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The Night Watch

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Another amazing night sky today – but still no moon: it had chased the sun down over the horizon before I came on watch at midnight. So sad my little phone camera can’t capture a shot of the beautiful stars – and milky way - to share with you: it’s completely amazing. The wind has softened and it’s T-shirt weather till 3am. But our speed-over-ground is slow and we decide to take down the sails and motor for a bit. It’s quite dramatic when the mast lights come on and we can see well to get all 9 sails down and tidy. The picture of Timo was taken at about 4.30 am – and is a bit blurry because of the lack of light and movement of the boat – but Timo deserves a photo for steering us to get the sails down safely at night!

The watch cycle means you are on duty at different times of day and night and there is a sense of the days all blurring into one. We are parallel with the ancient port of Cadiz, where so many seafaring adventures began in days gone by and we are moving into different territory for wildlife too.

By sunrise, Grant is thrilled because we have seen 3 storm petrels: as we go south, we are at the very top of the territory where they can be found. It’s bemusing to find they fly hundreds of miles on what sounds like a very meagre diet: plankton!

We are also moving into the latitude where we might find more mammals and Orcas are a possibility. There are a lot of local stories about fisherman and Orcas in this part of the world, so we are hopefully on the lookout, when we have a surprise sighting of some Clymene dolphins. They are a cross between the acrobatic Spinner Dolphins and the Atlantic Striped dolphin. They have particular markings and a very special way of leaping out of the water and doing a sort of Fosbury flop to land lazily on their back, grinning up at the boat!

We also see what I think of as tiny flying fish. A group of 10 – 12 which are about 6 inches long and bright, sparkling silver. Grant has only known the little ones – and thought I was teasing when I said they can be much bigger. But we looked them up and they can be 18 inches long and – fun fact of the day – they can fly at 70 miles and hour when out of the water – and can do 160 feet (or the length of the boat) in one leap!

Rhodri also has another fun fact that I love 😊. Albatrosses have a habit of overfeeding their young. The baby can get to be bigger than their mother – and so heavy that they are unable to fly. So they have to wait patiently until they are older, lighter – and most probably wiser – before they can take off and look after themselves in the wider world! We’re unlikely to see an albatross before Tenerife – but the team are sure to find them in places like St Helena, on other legs of Darwin 200!

As the sun comes up, the wind returns and all sails go back up …. To the tune of bohemian rhapsody – which seems to be an international pace setter for the hauling rhythm!

The wind is from the north and we are cruising at over 8 knots but, to keep course, we need to jibe, which is an interesting manoeuvre with 9 sails. But with lots of preparation and switching the backstay etc, it goes very smoothly. Sheila took this picture of me at the helm – watching the sails and with one hand on the compass and one on the wheel.

I’m back on watch at 8pm so I have a whole day at leisure with some of the other wonderful sailors who are on either the red or white watches. For Charlie, archivist from the midlands, this is a second tall-ship adventure. She has sailed the Blue Clipper to St Kilda

There’s Bruno, here with his wife Jen, who is originally from France but now living in Vancouver and working with fine wines. Jen is a champion rower and reads faster than anyone I know!

Sheila is my wonderful cabin buddy – running her own translation business and based in Germany, though from England. She is sailing several further legs of Darwin 200 and has experience of the Oosterschelde and other tall ships before. She is also our chief bird-spotter!

And there’s Geoff, who built his first 8 berth catamaran in his twenties and is full of kind advice about everything nautical.

Peter and Joe are father and son: Peter in theatre for most of his life and now renovating a 17th century manor and Joe a lighting expert in the film business

The crew are enjoying the settled sea state. Christian has sewn a little protective “hat” for the Inmarsat receiver. Richard is mixing the dough for lovely fresh bread we have every day.

And there’s time to share the wheelhouse with you. It sits at the stern of the boat - under the flag in the first picture below.

Our captain is Jan Willem and he has all his instruments, communications - and flags - in the wheelhouse. The flags are all tucked into the ceiling racks and you can see maybe Barbados and New Zealand? There's some lovely new flags for some of the less visited ports of call on the Darwin 200 expedition

You can see the jibes we've done today in the course mapped out on the screen

The moon shows it's face in the early evening and you are left wondering - where did the day go......

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