8º North 130º East
It's so calm I can see each star reflected on the sea, slightly distorted, lifting and falling on the long low glossy ocean swells - the cosmos inhaling and exhaling.
"Whaa's wrong?" Freddy appears groggy-eyed in the dark companionway.
"Nothing, babe, I just shut her down because I'm too tired to steer anymore. Go back to sleep. I'll wake you for your watch. We'll get going again in the morning."
She looks around at the stars, "God, it's so quiet without the damned engine. Now I can get some sleep." And she's gone.
Our universe of stars lies half way between the Philippines and Palau in the Western Caroline Islands. There has not been a breath of wind for two days so we've been motoring day and night. The wind vane self-steering is useless when there isn't any wind so Freddy and I have been steering for two days. Taking turns. Now we are just floating here, drifting, far from anywhere. I've never done this before; just stopped at sea. It's so quiet and peaceful, weird, alone. I wish we had one more crew member to help steer. Damn, we should have bought an electric auto pilot.
I sit and gaze at the stars. Try as I might I can't distinguish where the horizon is. Stars, stars, stars. The plan was to have Moira environmentally economical. Wind vane, kerosene lanterns, low electrical use, maybe get some solar panels. Dumb plan. What could be more high tech than Moira? I mean, I don't mind sitting here, it's very romantic, but we still have to keep watch. Never can tell when a big ship might show up.
At sunset, a big freighter appeared on the horizon. It was headed right at us. Those monsters really travel. Twenty minutes from the moment it loomed over the horizon until it passed within 100 meters of us. They never saw us, never altered course. If I had not slowed up, that big old rusty tub would have squashed us into little glass splinters. No more Moira. Nothing like a little adrenaline jolt to keep us looking around the horizon very 20 minutes, day and night. We take 3 hour watches, and I've got another 30 minutes to go.
I stand up, stretch, and hike around the deck to wake up. "Richard, this is impressive," I whisper to myself. "Not one cloud out here tonight. No moon, just millions upon millions of stars." The way the sea reflects each star is mesmerising, I can even see the little bitty stars reflected on the utterly calm surface. I stand on the bow and scan all around. It's like being in space, surrounded by an endless multitude of stars.
My mind works on this feeling for awhile until it reaches the profound awareness of TRUTH. I AM in space surrounded by all those stars. I am on the outer surface of a planet. There's not a thing between me and all those stars but a little bit of air.
For awhile I hold on to the head stay, looking up, out, around.
With some neuron-coaxing, I can see the stars as brilliant nuclear explosions, fusion fire-balls scattered through space. When I do it just right I forget about the thin film of atmosphere between me and space - get right out there with the stars.
What a thrill! The sea around me becomes a thin condensation of water on the surface of a small sphere, soaring my viewpoint through space at unthinkable speeds. A tiny droplet of red hot molten rock with a thin, soft crust and a film of gas and moisture on its surface.
I look eastward, where stars are slowly appearing over the horizon. In the morning, I'll see the sun rise and take a sight with my sextant. It will show I am in about the same place where I shut down the engine. But although the relative position of the Moira, the Ocean, and the Sun will show we haven't budged, our little spinning sphere will have carried me towards the east at some 900 knots and the whole planet will have moved me, and the Moira, thousands of miles through space as it orbits the sun at 67,000 knots.
I look up, past the long white mast into the depths of the stars. I try to see myself moving through space at 67,000 knots. But, of course, I see no movement.
The multitude of individual stars bewilders my eyes, but when I relax and look at the whole expanse at once, seeing it with my peripheral vision, the milky way emerges into my awareness with a profuse deep sea phosphorescence. It is the mother of light spawning in some infinite magic sea.
For a while I drift in this magic sea, aware of some idea, some concept, swimming beneath the surface of my mind. I visualise the milky way, our whole galaxy of stars, and see it from without, a ghostly, luminous being with its spiral arms flung out into space. The Earth, an invisible speck somewhere in one of those vast arms, is soaring around the centre of the galaxy at 250 kilometers per second - some 560,000 knots. And, for good measure, the entire galaxy is underway at a respectable 1,342,000 knots.
For the briefest of moments, I glimpse the galaxy twisting, swirling, spinning through an endless emptiness. This vision lures a thought lurking in the deeper levels of my mind. It surfaces to look at me. I start and step back from the life-line, let go of the head stay, as if something real had surfaced in the star-spangled ocean. But there is nothing there. I must have fallen asleep while standing up.
Back in the cockpit I plop down and massage my eyes. So in the morning, where will Moira be? Who cares? Here I am tearing along at a million miles per hour, and I've got this urgent desire to fire up the diesel and go roaring off over the horizon, adding 5 knots to our velocity. Why? What's the big hurry? What's the schedule? Let's see, if we sit here for six hours, we'll travel about 8 million nautical miles. If I fire up the diesel we'll go 8 million and 30 nautical miles in the same time.
The end of my watch orbits around, the clock moving into some relativity zone where each tick takes hours and hours of subjective time. Like my mind is stuck on the orbit of the planet around the center of the galaxy once every 220 million years. Gummy with sleep, I clomp below and wake Freddy, flop into bed, and plummet into the depths. But as I vanish into a dreamless, exhausted sleep, I sense that elusive thought which swam in the space between the stars. Something about position. Something about motion. Something about space itself and the Universe. But it retreats before me and sinks deep into the abyss. I follow it down, drowning in this magic sea.
The totally unexpected was waiting for us in Palau...