As the sun goes down, we set up the boat for night time. Turning down the brightness of the chart plotters and switching on the red cabin lights to preserve our night vision. We brew a thermos of coffee.
At midnight, the clouds are low, obscuring a crescent moon. There are no stars. The running lights illuminate the boundaries of the boat, but beyond that lies darkness. The boat is rampaging down the faces of the steep chop. The larger waves slap the bridge deck, sometimes with so much force they sound like a gun shot. Lisa wants to know about a new radar target that is not showing on AIS. We use the radar system to determine that this target is probably a sport fisher on a parallel course moving at about 14 knots. We slow the boat a little and the ride smoothes out because we are no longer overtaking the waves.
As we move down the coast towards Zihuatanejo, the wind lightens and the chop subsides. A bright light off the port hull comes on within 100 feet of the boat. Unseen on radar, a Mexican panga fishing boat has flipped on its running lights. It zooms by our stern and as soon as it’s clear the lights are off again. International law says use running lights, but the almost invisible Pangas rarely do, unless you are a threat. Perhaps they are trying to preserve their night vision, so they can see the end of a miles long fishing line supported by transparent soda bottles.
The sky clears and moonlight shines through gaps in the clouds, creating bright streaks on the water. We hurtle on, and the streaks seem to be getting brighter. Staring ahead they begin to look like a sandy beach in the distance. The streaks are too bright to be moonlight from this waning crescent moon. This looks like I am getting ready to run aground. I look at the chart plotter which says 4000 feet deep under the boat and eight miles off shore, but my brain says I’m about to beach the boat. I slow down and call Lisa to see if she might have an opinion. Meanwhile I grab the camera and try to take a picture… this is really strange. In the magnified image I see the sunrise peaking through a narrow gap between the clouds and the horizon. I am in fact headed into more water, 4000 feet deep.
Our friends Rich and Laura crewed with us from San Carlos to Mazatlán, here’s what they have to say about night watch.