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Night Waltzing - Indian Ocean Crossing

February 13, 2019

As day 14 closes, I finally get to sit back and relax. Wind is 16 knots from 90 degrees an angle of 120 to us. Flying poled genoa on one side, main and jib out on the other, we cruise at 7 knots. Waves have relaxed and conformed all running the same way, a much more enjoyable voyage than the violent rocking we’ve had for two whole days. 


The fingernail moon turned orange before disappearing and turning our world quite black. This part of the ocean gives insurmountable delight with more bioluminescence than in any other I’ve seen yet. Long bursts, quick sparkles from waves cresting and from our bow, we leave a glittering path behind us. 

 

 
All seven flying in formation just 1 nm apart, through the dark watch of 2:00 am, comes a very delicate dance. Headed straight for one boat, our speed a bit faster, owner proudly says, “We’ll pass him,” and turns us slightly to port. “Goodnight and good luck,” he cheers before disappearing to bed, “Oh, no,” I think, “please don’t leave me with this mess; overtaking to windward and in the night just isn’t right.”  But challenge the Captain?  There simply can’t be two. 


A few more degrees to port I head thus leaving a bit more room for error. With another vessel to our port, the situation is quite tight. Once cutting the distance between the two in half, I steer a steady course. Slowly, very slowly, our boat  inches ahead until the white of his tri light starts to flicker red instead. A peaceful watch this is not, precision sailing called for again, for forty five minutes we run bow to bow, then notice the boat to port closing in. 


“Shoot,” sounds into the darkness while sighting side to side.  In forty minutes and counting, watch will change, to one who isn’t comfortable even in much more space. So little room between us...there is no better trim....already using the waves to propel....the only option is to slow down and just get out. Glancing behind, two more boats approach from our starboard less than a quarter mile behind. Three sails flying, what’s the easiest way to kill velocity?  Over trimming the main requires no pole adjustment nor take down and can be undone in a hurry. 


Easing the preventer, I grip the main sheet with both hands, and pull and pull hard and fast until she’s centered and tight. Gradually our speed begins to drop one tenth of a knot at a time. The boat to port turns head lamps to white, a typical warning in the night. Having lost now three tenths of speed, I adjust one degree to the right. And thus begins our waltz this night: as they move ahead, we adjust more to the right. 


Those in the rear pull forward strong with our gradual reduction in speed. To duck behind and move to starboard must be timed just perfectly. Chart plotter shows now three boats all within less than a quart nm circle, while I carefully count and calculate our definitive turn to starboard. Three, two, one, quick look again front and back, I turn the boat now ten degrees, she slows down, and I freeze watching the stern light. The clear white bulb dancing off our starboard slowly starts to move to the pulpit. My breath is held, I restrain from moving, lest we increase speed or a wave turns us. As that dancing light slowly falls from pulpit to port side, I take a breath and let out a quick sigh before scanning both behind and AIS. 


A few more pauses and then the light is clearly off the port bow, the course is adjusted a few degrees to port as what we need is a parallel line. P- a - u - s - e. Another few degrees to port is needed before I ease the main. Grabbing both preventer line and main sheet  I let it out and hold it tight. Speeding up immediately the two boats slowly part ways. I hold that course a few moments more ‘till we’ve divided this bit of space in half. Then one degree at a time, our heading line, comes parallel to his.


 3:50 am a body moves below, I finished maneuvering just in time. Those close, we’re stable, three boats traveling in a line. Advising the next shift holder to study the chart plotter and each boat’s position on AIS, then come on up and we will talk before the changing shift. 
 

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