SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
April 17, 2017
Looking out and other (disjointed) musings
36°24.0’ S x 154°38.5’ W
Heading and speed
055° PSC, 5.7 kts
Wind direction NExN, BF 4; sea direction N, 4 ft; sky cover 5/8,
cumulus clouds; barometer reading 1025.0 mb; temperature 20.8° C
Sailing on a port tack under the four lowers
Lookout is my favorite part of deck watch. As lookout, you gain distance and perspective, both physically and figuratively. Standing at the bow and clinging to the forestay as the swells pass, your job is to look, listen, and report anything that seems amiss.
This blog post is a collection of some of the thoughts that I had as I stood lookout on dawn watch this morning, eating trail mix out of my pocket and watching the clouds gain blush and peach tones as the sun rose. Everyone agrees on a few aspects of looking out from the bow. Firstly, pocket snacks are essential. Secondly, you are going to end up singing regardless of whether you ever wanted to or not. Time either flies or drags on while you are trying to remember the beginning of a song that you never expected that you would forget. Thirdly, you will think strange thoughts. These thoughts fall on the spectrum defined by profound introspection on one end and utter absurdity on the other, but they tend to be closer to either end of this scope than to the center.
For example, I always wonder about whether or not we are running over any fish and, if so, whether we should feel bad about that. Or I think about celestial navigation and the notion of determining where you are by calculating what you would see if you were in a position where you know you are not and comparing that information to what you actually observe from where you are. That seems pretty wild, but at the same time, it seems fitting to examine where you are by reflecting on where you are not.
The stars were incredible last night. They have been tucked under a blanket of clouds for the past few nights, so we have not gotten the chance to see them for a while. The moon, stars, and planets are useful to us for celestial navigation and for steering at night without relying too heavily on the compass. Instead of watching the compass as it swings around, you can use the wind, sea direction, clouds, and other visual indicators to maintain your course while checking the compass less frequently. On a clear night, the stars fill this role, serving as reference points for the helmsperson. And although they serve these practical purposes, the stars are also just spectacular to look at.
I spend a lot of time staring at the water and at the sky. They really are the only two things to look at. Even so, both have many observable facets, such as the bubbles, the ripples, the swells, the rain on
a hazy horizon, the movement of the stars, and the light that filters through the clouds and reflects off the water. It comes as no surprise that the sun rises and sets every day at dawn and dusk, but it seems like we
never get tired of watching it slip above or sink below the horizon. Whether it’s cloudy or clear, people make their way onto the deck in the morning and evening for star frenzy and to watch the sky change color. Occasionally, I forget that we are floating in the middle of the ocean, but at other times, I remember that fact a bit too sharply. Time seems either to creep along or to race by; there does not seem to be an intermediate pace. Sometimes, I think about how far we have gone and how far we are still going to go. Other times, the concept of distance is reduced to the space between the points of a pair of dividers or to the tick marks on the latitude scale of the plotting sheet. I consider how small we are, but I also realize the significance of our individual and collective actions in the community that we are building. My experience so far seems to be summarized by this juxtaposition of opposites.