Rounding Cape Wrath



Woke in time to be on deck for midnight. Bundled up in warm clothes I climbed in the companionway. After the darkness below decks the light of the half moon astern was almost dazzling. It hung in a sky dappled with patchy cloud, too bright for many stars to show. I settled with my watch companions on the bench around the stern. Ahead, the skipper told us, was Cape Wrath lighthouse; on our starboard quarter the light on Stoer, slowly dropping behind us; far to port was a white light we assumed to be the working light of a fishing vessel.

Then I noticed a more mysterious light over about the loom of the mainland. Dim, with a reddish glow, low on the horizon. Was it a land light on a mountain side? Or a rising star or planet? Slowly in rose in the sky, brightening but keeping its strange hue. Clearly a planet, rising ahead of the sun: Venus? Mars? I regret my ignorance of the heavens! Through the rest of the watch it rose higher in the sky, visible even as the sky lightened in the earlier dawn

The sea is smooth, almost oily, a long swell following the ship, lit by the path of moonlight across the water. No wind. The sails we urgently hoisted on leaving Stornoway, which caught the wind for a few hours, now hang limp—well, as limp as heavy canvas can hang—cracking occasionally as the ship rolls.

The Cape Wrath light slowly becomes more distinct as we approach. At first little more than a glimmer on the horizon, but as we pass the Cape it almost dazzles the eyes, by now fully open in night vision, as the group of four flashes casts a path of light toward the ship.

By 03.15 the sky is lightening in the northeast, taking on a flush of pink.

Through the watch we drink tea and eat biscuits, take turns on the wheel. Now and then one of us walks toward the bows, or does some knee bends to try to keep warm. Even though it has been a beautiful night we are happy with our relief watch comes on deck. We hurry back to the warmth of our bunks and sleep until breakfast time.

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