On watch

A sudden movement disturbs the strong constant waves of wind in the dark air that separates us. A soft gleam of light appears, and a swift of sweet flower scent that tickles my nose. Suddenly and shortly the face of the helmsmen lightens up, close, very close to the glass of the barometer. A concentrated look, slightly open mouth, his skin shining with a thin layer of sweat, and then, his image is taken by the darkness again. Ah! It must be close to the whole hour. The helmsman is writing the log. He uses a headlight hid against the palm of his hands, to not to disturb the darkness. Yes, I hear the scribbling of a pen, almost invisible by the dimmed lights of the instruments at the steering panel.

A moment later the star-sparkled black background my eyes found a rest in, is disturbed by an even darker shadow. Engine room check done apparently. “Ha”, says the heavy voice of this other shipmate, when he takes his place at the wheel. “Puka Puka is added to the checklist down there.” The short and transparent laughter of approval is shared by us three who are up at bridge, followed by the mentioning and confirmation of the course to steer. “Zero zero”. “ Zero zero”. Silence again.

My thoughts linger shortly over this funny little pig, appreciated by the whole crew. She follows you where she can on deck, begging for a scratch in the neck, or maybe just a small word especially for her. If not, she is asleep on a piece of carpet, we normally use to protect cargo and deck with. Her preferable place is under the step that leads to the aft deck, just outside the entrance to the engine room. She likes it there, this little creature, born on an island in the middle of an ocean, the island she borrowed her name from.

Those small presents are a great consolation for a sailor’s heart.  As are the smiles we receive when arriving to the settlement at the border of a coral-head speckled blue lagoon. They reflect the joyfulness of the people who long for the arrival of a ship so much, that they welcome her captain with leis and a crown of flowers. The same flowers that now dress the clock and barometer behind the wheel and which still give their scent, even long after we have left the shore behind.

The soft cracking of the radio, the volume turned down to an almost undetectable level, our only vein of contact with the rest of the world, if it suits propagation to transmit our signals at all. The engine runs at the background, not able to overtake the noisy voice of the wind, which blows as it likes through the open doors and windows of the wheelhouse. The same wind that gathers it’s power in the ocean, swept into waves that break at our bow, and rush along our boards. The wind that makes our sails stay full, our course steady with a speed sharp as a knife to cut through the waves.

What are we doing out here? I dare to question myself. Hundreds of miles separated from land. Our ship the only firm place to stand on, a small world in a vast ocean, under even a vaster starry night sky. Many hearts reach out to us, people of our kin on other ships, and our beloved families and friends on stable ground. But they have no idea of our whereabouts. How can you imagine a place that never is high nor low, but always in constant movement? Can you realy say it is somewhere? Does this place actually exist? However expressible in two coordinates, but what do those numbers tell them of our happiness and sorrows?

The moon slowly shows her soft glowing face from behind the horizon abeam of Kwai’s starboard.  As if to say, here you are, Kwai Spirit with your rusty-white wings. Fly, fly! To your destination Christmas Island again. And don’t complain with so light a load to carry now!

Inna