Now You See It, Now You Don't

There are legends on the high seas of finding buried treasures, bumping into lost or uncharted islands, and encounters with pirates. We haven't actually had these exact experiences yet we have encountered some interesting variations of these. One of the more peculiar ones comes to my mind.

We had set sail from Fortaleza on the northern coast of Brazil, heading for Cayenne, French Guiana, where we intended to look for work and stay for several months. We anticipated a good week or so at sea. Since we were so close to the equator, it was hot, humid, and the winds were light. Both my husband and I distinctly remember one hot, hazy dawn having been settled in to our seafaring routine a good several days 100 miles or so off the coast.

The sun had just risen and the temperature was rising. I was just finishing my watch and Michel had just awakened, preparing to take his turn outside. It had been a really restful and peaceful sail so far. No accidents, no broken equipment, no strange noises. The boys were calm, playing well together, and were comfortable with the routine. According to the charts, we knew we were in oil platform territory, so Michel had traced our course so we would avoid them. Up until now we hadn't seen any, and we were particularly vigilant on our night watches. Then, off in the hazy horizon, I saw a platform. When I pointed it out to Michel, he was surprised because he really thought that our route put us well north of that area.

We were at a comfortable angle with the sails, and the wind was just right, putting the boat in a comfortable position, just right to brew the morning coffee without having to brace myself tightly in a corner of the galley. I turned the watch duty over to Michel while he settled in the cockpit and I went down below, to get some coffee, see to the kids, and get breakfast going before I took my well-deserved nap after my four-hour late-night-to-dawn watch. Michel kept me apprised of the ever-approaching platform. It seems we were getting closer and most likely would have to change our course. He now saw the anchor lines and a helicopter landing pad. I quickly finished what I was doing so I could head back up on deck to help with necessary maneuvers and sail changes to change our course.

I popped out into the cockpit and peered out to the front of the boat and saw—nothing! Only blue water surrounded us for 360° as far as I could see.

"Where did it go?" I asked Michel.

"That's what I'm wondering," he marveled. "It just seemed to disappear!"

This was really weird. Since we both saw it, and then we both didn't see it, we couldn't both be losing it!

After being dumbfounded for several minutes, we both began to think "mirage." Are those for real? Is that a real phenomenon? We questioned each other. I thought those were only in cartoons. You know, where someone is ramping across the desert floor, desperately seeking salvation in that puddle of water that just keeps staying at arm's length. I grabbed a dictionary and there was an explanation: Yes indeed it is a real phenomenon, something that usually occurs under certain atmospheric conditions in equatorial latitudes, an optical illusion of an actual object situated several miles away and refracted to appear in another location. Our location and current weather conditions seem to perfectly fit this scenario. There were real oil platforms in the area, albeit at least 100 miles away, we were near the equator, and apparently the early morning hazy sun created the ideal conditions to reflect the image elsewhere.

Since we had both seen it, and then didn't see it, we didn't invent it. You had to have been there.