Heliostāsio: The Stand of the Sun*

Uncle Albert Einstein saw things in the way that most of us mere mortals can only read about and wonder over. Mention of his name normally brings up the famous E=mc² equation and vague references to relativity. Tomorrow at exactly 15h54, we can all experience first-hand a startling example of relativity; to paraphrase Uncle Al, an event will occur that can be assigned a ‘single unique moment and location in space relative to a reference frame.’ Say what? We’ll get back to this in a minute.

Tomorrow is solstice. The winter solstice here in the southern hemisphere (also known as the hibernal solstice), and the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere (or estival solstice.) The word solstice itself is self-explanatory, and is a combination of the Latin sol – sun – and sistere – to stand still. What appears to happen here in the southern hemisphere is that the sun reaches its most northerly point, and then starts to return on its merry way back south, bringing spring and summer with it. Obviously at points north, the opposite occurs, (but given the weather on that side of the planet, who will notice?) This is where relativity comes into the equation. The sun, of course, does not stand still at that point – relative to us here on earth, it’s pretty stationary all the time. It’s us who are collectively on the move aboard Planet Earth, and it’s our eccentric orbit about the star that brings about the changes in the season; the earth’s tilted axis causes the sun’s apparent motion across the heavens. Obviously, as we orbit, the tilted axis orients us either towards or away from the sun. As Richard III might have moaned: now is the winter of our discontent, (except when it rains of course.)

Or as Albert would have said – it’s all relative to where we are at any given moment in the year. We are the centre of our personal universes, so everything else about us moves relative to our state on motion. (If you are sitting still in an airplane, you are motionless – the earth whizzes past beneath you; if you are standing on the ground below, the plane is whizzing over you.) So: tomorrow at six minutes to four in the afternoon, our sun will stand still for a puzzled second, then shift into reverse and head back south. Viewers on the Arctic Circle will have the spectacular solstice event of the midnight sun, where the sun stays above the horizon for 24 hours. Of course, down below us, in the Antarctic, there is a 24 hour night. Who’d be a penguin in winter?– it’s no wonder they emigrate to Boulders Beach.

“It’s a blessing to wash your face in the summer solstice rain.”

(Or winter rain, for that matter, we think.)

Outrageous; Paul Simon 2007

So the 21st of June will only have a full nine hours and fifty-three minutes of sunshine: we hope you make the most of it. Waterfront Charters think that this early setting of the sun marks a great opportunity: our Sunset Champagne Cruises are obliged to set sail somewhat earlier during the shorter days (always check the website beforehand for departure time), and in terms of relativity (again), we get back to harbour earlier. This gives guests a perfect opportunity for a winter treat: a meal at one of the three restaurants that partner us on our unique Cruise and Dine specials. For an extremely reasonable outlay, you get a spectacular sunset cruise with sparkling wine, a view of Cape Town’s renowned evening glories as the lights come on, all followed by a gourmet meal at one of the V&A’s top eateries. The choices are all here on the website; we recommend that you take some time to salivate over all the options before you book: it may be winter, but what better time to relax over a hot plate of deliciously prepared grub?

Of course, the purists will love the excursion on the day of the solstice, but given that the sun’s return to summer is measured in minutes each evening, this is a treat that can be enjoyed for some time. Look, we might as well just say it: every night is the perfect night for a Sunset Cruise! See you soon.

*Ancient Greek, as you probably guessed.