We were, quite literally, in the middle of the north Pacific Ocean. It was 1,200 nautical miles backwards to Alaska, 1,000 nautical miles forward to Hawaii and 1,300 nautical miles windward to Washington. We were 1,000 miles from anywhere.
The night had been the prettiest yet with a dramatic sliver of a moon that chased the sun as it melted into the sea. The familiar constellations flickered on first; Orion’s belt, Cassiopeia, the big dipper, then came to life with thousands of additional stars once the sea absorbed the last of the sun’s colors. The milky way, in the city often no more than a theoretical concept, was a thick white stripe across the sky. Meteors streaked by often, indifferent to the sparse number of eyes witnessing their theatrical entry.
The night sky looked particularly vibrant because it had been several months since we had seen even the hint of stars. During our time in the arctic, it never got dark enough to filter out a single star, and Alaska is shrouded and reserved behind her veil of perpetual fog and imposing grey sky. Even 400 nautical miles offshore, her heavy, laden skies reached over us like an overbearing mother shooing away an unwanted suitor, snubbing out the sun, stars, moon and blue sky in her displeasure.
Finally, we had escaped from under her oppressive thumb and the new southeast breeze that held back her disontent was warm and humid. The sea temperature climbed a remarkable 20 degrees Fahrenheit in just a few days, from 52 degrees in Dutch Harbor to 72 degrees in the middle of the ocean. Even the darkness was warm and pleasant, offering a welcome relief from the bundles of clothes we were accustomed to needing for night watches. Star gazing is even better when you’re not shivering.
After a short sleep between my night shift and morning, I came on watch at 5am, local Hawaii time. When we lost sight of the Aleutian islands, we had shifted our schedule two hours back and adjusted to Hawaii time to keep it simple and eliminate jetlag upon an arrival that was still sure to be thick with culture shock. In Alaska, the sun is a night owl, lazily drawing itself above the horizon well after 7am. But 7am was now 5am and my watch began with the first hint of color to our left, imperceptibly brightening under a line of dark squally clouds. As I sipped my coffee and listened to my audiobook in shorts and a hoodie, DogBark! sailed herself under the watchful gaze of Wilma, our autopilot. The seas were orderly and the wind steady, making 10 knots of speed feel like a stroll along the beach.
The stars extinguished one by one until only Sirius and Betelgeuse remained, holding my gaze as long as they could before the approaching sun compelled them into hiding. Suddenly, the sun hit the sliver of sky between horizon and cloud line with a fiery orange and burst of energy to start the day. The clouds morphed into pink and orange and red cotton candy, the sea reflected their dazzling glittering colors right back. The sails absorbed the sun’s new energy and attention, luminous in the golden light and, I if I do say so myself, perfectly trimmed.
The passing squalls, stripped of their menace and might by the new day, molded rainbows that seemed to dissolve into the water just outside of our reach. As the rays of new light stretched out to us, casting a happy optimistic hue across our eyes, our mileage countdown ticked from 1,000 to 999. I turned my face into it and smiled.
Sometimes sailing is uncomfortable and stressful and unendingly frustrating, and then sometimes it’s like this. Like the sun has issued its benediction of speed and comfort and contentment upon the crew. There we were, sailing across the vast ocean, and everything felt right.