Captain's Log

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Moonlight

“One night, while we were in these tropics, I went out to the end of the flying jib-boom, upon some duty and having finished it turned around and lay over the boom for a long time, admiring the beauty of the sight before me. Being so far from deck, I could look at the ship as a separate vessel and there rose up from the water…a pyramid of canvas spreading out far beyond the hull and towering up almost, as it seemed in the indistinct night air, to the clouds. The sea was still as an inland lake; the light trade-wind was gently and steadily breathing from astern; the dark blue sky was studded with tropical stars. There was no sound but the rippling of the water under the stem; and the sails were spread out wide and high – the two lower studding sails stretching, on each side, far beyond the deck. The topmast studding sails like wings to the topsails; the t’gallant studding sails spreading fearlessly out above them; still higher the two royal studding sails looking like two kites from the same string; and highest of all; the little skysail, the apex of the pyramid, seeming to actually touch the stars and be out of reach of human hand.

So quiet too was the sea. And so steady the breeze that, that if these sails had been sculptured marble, they could not have been more motionless. Not a ripple upon the surface of the canvas; not even a quivering of the extreme edges of the sail – so perfectly were they distended by the breeze. I was so lost in the sight that I forgot the presence of the man who came out with me, until he said (for he too, rough old man-of-war’s man he was, had been gazing at the show), half to himself, still looking at the marble sails – “how quietly they do their work…”

1835 or so – Ordinary Seaman Richard Henry Dana from his book “Two Years Before The Mast”

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