Thursday, March 15th, 2007
Watching the sun set from the decks or high up in the rigging as we sail Picton Castle in the tropics is nature’s television. Especially when we’re underway, the rails are lined with people as the sun heads toward the horizon after supper. Every trainee goes home with some beautiful photos of the glowing orb sinking below the water. The sky is saturated in colours ranging from the expected reds, oranges and yellows to exotic purples and pinks with all shades in between.
The one colour everyone wants to see at sunset is green. I don’t understand the science of it, but apparently just after the sun goes below the horizon on the water there’s some kind of weird light refraction that causes a green flash. The green flash is unique to tropical waters. The flash doesn’t light up the whole sky, but it’s definitely visible. The conditions must be just right in order for the green flash to occur: a clear crisp view of the horizon with no clouds. It’s quite rare to have the proper conditions to see the green flash, and even more rare to actually be looking at the moment it happens. This creates the mysterious appeal of watching for it every evening. Some people are skeptical the green flash even exists. I was doubtful at first, but having seen it twice, I’m now a firm believer.
Regardless of whether there’s a green flash on a particular night or not, watching the sun set is part of the culture in many places that have open ocean to the west. In Camp’s Bay, just south of Cape Town in South Africa, going for a “sundowner” is a social event. Bars and restaurants have big open windows and, even more popular, patios that overlook the ocean. People go and order a drink, sit somewhere with a good view and watch the sun go down. Sunset watching is a Caribbean thing too on the west-facing side of the islands. One evening in Nevis, sitting with a group of shipmates and local people under a gazebo at the port, we all watched the sun go down together. They had the same obsession with the green flash that our crew does, watching for it every night. Dominica has a restaurant and bar south of the capital of Roseau called The Green Flash, named for its prime location to watch for this elusive event. On board, we join the tradition by watching from deck every evening.