*In a quiet, whisper voice* “Nico, Nico, wake up; you have watch”.
In my mind I want to die, I do not want to wake up and I want to keep sleeping. I open my eyes and see the red light, I take a look at my watch, light it up with the blue light you activate with the button on the top left of it. It is 3:46am. I tell to myself “ahhhh five more minutes”. I look at my watch. It is 3:58am, two minutes to watch and I’m still in bed. I panic and jump out of bed as if the ship was sinking; in my mind “oh ship, oh ship, oh ship, oh ship…” repeatedly really fast as I rearrange my hoodie that I left inside-out the night before when going to bed (or at least that’s what I thought). I put on my shorts, my shoes and run up to watch, cruise through the empty mess, open the door and go up the stairs. It is 4:02am.
Still pulling down those folds that forms at the bottoms of hoodies when you put them on, my eyes still opening and I hear voices of the watch I’m relieving saying “Ohh, there he is” or “Why is your hoodie inside out?” ohhh…. ship; finally, you always hear that voice that just gives you all the hope in the world saying “Don’t worry, Captain hasn’t noticed you are late, just sit there or something”. I nod with a smile in my face and sit down to be look out, aka the helm's entertainment.
Time goes by, I am sitting in the starboard side box, freezing cold, trying to keep my eyes open as the wind hits them and dries them up. it is 4:38am and it feels like it has been 3 hours, I decide to look up and see the stars… there are no stars, it is cloudy, doesn’t matter; I finally decide to close my eyes for a second and listen to the ship breaking through the waves, I feel calm, I open my eyes. It is 4: 54am. I have no idea how that happened but I keep them open, I look up again and I see a beautiful sky, starry view like if we were in space, I am mesmerized and can’t stop looking. I entertain myself by looking at everything that I see in the sky, I see a shooting star. Another. Another. Another.
It is time for me to helm, 5:00am. “How you doin’ bud… course is 105, she’s pretty steady, but you still want to keep the rudder a bit on port side and you’ll be fine” I reply with a tired “sweet”. I open my legs just enough for me to rest my body while standing and place my arms over the helm. I have the mast interrupting my view to the bowsprit, with the wet Class Afloat sign still there. I look up to the sky and stars keep passing by, I decide to connect to a speaker and play my music, I like chill piano music or calm Bon Iver, Hoizer, or The Fray, we have the watch leader finishing up the log book writing down sail maneuvers in his watch, air pressure, speed, course, heading, distance and finally plotting in the chart using the coordinates of our current location. Our lookouts are either zoned out or sleeping (sorry captain). We always have that person that has the courage to ask for snack, I see the Watch Leader come to me with a plate with food in it and in my mind, I think of peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, banana bread… they approach me with the snack…. half a brown apple, I’m disappointed. The thing with snack is that it can either make you so happy and bring up your mood or it can make you think “Why did I even wake up?”.
It is 5:30am and it is time to be relieved from helm, I go back to my lookout position and keep enjoying where I am, I enjoy the sound of the waves against the boat and the freshest air in the world, I enjoy the cold air hitting my face and I enjoy how the stars deface the black night. I sing along to the music and it is time to think about me, it is time to think about my life, it is time to think about who I am and who I want to become.
It is 5:35am. I walk into the bridge and ask to do safety rounds with a partner. The other lookout that was sleeping, is woken up to do the safety round with me, we head down the leeward side stairs to the breezeway (either port or starboard) trying to keep balance and not fall because of the heel while we do a radio check with the bridge and confirm we hear each other, we open the door and walk into the mess. We will be here for a while.
We unzip our foulie jacket and take a deep breath, I check my watch and it is 5:40am. My partner and I agree that one of us will do the laundry room and wake ups, while the other does galley check for fire or anything abnormal. In the meanwhile, outside we hear loud 2! 6! 2! 6!, they are setting the inner jib and the upper top’sl. I get to do fridge and freezer temperatures on forward storage. I get to do forward storage temps and I have to walk through the dorms, in the dark hitting a few knees that are sticking out (Evan and Nicolas), I make it to the end and proceed to the teacher cabin zone, I walk and reach the heaviest door I’ve ever pushed (besides the dorm one; that one you have to tackle, fight, become a weight lifter and even get a few bruises before you get to the dorms), I proceed forward by turning to my left, I see teacher Sam’s shoes in front of a tall blue locker and head down through the steel, steep stairs, but that doesn’t stop me, I hit my head… that doesn’t stop me, I enter forward storage at an 105 degree angle. I call the bridge and give the temps; “Bridge, Bridge, I’ve got the temps” they respond “Safety round we are ready” I reply “Freezer: -26 degrees, Fridge: 4.2 degrees Celsius” they respond “Thank you”. I head out and go up the stairs, pull the heavy door and go through the dark defensive dorm, I head up to the bridge and I’m ready to be relieved. I say “Ohh, there he is” and someone else says “Why do you have your hoodie inside out?”, we run as fast as we can down to the dorms, through the heavy door and into our bunks, close our eyes. Sleep.
Night watch is something that people might see as hell, like Savva. Some enjoy it so much that they do up to three night watches like Max (actually he is the only one who does that), for others is just another night, like me and the vast majority. It all depends on how you look at it because for me it can be a therapeutic session with five other people. It is a moment to give to the ship, for sure, but is also a time to look out for all the things that you will probably never see, like looking at the glowing dolphins that swim through the plankton or like looking at the stars in the middle of the Atlantic, that is something indescribable and it teaches you how to enjoy what you have in the moment, because hey, guess what, you can’t capture it in a picture.
Night watch can be a time to notice how small we are and to remind us how we are not the only specie that matters, it is time to think and reflect about who you are and who you want to become, it is a time to laugh with your peers or sometimes cry, sometimes whine or even be mad, it is a moment where you get to know someone, it is a moment to talk and to express yourself. This is the time when you find yourself and reflect on who you were in the past, who you are now and who you want to be, because it is the only time where you do not think about anything else except yourself and the largest natural beauty that a lot take for granted and surrounds you. From now on in our life, we all depart separate ways.
Written by: Class Afloat Student, Nicolas Del Rio