As the Uto ni Yalo approaches the eastern end of Upolu, Apia's island and our articles approach 100, it's time to pause for a knot or two and reflect - something most of our crew has learned to do within the parameters of our floating island, our drua. Time takes on a different meaning when you're at sea and your only reference points are meals and crew watches. Sleep occurs when a person is tired and off watch and is not based on nocturnal rhythms. It's not uncommon then to be awake and alone with one's thoughts at 0300 hours.
The clear night sky reveals more than what a celestial navigator needs. At times when the moon hasn't yet "risen" the contrast between the darkness of what we call "space" and astral and reflecting bodies [stars and planets] is enough to leave the most jaded observer in awe of the vast spectacle. Many of the crew have become amateur astronomers learning names and relative positions of stars and their associated groups [constellations]. We've learned that star patterns, relative positions of constellations, even stars themselves differ depending upon whether we are sailing in the northern or southern hemisphere [our latitude and longitude].Time of the evening and the month also influence what we see and where and when we see it!
We novice star gazers have had the privilege of learning by observing. While text books can put names to "heavenly bodies", we have been able to chart stars, planets and constellations as they appear to move across the night sky. We've already established in an earlier article that it's actually the earth that is rotating on its "axis" that gives the appearance of these predictable paths. There are a few that appear NOT to move in relation to the earth [like Polaris, the North Star]. These become very important for celestial navigators as they provide "fixed" points in which to make reference. It is not uncommon for us to comment about when Venus will appear in relation to Jupiter, Mars or Saturn.
One of last week's articles discussed Captain Cook's voyage to Tahiti to plot the Transit of Venus in order to assist the British Royal Observatory in calculating the distance from the earth to the sun. Last evening just before sunset we got an inkling of this phenomenon. It whetted our astronomical appetites as we observed the setting sun and the rising Venus in a near figurative collision course. A vivid precursor of the once or twice in a century [recall it did not happen in the 20th century] event! By June 5 or 6 [we'll be ready] Venus, the sun and the earth will have become aligned so that with the proper filters we will see the historical Transit of Venus just as Captain Cook viewed it [well almost] over 200 years ago!
When we look back on the number and variety of experiences we have had individually and collectively on this "voyage of discovery", it will indeed be difficult to select one that made a more lasting impact over another. In those 0300 moments when centuries don't seem to count and all that is around us is the blanket of night and our imagination we could visualise a time with Cook, Bligh, Darwin or one of our forefathers as they sailed the same sea, looked up at similar scenes and perhaps reflected the same type of thoughts.
There is no greater leveling or humbling visual or metaphysical experience than contemplating the magnitude of the universe first hand. So many unanswered questions - How large is it all anyway? Is it really expanding at tremendous speeds? Could some of the stars we see actually no longer exist? How did it all start? We have faith based and scientific explanations, but is there more? And what about that classic question? Are we unique in the entire universe or does intelligent life exist elsewhere?
If anything is proved it's that there are many more questions than answers. Ah maybe it's better to wonder what's for breakfast!!!!!!
Tabu soro Viti kei Rotuma......tomorrow marks our century of articles. Rest assured we are so looking forward to seeing your shores again!