- Currents Bluewater Cruising - https://currents.bluewatercruising.org -

Evil in the Dark…The Joys of Night Sailing

The human race seems to have an inherent fear of the dark. This fear is reinforced by books and movies that continually relate darkness with evil. Vampires, zombies, muggers and creepy crawlies all come out after the sun sets. It’s no wonder that sailors tend to have an increased level of anxiety when the topic of sailing at night comes up. We fear the unknown! Darkness inhibits one of our critical senses . . . vision, which leads to unknowns and creates fear in all of us.

As the last piece of daylight passes over the horizon, our anxiety level increases, but there is a beauty  to the night sky that helps overcome some of that stress. [1]

As the last piece of daylight passes over the horizon, our anxiety level increases, but there is a beauty to the night sky that helps overcome some of that stress.

Reflecting back on a couple of hundred nights that I have spent at sea, brings memories of some of the most amazing experiences I have had.

West of the Galapagos

Seven nights west of the Galapagos, I saw a brilliant green glow on the imperceptible horizon. It appeared to be small and fairly close, but the lack of depth perception was tricking me. Sailing at 6 knots, I was surprised that it took a few minutes to come up on the strange glow. As the boat approached the field of green, it grew larger and extended 100 meters in all directions. Slowing the boat, I cautiously entered this twilight zone, as the hair on the back of my neck stood upright. Was I to be swallowed into the abyss and become a statistic of unexplained losses at sea?

My anxiety quickly turned to delight as I realize there are thousands, no, millions and millions of sea creatures “playing” near the ocean’s surface, emitting the green glow. This was either part of a mating ritual or they had been corralled by larger creatures looking for a huge feast. Only half way through my watch, I had to share the experience with Carol, sleeping below. However, just as quickly as I came upon the phenomena, the green glow fell behind in our wake.

Having a mate to keep watch with you will help you stay alert, and an extra set of eyes on the horizon is always an asset. [2]

Having a mate to keep watch with you will help you stay alert, and an extra set of eyes on the horizon is always an asset.

As it turns out, our vessel emits its own attractive green glow. Our starboard navigation light is very close to the color emitted by the sea creatures, and for the next few nights, we had dozens of small squid that jettisoned themselves up to the navigation light. Their aim was terrible, some trajectories taking them a dozen or so feet in the air, as they made desperate attempts to play with our navigation light. Upon the arrival of daylight, we would spend a half hour or so removing dozens of carcasses from the deck.

Crossing the Atlantic

There was one night while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, that the sky became brilliant as daylight for a few seconds as a large meteor streaked across the sky and ignited as it entered earth’s atmosphere. Then, there are all the other nights, no two being the same. A moonless night with billions of stars randomly scattered across it. Those slivers of silver moons, that over a dozen days build to fiery red balls rising from the horizon. This fiery ball becomes a brilliant white as it levitates overhead, casting your shadow across the cockpit as you read a book by its light. There are also eerie nights of nothing . . . complete darkness, as if your eyes are shut tight. The boat could be meandering in circles, completely unnoticed except for the binnacle compass spinning like an erratic top.

Night sailing is an awe-inspiring experience, but that evil side of darkness does have serpents that love to wreak havoc on your vessel. My documented calculations prove that the odds are pretty good, if something is going to go wrong, it usually happens at night. Squalls, torn sails, chafed lines and broken rudders generally happen in the cloak of darkness.

Sailing at night is a favorite time for me, but I am always relieved as we welcome that brilliant sunrise on the horizon every morning.

Tips for Night Passages

Here are a few notes and tips to help make your night passage serpent free: