The beauty of the night sky from an anchored yacht fills Jonty Pearce with awe, but it also shines on when we're not afloat

Jonty Pearce: We are at anchor in Sandy Haven Bay, and I have just been entranced by myriad stars and lights during my night-time deck check before settling to sleep. We have just enjoyed a sumptuous meal finished off with a crumble using apples and pears from Carol’s own orchard; the wind has settled, and the sea is calm after our sunny, goose-winged run down Milford Haven. We had decided not to beat back to the upper reaches against the tide and chose instead to shelter from the southeasterly Force 4 in one of my favourite ‘easterly’ anchorages under west facing cliffs which gives a lovely viewpoint of the entrance to Milford Haven’s waterway.

The lights of Dale twinkle enticingly astern – the Griffin Inn is always a temptation, but Dale is open to this wind and we are better off snuggled up in here. To our south the refinery lights cast a warm glow beyond Stack Fort, while to our north lie the few scattered lights of Sandy Haven. Yet the most spectacular illuminations come from both the stars above and the navigational beacons of the Haven. It was the latter that first riveted my attention on deck – the mix of red, white and green flashes stretch from the Heads right round to the refinery. Each has its own rhythm and character, from the slow beat of St Ann’s lighthouse to the frenetic constant flash of a north cardinal, with the full range of patterns from red port hand markers, green starboard hand buoys, and the steady occulting of the leading lights for the main channel.

It’s almost like Bonfire Night, but this display starts every evening as dusk falls as first one, then two, and then the rest of the lights take turns to ignite and send their directional codes across the dark water. And then a car winds its way down the narrow coastal lanes, its headlights flashing their own confusing message. Is it a new lighthouse? No, it’s too irregular. And it’s moving, so a vehicle it is. This whole vista is like a stroboscopic maze of multicoloured fireflies, meaningless until a skilled navigator decodes the jumble to safely follow the route laid out clearly before him; red to port, green to starboard, and the white transits carefully aligned until he reaches his well-earned haven.

And tonight, the endless stars glitter overhead adding their own mystery to the clear night-time spectacle. Not a cloud obscures their brightness in the crisp, cold darkness. The longer I gaze the more I see. Initially only the primary stars are pricks of light, but then my eyes adapt to the secondaries, before the tertiaries become visible. And then, glory of glories, come the faint glows of distant galaxies between the swathes of the Milky Way. The Great Bear lies over Sandy Haven, pointing to the great North Star Polaris, who forms the tip of the Little Bear’s tail while Cassiopeia rules from above Aurial‘s anchor light. All the minor stars that add meaning to the great constellations shine out, adding to an astronomer’s dream night.

Awed, I stay up on deck till the cold starts to bite, before giving a final scan of the night’s glories and going back below to the bright cabin warmed by the gently blowing Eberspacher. I feel humbled by the infinity of the Universe and by the beauty of nature’s bounty. I tell myself that this is here every night; when I lie in my bed at home in Malvern after a hard days work, I must remember this – it is fixed in my mind for ever.

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