had to resort to snoozing on the salon seats in the main salon.

For the most part, both of us woke up on our own. We either sensed that there was a need on deck, or we were able to wake up in time for our next watch. There were, however, times when we needed to call out to the other..

Just like that one night back in 1998, my watch was coming to an end. At the same time, the wind was picking up, and I needed help reducing sail. I called out to Wil who was asleep in the main salon.. I called to him and then waited. There was no movement from the inside. I yelled louder. Still no movement. Since we were entering a cooler climate, I happened to have on a pair of shoes. The salon doors were open, so I tried to throw a shoe into the salon. I missed, but it hit the door with a loud crash. Still no movement from the inside. I threw my other shoe. It sailed straight through the doors and into the salon. Still no response.

What was I going to do? The autopilot didn’t work, and the wind was too strong to let go of the helm. I thought about how Wil seemed to come to the cockpit whenever he heard a change in the rhythm of the boat. I decided to loosen the genaker sheet. The line creaked, the sail flapped, and Wil appeared. It worked! Whew! He was, just as I had suspected, only in a deep sleep.

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