As I Sea it: The sunset sequence from the Red Witch

As I Sea it: The sunset sequence from the Red Witch


While Tall Ship Red Witch is offering a variety of events this summer — including Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, unplugged bands (including Core Celtic Group, EarthMother and Colby Millea), Children’s Pirate Sails, Happy Hour Sails, Narrated Day Sails, Full Moon Sails and Team Building Sails — it seems that many people particularly enjoy the Sunset Sail.

Why? It feels, well, for lack of a better term, a bit “magical” or, perhaps, “sacred.” Why? I don’t know.

Yet, interestingly, for thousands of years numerous civilizations have honored and celebrated sunsets as, indeed, these cultures felt that sunset (and dawn) depicted a sacred time.

Obviously the time of sunset varies daily, as does the duration of the sunset sequence.

In the northern hemisphere the longest day of the year, and so the latest technical sunset, occurs between June 20 and 22. This creates a scheduling dilemma aboard Red Witch, as we prefer to maintain a constant daily schedule (to avoid confusion).

We receive many calls asking when sunset will occur and how long will “sunset” (i.e., the sunset sequence) last — in other words, how soon after the sun sets will it be dark.

The answer is that we notice that the initial aspect of the sunset sequence (“civil twilight” as described later), at times, becomes increasingly colorful with progressive contour, for up to approximately 30 minutes. Then the color and contour seem to quickly retreat into darker shades of twilight.

There are four distinct phases of the sunset sequence —“technical sunset” followed by three phases of “twilight.” The term twilight was likely introduced by Swiss polymath J.H. Lambert in the 18th century but is not seen in literature until the early 19th century.

Phase One: “(Technical) Sunset.” The sun is at zero degrees with regard to the horizon; the sun is level with the horizon. This is considered the beginning of the sunset sequence.

Phase Two: “Civil Twilight.” The sun is positioned at (up to) 6 degrees below the horizon. The rays from the sun indirectly light the sky from beneath the horizon; if clouds are present, the sun’s rays reflect upon, and refract through, the clouds. This is described as “civil” twilight as the indirect light from the sun is still strong enough, on clear days, to generate enough light for outdoor occupations. This is typically the most beautiful aspect of the sunset sequence. This phase lasts approximately 30 minutes in summer months (in the northern hemisphere).

Phase Three: “Nautical Twilight.” The sun is positioned at (up to) 12 degrees beneath the horizon. The indirect light emitted from the sun is subtle. Both the horizon and brighter stars are visible, supporting navigation at sea.

Phase Four: “Astronomical Twilight.” The sun is positioned at (up to) 18 degrees below the horizon. Only stars are visible (not the horizon). The conclusion of this phase is absolutely dark — i.e., night. In cities with light pollution, this phase may be indistinguishable from night.

As an example, this article was written on June 14 in Kenosha. Sunset was at 8:30 p.m. Civil twilight was from 8:30 to 9:05 p.m. Nautical twilight was from 9:05 to 9:50 p.m. Astronomical twilight was from 9:50 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. Night was from 10:45 p.m. to 2:57 a.m. The inverse process then began — the “dawn sequence.” As such, astronomical dawn was from 2:57 to 3:53 a.m. Nautical dawn was from 3:53 to 4:38 a.m. Civil dawn was from 4:38 to 5:13 a.m. And technical dawn (sunrise) was at 5:13 a.m.

Join us aboard Tall Ship Red Witch to experience the beauty of Kenosha’s sunsets!

Fair winds ~

Capt. Andrew R. Sadock is president of Tall Ship Red Witch;


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