The waxing moon, approaching full, lit a silver path across the inky surface of the sea. The few stars that were visible through the moon’s brightness played a cosmic game of hide-and-seek as the rigging swayed across the sky. With the lively pitch and roll of the boat, it was definitely a night for ‘one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself’ as I make my way cautiously from the top of the companionway aft to the wheel.

I had three hours sleep and now it was my watch. After a few minutes to get used to the dark, the skipper offered me the wheel. I repeated his order, “160 degrees” and settled myself on the pedestal behind the wheel, peering over the rim at the dimly lit compass. It took quite a while to get the hang of keeping the ship on course, the wheel so different from the tiller of a small yacht. A couple of times I turned the wrong way and veered off wildly, hurriedly spinning the wheel to come back on course before the skipper noticed.

Once I was settled, I began to enjoy myself. Sitting high on the pedestal I had a good view forward of the whole ship, white water streaming out each side of her bows, illuminated by the moonlight as she charged through the darkness. On a night like this, there is so little between you and the whole wild world.

When I felt sufficiently in tune to the rhythm of the boat, I relaxed my gaze on the compass and aligned the ship with a star above the bows. With each windward roll, the star slipped behind the mainsail; as she heaved back to leeward it reappeared and slid across the sky until just outside the windward shrouds. On the return roll, for a few moments it hovered just in place between mast and shrouds, so I could quickly check against the compass.

The sky began to lighten in the northeast as early as 2.00am; we sensed the loom of land by 3.00. As the stars moved westward across the sky, my star rose until it no longer served as a guide. I was about to align with another when the skipper announced we had reached our first waypoint that took us safely past a submerged rock and could now come round into the anchorage. He called for 150 degrees, then 140, 130. The engine slowed to a quiet rumble and I heard the splash of the anchor and the heavy chain clatter through the hawsehole: we had arrived. The Atlantic was behind us; land just visible on three sides; the ship lay quietly. The skipper brought a bottle of whisky up on deck, we toasted our safe arrival and hurried below to our warm bunks.