There Sinks the Nebulous Star

‘I see your true colours, shining through,
I see your true colours, and that’s why I love you…’

Cyndi Lauper; True Colours (Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly) 1986

Sunsets are magical. The strange thing about sunsets is that virtually every human on earth experiences one every day of his or her life; they are normally just part of the background to our busy lives, and yet every time we catch sight of one it can be a breath-taking experience. We say virtually every human on earth; there are inhabitants on the Arctic Circle that don’t see the sun set at least twice a year, when the sun circles either entirely above or below the horizon. The days around these two events must be pretty spectacular, come to think of it, with sunrise and sunset occurring within minutes of each other. “Good night, Mukluk!” “Good morning, dear.” Must make for an interesting mealtime schedule.

Cruise from Cape Town into Table Bay for a magical private Sunset Champagne Cruise.

Sunset is defined astronomically as the instant that the upper limb of the sun disappears below the horizon. (The sun has limbs? Who knew. We were under the impression that personification of our star died out with Greek and Roman mythology. Live and learn.) Sunrise, on the other hand, is defined as the moment that the sun first touches the horizon, which means, for those interested in odd facts, that the day is always ten minutes longer than the night, regardless of the time of year. Following sunset is the period known as twilight, and once again the astronomers make a meal of this event. It’s divided into three phases; the first is called civil twilight, and no, we don’t know why, and it lasts until the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. Following this is the nautical twilight, (we salute the astronomers for giving us sailors some recognition), and this lasts until the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. Those astute astronomers then realised that they were not getting the recognition they deserved, and so they named the third period of twilight the – you guessed it – astronomical twilight, and this murky phase lasts until dusk at 18 degrees below the horizon. Dusk, though, is technically extremely short; as night is declared by those same astronomers as occurring at 18 degrees below the horizon as well. Blink and you’ll miss dusk, it seems. Below 18 degrees the sun no longer illuminates the sky, and darkness descends. It’s night time.

It’s the colours of the sunset that set it apart from the more direct beams of Earth’s daily circuit. This, as our science teachers drummed into us, is all due to light being made up of different wavelengths. Remember? ‘Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be perceived by the human eye, between the infrared (with longer wavelengths) and the ultraviolet (with shorter wavelengths).’ In fact, light is a lot more than that, but this is not the time to attempt to precis an entire subsection of physics. Suffice it to say that when the sun’s light hits the atmosphere at sunset, it is compromised by hitting denser air molecules (due to the lower angle between sun and observer’s eye) and the airborne particles lurking in the aether (more prosaically known as pollution), and this impact scatters the colours in the beam of light. The shorter wavelengths, the blues and greens, are more effectively scattered, leaving those stunning reds and oranges that are so attractive when viewed from the deck of a luxury catamaran on the Atlantic Ocean. We could go into more detail and mention Rayleigh scattering (elastic scattering) and Mie scattering (aerosol particle scattering), but frankly it’s the effect we are concerned about here. Suffice it to say that sunset and sunrise produce incredibly pleasing spectacles that put a sparkle into the eyes of humans that witness them. Who needs science to explain this beauty of nature?

And that is where we at Waterfront Charters come into the equation. As hinted at less than subtly above, we have Sunset Cruises. Champagne Sunset Cruises, to be absolutely precise, and these evening trips are designed with one purpose in mind: to make our guests extremely happy. To assist us in this endeavour we have roped in Mother Nature’s assistance: her incredible Atlantic Ocean, her stunning Cape Town views and her incredible sunsets. Add to that the iced flutes of the fermented, sparkling, juice of the grapes she produces and you have the perfect adventure: ideal for every person on the planet to just marvel at the beauties of this planet and its sun.

Toast the setting sun from the deck of one of Waterfront Charters amazing range of vessels.

If that all sounds a bit over the top, we urge you to join us for a cruise: you’ll soon see that hyperbole falls short when it comes to describing a sunset at sea. As the English poet Samuel Rogers put it: “Long on the wave reflected lustres play.” Those lustres will remain in your memory for years.