As a second mate on oceangoing tugs, I stand the 12-4 watch, meaning noon to 4 in the afternoon and midnight to four in the morning. There are days when I hate sitting alone in the dark, dwelling on what I’m missing at home, but I have to admit that more often I love the solitude of that night watch. At midnight I send my position report to the office and then I have the next few hours to sit quietly and think – to wonder, plan, dream, scheme, reminisce to myself and generally let my thoughts drift along with whatever comes to mind. If a ship passes nearby it appears as no more than a small white light in the distance. Other than that, we are alone in the South Atlantic. The AB on watch might come up and sit and chatter about this or that for a while but then he’ll go to check the engine room and I’ll be left again to my own devices. The other night as we turned the corner around Abaco (the northeasternmost island in the Bahamas) and made for Cape Canaveral, I could see a faint arc of light from the island in the distance, and lightning illuminated the sea and sky every few seconds (thunderstorms, unaccompanied by rain, are increasingly frequent as the summer nights become heavy with heat and humidity). I was content to just go along at my own pace and think about the past, the future, or what I’ll do next time I go home.
When I was a deck hand and I saw the mate sitting there all night in the wheelhouse in the dark I thought to myself, how boring… but really, it’s amazing how entertaining the inside of your head can be.