The feeling steering a small sailboat, under the stars with the swell rolling past you is hard to capture in words. There is something so magical, and nerve wracking about night sailing. It really has me loving and hating it, sometimes, at the same time.
We left our anchorage at midnight on a new moon, everything was pitch black, only the stars provided a bit of light. The forecast was for a large swell, but it was due to be dropping. Either way a 4m swell was not something to take lightly. The wind was a moderate strength and in our favor (thank goodness).
We decided to stay up the first night together and talk while taking turns steering. We had music playing and the stars were crisp, clear and stunning. The swell was big, but Lady C was doing well gliding over the swell which looked like black moving mountains. As we sailed through the water the boat touched phosphorescence and it looked as though we were sailing through a sea of fairy dust – sparkling and glittering all around the boat. See…there is so much to love.
My absolute favourite time in night sailing is 4-6am sunrise. I took this watch and Base went and got two hours of sleep. Watching first light creep up on the horizon gives me goose bumps every time. First the Ocean get a grey shimmer of colour, then the pinks and oranges of the sunrise creep in. The water starts to take on the hues of the sky from greys to colour.
Little by little the colours in the sky changes and finally, it feels like a curtain is pulled away and you can see each swell line. Birds start to appear and now you see the blue ocean all the way to the horizon. Like I said, it’s the best part of night watch.
Our next day is spent in shifts of two hours, sleeping or steering. We talk, but not much, sleeping time is too valuable. Day sailing is much more relaxing than at night. You can see what you’re doing and can steer to a compass course much easier. Besides lunch, napping and steering the day goes by before you know it. Then we get to our second night out in the middle of the ocean.
I start by pumping myself up. I did the 8-10pm shift first. Pitch black, and a rolly, messy swell had the boat swaying and rolling all over the place. I have the compass and wheel and that becomes my world. I feel safe in the center cockpit, and I am harnessed in with wet weather gear and life jacket on. The wind behind us is nicer than it blowing in our face, but it’s cold and we are exposed and out in the open.
I have music playing during my shifts and put it on shuffle so that as each new song comes on it’s like a little surprise ( sometimes good and sometimes, not so good). I sing at the top of my lungs to keep myself awake…Base knows how bad I sing, so I really have nothing to worry about. Dancing helps too.
Paying attention to our course, and staying awake are the challenges. We have a small chair for steering, but it is off to one side, and since the swell was rolly, I couldn’t sit. I would get thrown away from the wheel, so I stood, it was more conducive to dancing anyways.
Some of the 2 hour watches feel like 6 hours long, others go by in a blink. The best part of the watch is when Base pops his head up and asks how I am going, a little joy builds up because I know I get the next 2 hours to get warm and cosy and sleep in my bunk.As night shift progresses, you wake up after your two hour break. I give myself a pep talk “ You got this Jamie, It will go quickly, think about dancing!” Then you spend 5-10 minutes depending on how much the boat is rocking and rolling to put you wet weather and safety gear back on and get up on deck. We do a quick hand over and then kiss one and other and say good bye for another two hours.
Fear is a funny thing on night shift. Sometimes night watch is petrifying. I started to think on one of my watches about the fact that we are in this tiny boat and the Ocean is so huge and so powerful. There was 100 meters of water beneath me, and I am the only one in charge of steering our floating home. When it gets literal like this, it feeds fear and all of sudden I think what the hell I am doing and sometimes even have a little cry. But you dig deep, pull yourself back from your pity party and change what you are thinking about. Don’t feed the fear.
I let my mind wander and dream of whatever it likes. Sometimes I think about little things like what I wish I could eat right then! Other times it’s the world’s problems that run through my mind, I wonder what the world will be like for my grandkids and why we can’t as generation get on top of the worlds issues.
Sometimes I don’t think at all, I just sail. I let music take over and shut down the thinking part of my brain.
By the time we anchor up after 36 hours of sailing, we are both deliriously tired. We cook up a feed of cheesy pasta comfort food and then sleep. Hand steering multi night passages is tough, but while we are able and adventurous enough ( and until we can save some money to buy an auto pilot) we try to look at the amazing benefits of sailing under the moon and stars each night and diminish the bad parts.