As with the sunrises and sunsets, moon rises and moon sets are much more spectacular when you're in the middle of the ocean as compared to watching from land. On a clear night, the moon is so bright that it is like having a flood light pointed on the ocean. But in many respects, the more interesting shows put on by the moon have occurred when there have been clouds in the sky. As with the sunrises and sunsets, the moon and the
clouds at the horizon line will display a range of reds and oranges as the moon first breaks above or dips below the horizon.
If the sky overhead is partially overcast, as the moon continues to rise, it will back-light the clouds which makes the clouds and their different shapes and features really stand out. When the moon goes behind a cloud the change in the light level is quite pronounced; it feels like someone has quickly dimmed the lights in a room. When the sky is completely overcast with high altitude clouds and with the moon completely hidden in behind them, because these types of high altitude clouds reflect the moonlight, it is actually a bit brighter than usual; the entire 360 degree horizon is evenly lit (usually the horizon opposite the moon is fairly dark).
The highlight of one particular night watch, for both crew watches, occurred when there were several low lying squall clouds in front of us but the sky itself behind them was otherwise crystal clear. The way the moon back-lit
these clouds created an optical illusion that made it look like they were 3D images superimposed on a star-filled sky in the background. They simply didn't look like they were real.
Now that the moon is waxing, it isn't rising until a few hours after night fall. If the sky overhead is clear, you'll be treated to a sky chockablock full of stars; so much so that they, themselves, provide enough light to see a long way ahead of you. This is what, I'm told, the typical night conditions the crew is used to sailing in during previous Vic-Maui's. But of course, the stars simply don't provide as much light as the moon so when clouds do roll in, or when the sky is overcast, the ambient light become almost negligible and it is at these times you don't even have enough light to see as far as the front of the boat. So the only way to sail the boat is by the feel of the wind and wave action, the feel of the pressure on the helm (via the rudder) and by using the binnacle compass in front of the
helm. Perhaps the best way to illustrate what it is like driving a boat under these conditions is to imagine driving down a straight but badly maintained, rolling prairie road on a starless night, with no lights, no power steering, and the only way you can tell if you're going in the right direction or when to apply the gas or brakes is by the feel of the car on the road and by the the rise and fall of the road as you drive over it.
And then throw in the added variable of the possibility of there being something in the water (or on the road) ahead of you. But on this point, I'm told that hazards floating in the water magically disappear at night; only to reappear in the morning... But just in case this isn't quite how it works, this is why all crew members sleep with their feet facing the bow of the boat. If you were to hit something, it's your feet and legs that absorb the forces, not your head and neck. As for squalls, however, they don't disappear at night so you have to be alert to the warning signs; a sudden, sometimes violent, change in the wind strength and direction and a drop in temperature. I'm told they have made for some very eventful evenings on past Vic-Maui's. This year, however, the few night time squalls that we've actually come across have been easy to spot so we've been able to prepare for them well in advance.
Driving at night with almost zero visibility occurred on only one of my team watches. But on a more typical Vic-Maui, there would be multiple nights with little to no visibility. One can get a sense of why the midnight grab-bags are an important and cherished tradition on the Vic-Maui; the sugar rush isn't just a guilty pleasure, it's
a necessity to help keep you energized through the watch.
Last night was the only night we've experienced a sky completely clear of clouds prior to the moon rise and it was truly spectacular. The Milky Way was clearly visible, Venus and Mars were out in full show, and shooting stars and fast moving satellites were easy to spot. It was like sitting in a giant planetarium with you in the dead centre and stars visible in all directions; right down to the horizon. Hopefully tonight will be a repeat galactic show.
Signed: Beware All Nautical Anomalies Naturally Appearing Being Really Eyeful Appears Diligent
Race report PS: For those that read our "Threading the Needle" blog entry, we are pleased to report that our navigational strategy appears to be paying dividends. Rumors of Gunner doing the funky chicken dance on the foredeck yelling "Who da man?! Who da man?!" are pure speculation and hearsay and officially denied.