Reflections while on watch

It was that magic hour when dawn is near yet night still shrouds the world. It was my watch and I was alone at the helm as the last of the stars faded. The sea, steel grey in the half-light of morning, rolled in a stately procession along our ships sides.  Through my random thoughts an old sea ditty surfaced:

Evening red and morning gray sure are signs of a very fine day;

But evening gray and morning red, Makes a sailor shake his head.

Strange how every morning just before dawn the sea and sky take on a dark and sinister gray as if to remind us that although today may be fine weather just below the horizon another aspect might loom, an aspect of raging storms and howling gales that only fools disregard at their peril.

In the growing light I toured the deck checking sheets and halyards, taking in all the hundreds of things that can come adrift in the night. I stopped at the main mast to snug up a loose topping lift then coiled it back on its belaying pin. At the bow-sprit I took the fore stay in my hand, bracing myself against the raise and fall of the bow, noting the set of the head sails, the slight sag in the fore stays, and the sounds of a sailing ship reaching through the spice island seas on the steady South East winds of the monsoon. The foam racing back from the bow told me we were sailing at about 7 knots and a slight vibration in the forestay reminded me that today the starboard cap shroud would need setting up again.

Looking up along the great curving belly of our main square sail I checked its set then gave the port tack a slight heave taking up the slack of the nights run. Glancing ahead at where the sun would soon raise I noted we were still right on coarse. Not that I expected anything else. A good sailing ship with properly trimmed sails all but steers herself. She may drift a few degrees to one side or the other of her coarse, but at the end of the day has made good a relatively straight route. Something most modern sailors seem to have forgotten. For them it is all about driving the boat. Bending her to their will as they trace computer generated images across cyber world screens between ever so precise way points rather than feeling their boat.

Boats will talk to you telling you exactly what they need from you so they can get on with their job of sailing the seas safely. All you have to do is listen, feel, and sense that marvelous interplay between wind, water, and hull. If you must constantly be fighting her with rudder then something is amiss with the trim of your sails. Don’t fight her, work together with her, and that way life becomes much easier, for both of you.

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