Japan on the Starboard beam & St Elmo’s Fire

Are we there yet???

Nearly but not quite.
We have Japan (Kyushu) 140 miles on our starboard side.
The weather has calmed down and we are plodding along quite nicely now. the only change to come is that I am having to transfer off of the 1800 – 0600 watch to be more of a floater due to us doing some DP trials on arrival that I need to be up for in order to set up the DP desk. Basically we are going to apply 70 tons of force via an anchor wire to a tug onto our starboard 1/4 to check 3 things
1- Can the winch apply that much grunt?
2- With that force being applied off the center line what effect will it have on the DP systems ability to maintain position and heading,?
3- Will we be able to counteract the expected loss of heading issue safely enough and reliably enough to start the beach pull.?

T’is all a mystery of the sea m’hearties, (well physics really, but that doesn’t sound anywhere near as romantic does it?) however we are quietly confident that we will be able to sort out any issues that arise.

We are here 32* 05.3′ N 127* 29.6′ E Speed 7.6 knots wind 2 knots NNE Sea less than 1 meter variable direction. Water depth 138 meters and the temp is a positively nippy (no pun intended) 14 degrees.


St Elmos Fire is a strange one and I have experienced it a few times.
It creates an eerie sensation for the observer, the sort to get the hairs on the back of your hands standing on end, but that’s as much to do with the latent electricity in the air as anything else.

I had been told what to expect if atmospheric conditions were right, but it was still an awesome sight the first time, and to see what appeared to be blue flames coming off the sharp fittings on the bridge wing, as well as the mast being aglow on the monkey island.

With the wild recklessness of an immortal teenager I wondered if I could get it to come off the ends of my fingers, so I venture out onto the bridge wing. There I am, stood with my arms outstretched towards the sky trying to get some flaming finger action.
The best I could managed was a blue glow around each finger end which, although unusual in its own right, was a tad disappointing.
Upping the ante a little, I took my deck knife out and held that up and suddenly I was “in the blue flame business” with a pronounced flame coming off the end of my knife. I also had a smaller flame coming from the collar zip of my thermal oilskin.

Once I was out there and “live” so to speak, with blue flames sprouting out of me, and probably saying something corny of the time like “Far out man” the Second Mate, from the safety of the bridge, suggested that standing out in an electrically charged atmosphere (St Elmo’s often occurs around thunder and lightening storms) whilst holding my arms aloft, with what was in effect ‘a lightening conductor’ held in my hand, had all the hallmarks of an elaborate suicide attempt or was a sure sign that he was sharing a watch with a fuckkwit.

Listening to his words I quickly realised he was making a very valid point and tehrdfore I had a sudden loss of bravado (foolhardy or fuckwitted, take your pick) and ventured back into the ‘Faraday caged” safety of the bridge.
The second mate proceeded to fall across the chart table, clutching his chest with one hand and pointing at me with the other, whilst gasping for breath in between raucous, bellowing, guffaws of laughter.

Realising that due to the laughter this was unlikely to be a heart attack, (so my first aid training was not required), a quick inspection of my reflection in the window had me joining in the laughter with him, because my hair and beard (both quite long in those days) was set up on end all around me like some bizarre, hirsute halo up to 18 inches out from my head. I looked like one of the Furry Freak Brothers (google it)
There have a been a few St Elmo instances since then but they have never been as strong as that first time and I tend to stay in the bridge and watch from a safe distance now.

The first time I saw the Aurora Borealis was on a passage from Riga (Latvia) in the Baltic up around to Archangel on the northern coast of Russia.


It was one of those open mouthed, staring and pointing moments, as great swathes of the starlight night sky shimmered and undulated like gossamer curtains in all shades of red purple and green.
This might sound strange but, as beautiful and awe inspiring as it was, there was a sense of something missing.
I realised that the missing ingredient was synthesiser music, which for some reason I expected to hear and because the whole thing was silent and just looked like it shouldn’t be.
It looked like a light show that should accompany a Jean Michelle Jarre or Tangerine Dream live concert (I know how 70’s is that?? ) and it was the lack music that I noticed first. Perhaps that feeling might have something to do with my many experiments with the available hallucinogenic drugs of the time.

I have seen it a couple of times since but never in such magnificent technicolour. The last time was on cable ship halfway between Scotland and Iceland where it looked like when you sometimes see the loom of a cars headlights over a distant hill. A fascinating spectacle when you are hundreds of miles from the nearest land.
This shows it up pretty well and although time lapse photography and a bit one coloured it still gives a good idea of the scale of it. (and there is no music)

Another notable time I saw some “freaky lights” was on transit across the Indian Ocean in the late 70’s. I was on the 0000 – 0400 watch looking out and seeing that optical illusion you can get when deep ocean without any light pollution and where the stars appear to be on the inside of one of those glass cheese domes. The illusion being that the cosmos looked spherical and you could see the starts practically down to the horizon.
I was looking around in awe at the sheer magnitude and beauty of it all when I noticed we had some phosphorescence action along the side of the ship and along the leading edges of the wavelets that we caused as we steamed though the calm waters. The wake was also flashing with the same glimmering show.
Suddenly a massive patches of ocean all around us and in the distance just began to teem with sliver light in a quite staggering and awe inspiring show of natural light. I called the second mate to come and check it out, and for over an hour we both watched absolutely spellbound by the show. He had never seen anything like it in his 30 years at sea, and wrote a detailed report which was sent in with the weather reports that most deep sea vessels sent daily by telegraph to the Hydrographic Office, in those days before satellite comms.
I had seen phosphorescence before and since but never in such an awesome display.

I have to say before I log off tonite that it has been great fun sharing some of my experiences of my 40 years at sea and I truly appreciate the many messages I have received telling me how well received they have been.
Love and Peace

5 thoughts on “Japan on the Starboard beam & St Elmo’s Fire

  1. I’ve just read through all this and it’s great. I’m terrified of the sea but it was such an exciting read but, where have you gone? I can’t find anything from you since April 2016. A

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *