Bertie Journal: Night Watch/Herd o’ Turtles

February 21, 2018

It’s 6:10 AM. I just finished my 02:00-06:00 watch, my sixth completed watch so far on this journey. The 4 on/4 off schedule is a bit brutal. I’m hoping to settle into the rhythm of it soon. Well, actually, as soon as I’m trained we will switch to 4 on/8 off, which will be a welcome relief.

Peter set the sails at 2:00 AM and then lay down for his remaining two hours. Close enough for me to call him with a softly-spoken word, if I needed help. I never had to touch the tiller. Bertie does just fine on her own.

Sailing at night, off-shore, in steady conditions. The boat is a living entity, the only other “being” who’s conscious right now, besides the sea creatures and birds. I’m along for the ride, trying to stay awake. I still need to watch for ships on the AIS (Automatic Identification System), and especially watch for ships that aren’t on the AIS. I need to pay attention to the compass course, and make sure we stay on it. I need to keep track of the wind and if anything changes be ready to make adjustments.

But it’s hard. It is so peaceful and quiet out here, so calm… my eyelids start to close, so I walk around the deck. I change positions. I check the lines. I look around, scanning the dark ocean – including the sea behind us (easy to forget). I move every few minutes to a new spot. I stretch and bend my knees and elbows. I empathize with every sailor and soldier throughout history who had to stay awake in the middle of the night. I pray for the sky and the sea and the animals to entertain me, give me something interesting to observe.

The water glows with bioluminescence, tiny sea creatures who light up when disturbed. Bertie’s wake shows a faint green light. The waxing crescent moon has already set, so the stars are free to shine, brilliant and strange. The Dipper hangs by its cup, then later hangs by its handle. Orion is directly above, in the center of the sky. If we go much farther south, he will be standing on his head. Some new constellations, southern ones down near the horizon, go un-named. A frigatebird circles the mast in the dark, thinking about landing. A school of fish swims by, bright shapes in the water as they brush against the tiny organisms, activating the bioluminescent glow. Pre-dawn, a small flock of birds wheels in the distance, just the flash of their wings, white, as they veer and turn as a group.

February 21, 9:05 AM. Still groggy, but it’s time for my mid-day watch in less than an hour. On this schedule it seems I am either on watch or asleep – hopefully not both at the same time. We are all looking forward to me being trained. I thought I was feeling ready, but then had a shift where Bertie wasn’t totally self-steering and I almost had a mental meltdown. Too much to keep track of: compass bearing, wind direction, watching the wind indicator at the top of the mast (slightly wonky and out of whack from having frigatebirds sit on it), which way to turn the tiller. I’m thinking too hard about it; if I just DO it, feel it, I am better. But I feel like I need to understand intellectually how it all works, before I’ll be able to let intuition take over.


Are we on course? Rocketing along at almost 5 knots.

February 21, 15:38 (3:38 PM – how is it possible that it’s still the same day?)

This afternoon’s watch, 10:00-14:00, was turtle heaven: I counted 102 in two and a half hours. It reminded me of when I was a kid and Dad would say, “herd o’ turtles!” on some backcountry road and then start turning the wheel back and forth as if he was steering around the turtles. But in this case I had to steer around real live sea turtles. We were motoring at the time, so it was easier to avoid them than if we’d been under sail. I was at the tiller, and when you’re motoring, steering is more of a hands-on activity. I couldn’t move away from the tiller, and didn’t have to pay as much attention to wind conditions (since there wasn’t any wind), so I had nothing else to do but count the turtles. I think they were Pacific green turtles. Off in the distance, on the coast, we could see a long sandy beach, where I imagine they nest. They seemed to be sleeping, mostly, just floating on the surface… until we got pretty close, when they’d startle, or dive, or stick their heads up to see what we were. Some of them slept right through. The shells of a few were dry on the top, as if they’d been sleeping in the sun a long time.

We’re heading into Puerto Angel to anchor for a couple of nights. We will scrape the bottom, clean and organize, and get ready for our crossing to the Galápagos!


A sleeping sea turtle, shell dried by the sun.

IMG_2866 (2)

This one woke up enough to lift its head and peer at us.

(This is Part 6 of the BERTIE JOURNAL series. Click here for Part 7. Or click here to start at the beginning.)

This entry was posted in Boats, Fauna, Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized, Wildlife and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s