Do you believe in magic?
I do not believe in magic. But I think some things get close. For most humans in the United States, August brought about one of those “almost magic” moments. It must have been quite a sight from above. Kids streaming out of school onto the playground holding cereal boxes to their faces, suits and ties forgoing their desks in favor of the roof of some nondescript office building, confused animals meandering through backyards. It is funny how a solar eclipse seems to bring us together better than our president can.
But in all seriousness, this eclipse reminded me of another moment, one I had while alone on the boat. It almost makes it more surreal and more precious. I was transporting a 50 foot Jeanneau from a little Marina near Annapolis, Maryland to the Bahamas in October 2011 for the winter. The owner moves his boat from Annapolis to the Bahamas every fall so that he does not have to winterize the boat and back to Annapolis in the spring avoiding hurricane season.
Before entering the Chesapeake Bay, we made a scheduled stop at a boatyard to put new fairlead at the top of the mast for the main halyard. When the installer dropped the new piece from the top of the mast into the Chesapeake Bay, what should have taken a few hours turned into a few days. After ordering a replacement fairlead and installing it (I felt like I was in Groundhog’s Day), we were on our way again.
After stopping in Norfolk, Virginia, we set out for the longest leg of our trip, south and around the Pamlico Sound. Our crew-plan was a standard 2-man on 2-man off watch. Divided into two teams, each team was responsible for a 4-hour watch. When one team was on, one member would be at the helm and the other could sleep or read as long as they were on deck and on call should any additional man be needed.
I was on the helm one night. It was quiet, peaceful. I looked behind me at some point; I am not sure what drew my attention, but there they were. The only way to describe it would be to compare it to a colorful blanket hanging in the sky. A well-lit tapestry in the middle of the blackness that is the North Atlantic. I stared in amazement while I tried to figure out what it was. It was too wide to be a missile trail and it was too late at night to be an odd effect of the sunset. Vivid red and bright pink streaks filled the sky north of our position. The intensity lasted between 15 and 20 minutes.
I had no idea what I had seen and did not wake my watch partner. In the morning, I shared my experience with my shipmates. Not one of us guessed it might have been the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis). The suggestion that I was smoking something was much more popular.
The next day, when we made port in Charleston, South Carolina and went ashore for a bite to eat, the local newspapers had the answer; the Northern Lights had indeed shown their colors. The news mentioned how rare it was that the light show made it as far south as the Carolinas.
Even with an explanation, I still say it was magic. Maybe there is not much of a difference after all.