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The Joys of Night Sailing

By Barbara Pierce


he ocean is flat calm, like a lake. The carpet of stars and the bright moon are incredible. The dolphins are playing with me,” reads my journal entry. It was one of our first overnighters. Years later, I vividly remember that perfect night; sitting in the cockpit, feeling peacefully alone in the world, quiet except for the sound of the boat cutting through the water, then the snuffling of the dolphins as they joined me. Sailing under the stars is one of life’s greatest experiences. Not often do conditions combine to offer a perfect night like the one I experienced. More often I found that the night was interminably long and full of anxiety when I was a novice; it took experience for me to enjoy night sailing. Now it’s one of my favorite times in our 40-foot ketch, Crossroads. There are several things we’ve learned that are important to remember about night sailing.

that they know how to identify what the lights on other boats mean. If you have radar, you’ll want to make sure it’s working and everyone knows how to use it. Have your passage plan well thought out. We like to have a back-up plan, should the weather change and we want to change our plans and find a place to anchor or make harbor during the night. We want to know all of our options ahead of time. Plans change with the wind; we often end up somewhere other than where we intended. Have charts set up for the stretch of coast you’re traveling. Even if you use a GPS chartplotter, this backup is essential. Some captains list shore lights likely to be seen, so that the person on watch can keep his bearings. A good flashlight for the person on watch is vital. We like the LED kind as we’re not replacing batteries daily. A

Getting Ready If you’re planning a long trip with overnighters, it’s a good idea to do a practice overnighter in your local waters before you take off. If you can, plan your overnighter for a night with a full moon; moonlight will make your travel easier. Of course, the wind and the sea are the more important considerations. To prepare for the dark, the need to keep things put away is never more important. A carelessly flaked line, a loose coffee cup or piece of equipment that could fall onto the gunwales all are potential hazards. Everything that is not essential to the operation of the boat should be stowed. You’ll want to know that all your running lights are working and that all the crew knows how to use them. And


April 2006