Night Visitors

22 Apr

April 21, 2019/Day 198

Noon Position:  05 20S  27 02W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): WNW

Miles since departure: 27,015

Avg. Miles/Day: 136

 

A strange night. Altostratus covered the sky by sundown and stayed there. Its layering was thin, allowing the full moon to shine through with here and there a star, but beneath this, dark squall clouds built. A light, hot wind threatened to do nothing more than die away altogether.

I lay splayed and sleepless in the cabin, still 89 degrees at midnight. By dawn the squall clouds were getting serious, and I began preparing for a dirty day. But soon after sunup, both the stratus and the squall clouds melted away.

I am used to squalls dissipating as the sun sets. I have no understanding of what dynamics allow for convection overnight but not during the following day.

Winds have filled in a bit and veered a bit such that I can finally fly the poled-out working jib to starboard. Yes, all three working sails up. Our average speed, just shy of seven knots.

When I came on deck for the third time, I flushed a black-winged bat-like object that had been perched on the dodger. I had forgotten my glasses and my headlamp, and so retreated to the cabin to retrieve them, and when I returned the bat-like object was hovering over the aft rail, where it eventually made a landing. Even by moonlight, I could tell it was a slender, tern of a bird with a small neck and a long, sharp bill. I watched it in the dark for a long time. It watched me too.

When I switched on the headlamp and made a move for the winch, it launched. Long, delicate wings moved with a chaotic rapidity; all over the feathers were brown to black except for a shot of white above the bill. Its upset call, a low rattling. A Noddy.

I went on with the business of adjusting sail and was about to retire when I noted a lump on the end of the genoa pole. I had flown the pole earlier that day, but then the wind had backed to the beam again, and I’d opted against setting the #2 to windward. As a gesture of hope, I’d left the pole in its ready postion, extending out over the bow.

Here the Noddy found an awkward perch. The pole was too large for its tiny feet to grasp, and what boat motion there was, it felt in the extreme. The bird never even folded its wings but remained half airborne, dancing delicately upon its roost. Now the motion of a second Noddy on the wing became visible in the dark.

And about then I heard the swooshing.

In the moonlight, I could see the water move. The Dorado have returned for a feed, I thought. But to feed on what? The headlamp on its brightest beam resolved the mystery; below the water I could see the jetting gray cylinders that were dolphins shooting under the bow and accelerating far beyond Mo, only to return at full speed and jet under the bow again. Under the moon and the light of my lamp, they were cold, pale bullets. And then they were gone.

I can understand why a bird might want to come to rest on a boat rather than the water top. One avoids getting wet or being dunked by a wave just as he is commencing a snooze, but most importantly, on a boat there are no predators from the deep who might come to nibble at his feet.

By now the Noddy had figured out the genoa pole and seemed secured for the night. And as I made my way back to the cockpit, I saw his mate had made a landing on the outboard motor.

“All good?” I asked as I descended the companionway ladder.

Both Noddies … nodded … their consent.

By morning they were gone, but they had left the customary gratuity of their kind, a small dollop of white and black excreta.

This article was syndicated from The Figure 8 Voyage

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