Ahoy, readers! We continue our journey through the South Pacific, and after a couple days of open ocean we are now expecting landfall in the next 3 hours. It’s been almost a week since we arrived in Rangiroa, and tomorrow morning we should be arriving at Caroline Island (or Karoraina in iKiribati). As you have probably gathered by now, the Mama Seamans is a very demanding ship and requires attentive hands at all hours of the day. I am writing this having just come off mid-watch, a 4-hour watch period between the hours of 11pm and 3am. It sounds brutal, and sometimes it is, but for the most part our sleep schedules have adjusted to life on a ship. You get your naps in whenever you can, so the actual time of watch ends up having little importance.
As I was sitting on bow lookout during this mid-watch, I was thinking about what I should write here. When you’re on lookout you’re pretty isolated from everyone else on the ship, unless people are handling sails near the bow. For the most part, people are either in the lab or near the stern of the boat while working. When I’m on lookout I always go through a cycle of thoughts in my head – it starts with “WOW” as I look around and appreciate where I am, then I get to thinking about life, and eventually I hit boredom when I realise I’ve run out of songs to sing to myself and don’t actually know the full words to any. So on this fine night, as I tried to entertain myself, I looked up at the night sky and was amazed. It was the clearest night I’d seen yet, not a cloud in sight and a waning moon. The stars were absolutely incredible and I saw more shooting stars then ever before in my life.
We had been doing a lot of science stations in the last couple of hours (more about our science deployments to come in future posts, I’m sure), which means the boat was hove to (not moving). This limits the responsibilities of the people on deck since we aren’t sailing during stations, and so Scott, our watch officer and 2nd Mate, was sharing his knowledge of the stars with us while we waited to get back underway. I’ve always had a very difficult time discerning constellations and have thus found astronomy to be very frustrating. But last night was like an epiphany – I finally could see the horse in Centaurus, or the tail of Scorpio. Most satisfying was the feeling when I went over to be lookout and as I looked up at the sky I could find the stars and constellations Scott had taught me on my own. I could find the big dipper, trace it up and arc to arcturus and then speed over to Spica. I could find Vega, the star we had been using to navigate by at night sometimes, and find the summer triangle she forms with two other bright stars whose names escape me. Not only is it satisfying to understand and recognize constellations, but also many of these are navigational stars and will come in handy when we start shooting them with sextants to obtain our geographic position (known as celestial navigation). It was a great feeling to look up and see an uninterrupted sky, horizon to horizon, filled with stars and planets, and appreciate the natural beauty of our universe. The most amazing things occur naturally, and on this voyage with just our patch of sea for company, I am really beginning to grasp how amazing Earth’s natural wonders are. Hopefully my astronomical knowledge will continue to grow in the next few weeks as the Seamans brings us across many more night skies!