Night Watch Story


3 December 2013

It’s almost 4 in the morning. While I’m sound asleep, lulled by Tara’s movements, a hand taps me on the shoulder. Jerome has finished his shift and is waking the next watch. I get up with difficulty, ready for the next 2 hours.

Now it’s 4 o’clock. The ship’s roll that was rocking me a few minutes ago is now trying to make me fall down. I’m holding on to the walls in the corridor as I struggle to reach the cockpit. There I find Baptiste, also awakened recently. Words exchanged at the end of a short night are few and cursory. I refrain from complaining about this unwelcome wake-up call because at 6 o’clock, my watch will be over. Baptiste, however, like all sailors will be on his shift for 4 hours.

10 minutes have just gone by. Casting a sleepy glance through a window, I’m immersed in another world: the night is dark and so black that sea and sky are one. Tara seems plunged into a timeless space, without dimension, floating in darkness. In the cockpit, my computer screen casts a dim light in the middle of an army of buttons, radars, screens and levers dimly lit in red and green.

It’s 4:30 and Tara is still sleeping. The bustling anthill atmosphere during the day has stopped, replaced by silence with some clicking sounds on deck, and a line rhythmically clacking in the wind. The peaceful atmosphere is conducive to writing. A few emails to family and friends   to try and share some of our daily life — out of the ordinary, and at the same time so routine.

At 5 o’clock, as a crescent moon becomes dimly visible on the horizon, Baptiste leaves to make his round. While he passes meticulously through the bowels of the whale, ensuring that engines and machines are operating normally, I’m left alone on the bridge. As the moon begins its ascent, timidly lighting the crests of waves, I regularly survey the radar and horizon. Nothing. We are really alone in the midst of the ocean.

Quarter past 5 and Baptiste is back. We exchange roles. It’s my turn to don a headlamp for my round. No machine room for me, but a dry lab that never sleeps, with its slew of screens constantly projecting curves and statistics of all kinds. In the flickering of my light, I follow the protocol that details items to be checked. No cogitation necessary. The button is lit green, the curve is displayed correctly, lines of calculations appear on the screen with regularity. Everything is normal. I return to the bridge.

A last half hour to kill. Nothing on the horizon. Tara is surfing the waves with billowing sails. Conversation begins with my watch companion. We both know that this is a privileged moment  to talk, share our experiences, our previous expeditions, or our “other life” on land. The period of watch and its special atmosphere have inspired music lessons, introductions to foreign languages, and even heated discussions to remake the world. This time we are interrupted by Nadège, who frees me from my obligations.

It’s 6 o’clock and the end of my shift. The first light of dawn erases the moon’s path and announces a glorious sunrise. I could stay a few more minutes for the first rays illuminating the ocean, facing the waves on Tara’s bow, but I resist Neptune’s call preferring the arms of Morpheus. A few hours more sleep before the whale completely wakes up. The day ahead will be long. The next night too, with 2 hours shared with another sailor, for another story of quarter watch.

Yann Chavance