Night Fishing: Was it a Case of ‘Red Sun at Night, Sailor’s Delight?’

From the time we left the shore and up to when we started dropping our fishing lines, some distance away but still within the lagoon, the question was racing through my mind as if driven by some unseen force: how are we going to find our way back to the village in this inky blackness of a night? But soon, the answer to my prayer was received. The moon started to cast its silvery light on the still sea, painting a clear highway back to the shore, from which we had left; and the outline of the ridge that runs the whole length of Dravuni clearly visible where only impenetrable blackness had existed before. Whilst the newly ascending moon came to the rescue, I did wonder for years what other cosmic phenomena were at play at the time that would have pointed to the direction of home. Having perused relevant references over time, I am beginning to feel somewhat able to shed some light on these phenomena that have greatly influenced humanity’s search for knowledge and greater meaning of his cosmic environment.

It was one late afternoon when dad suggested that we went fishing that night. I had not been to any night fishing trips before and was thrilled. Dad was busy putting things together for the trip and I was essentially running errand for him. After a quick snack, we got onto the outrigger. We did not need a sail on the outrigger since dad was going to scull all the way and back. Dad began sculling and we headed in a north westerly direction towards Vanuakula Passage, a happy fishing ground for many. But as if it was orchestrated, the last of the twilight disappeared when dad began sculling and a thick blanket of darkness descended and enveloped us and the outrigger. A hurricane lantern provided a poor source of light to enable us to locate our fishing lines, baits etc.

As the darkness descended, my fear and concern grew and quickly escalated. It was impossible to see beyond the weak light of the hurricane lantern; and I wondered where the village was and how on earth dad would find our way back. But after a while, dad managed to select a good spot and we started the serious business of fishing. I kept my fears to myself and dad did not sense any anxiety on my part. On the other hand, the fishes were biting and the sea stayed calm. I saw silvery bright flashes above water when flying fishes darted to and fro, sufficiently close to the outrigger for their aerial actions to be briefly visible in the weak light of the lantern. It was fascinating watching the silvery arcs they made flying past in the stillness of the enveloping darkness. Such diversion presented moments of bliss and my fears momentarily melted in the gentle lapping of the sea against the hull of the outrigger.

My feeling of bliss was indescribable when the moon started its ascent, lighting up the eastern sky and clearly showing the outline of the island, the destination of our return trip. The stars were magnificent. The return trip was uneventful, but we were ‘over the moon’ as regards out catch for the night.

It later dawned on me, on personal reflection, that dad must have known all about it – that the moon would ascend the heaven from an easterly direction and its light would show clearly the various islands within the lagoon. It did make sense therefore, I ventured to guess, to have sculled in a westerly direction, and when the moon rose, it would show clearly Dravuni’s outline particularly looking east from a western vantage point.  For me, it was only much much later when I learned that the moon, like the sun, generally rises in an easterly direction; but specifically either north or south of east and sets either north or south of west.

It also dawned on me that had not the moon risen that night, dad would still find our way back through familiarity with local conditions. We had headed in a westerly direction leaving the village and to return to base, all we had to do was to head easterly in the opposite direction. The lapping of the sea on the outrigger would be a telltale sign of the direction of where the prevailing south-easterly wind was coming from.

It further occurred to me that dad could have been studying the stars that night to find his direction home. The Southern Cross is one of the striking features of the southern hemisphere sky. From the Southern Cross, the south can be located, and by deduction the east where the island lies and home, on this particular occasion.

There is also the additional ancient rhyme of the mariners. Dad and his forebears were very much influenced by the old rhyme, or its equivalent, used as rule of thumb for weather forecasting:

Red sun at night, sailors’ delight.

Red sun at morning, sailors take warning;

I could speculate that dad could have studied the twilight that day or from the previous day and had seen the red sun which would bring delight to any sea farer. Local interpretation of the weather forecast then would be that the sunlight at twilight has a clear path from the west, and the westerly wind, as against the prevailing south easterly wind, would be bringing clear skies.

Had I asked dad at the time about finding our way home, he may have given a full explanation there and then. But as a good Fijian lad well brought up to accepting the norms of our society at the time, I felt that it was not my prerogative to ask. I was expected however to trust dad fully that he would return me home safely since he had suggested to take me fishing in the first place. Be that as it may, I took it as my responsibility over the years since that event to read as widely as I can the relevant references on cosmology, astrology and astronomy with the aim of trying to understand a little bit the various cosmic codes contained in these disciplines that our forefathers had harnessed as compasses for their lives long before the advent of the scholarship and technology of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

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