Night Visitors

Day 15

Noon Position: 12 46.82N  122 03.28W
Course/Speed: S 4.5
Wind: 0
Sail: Motoring
Bar: 1015, dropping
Sea: SE 4, steep, plus others
Sky: Sunny in the morning. Then rain.
Cabin Temp: 85
Water Temp: 84

Miles last 24-hours: 110
Miles since departure: 1868

I saw movement in the cockpit well when I came on deck at 2am. A drizzly, hot rain fell. The dark of night was total, and my dim headlamp seemed to cast more shadow than light. Turned up a notch, what it revealed was a storm petrel. They are attracted to Mo’s stern light, but on such nights as this, can’t see the rigging, which catches them up short and down they come. It’s happened before.

This bird spends most of its life at sea and most of that on the wing, so its legs–long, black twigs that are cold to the touch, webbed at the ends–are nearly useless for walking. On land, it looks paraplegic as it scoots around. On Mo, once down, it’s captured and can do little to stop being rolled from one wet corner of the cockpit well to the other.

I picked it up, slowly, with as delicate a squeeze as I could muster. My wet hands formed around a thing that appeared more like a wet rag than a bird, and as I lifted, I got no perception of weight at all. It fought. Its bite was imperceptible.

I moved to take a photo, but stopped. It seemed wrong, like snapping pictures of accident victims, an invasion of privacy of sorts. Moreover, I wanted the brief pleasure of holding this animal in my hand to go unrecorded in that way.

For this bird has my utter regard. An animal with all the heft of a cup of spun sugar lives an entire life on the open ocean, in all seasons, in all weathers, flying day and night with acrobatics that make pigeons look as nimble as a dodo. Out there it is entirely suited, out there it is nearly indestructible. If I can help it return…

I lift it, palm up, into the faint wind; its sharp, crooked wings open. Within three beats the night has it.

There is another, I find, in the port scupper. Same ritual.

Later, while dropping the storm saiI, I hear their calling from just beyond the glow of the stern light. A tiny porcelain moan. Haunting. Alien.

The wind, what there was of it, got sucked up by the day and we’ve been motoring since late morning. Due south. When the sun was out, I pulled the wet things from below, foulies, dish towels, clothing, boots, and spread them on deck to dry. In the afternoon, a brown boobie came to roost on the bow pulpit and has been preening with a vengeance since.

It is now evening, and the doldrums, if this they be in fact, are playing spitefully with us. Now and again, a wind to 6 and 7 knots has been tempting. I spread our wings and the wind melts away. Worse, we’d need more wind than that to sail as the swell in here is crazy-making. Any roller created in any part of the Pacific finds its way here to play. Right now there’s a steep doozy from the southeast (with others, for fun) into which we pound and a faint, 5 knot breeze from the north. Mo’s 35,000 lbs of boat bobs like a cork. She give’s me white-eyed, wild looks as we go scupper to scupper that says, “can’t you make this stop?”

It will be an uncomfortable night.

5 Comments on “Night Visitors

  1. So turn the stern light off. The mast head light is enough for ships to stop Moli

  2. You are accumulating some good karma by your gentle treatment of the sea birds. Let’s hope the ocean repays you with some favorable winds.

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