Night Sailing

I wanted to write about stars. About how many there were. About how the Milky Way parted the sky in a bright, infinite band. About how you couldn’t look up or out without seeing a shooting star, some leaving tracks that lasted for seconds as the falling rock burned through the atmosphere. I wanted to write about how the almost-full moon shone on the sea, illuminating the waves and the ripples and the white bellies of the dolphins that did back-flops by our boat. I wanted to write about the peacefulness and the chance to be alone with my thoughts, or just be alone.

But that wasn’t night sailing. That was night motoring. Night motoring in two knots of wind while our quiet engine pushed us through smooth, glassy water. Night motoring when we could gaze on the expansive, dark, twinkling sky and the expansive, dark, twinkling Baja coast.

Night sailing meant there was wind. And wind meant there were waves. And the change in weather meant there were clouds obscuring the stars and full moon. So night sailing was not about stars. Night sailing was about sailing deep and keeping the keeping the wind on our quarter without gybing. About steering a course with not a star or landmark to steer by except the red numbers on our instruments. Night sailing was about paying attention to the wind shifts and the wave shifts. About getting used to the inconsistent and bi-directional swell. About bracing ourselves mentally for a 50 hour passage under sail. About studying the radar, then the chart plotter, then the blank horizon… and repeating.

There was still plenty of time to think. To think how tired I was even before we had started our second night of sailing. To think how far we were from land. To do the math on how many hours we still had to go. To think back to the question a former colleague asked me: “I hear you’re going to sail away… WHY?” Why, indeed. Why do people do this? Why are we torturing ourselves and making ourselves sick (yes, I finally got proper seasick)?

The answer was not long in coming to me. Because we get to see the night sky in all its brilliance. Because we get to gaze upon dolphins who glow in the moonlight as they leap in our bow wave. Because waiting for that first glimmer of light in the sky after you’ve been staring at dark water for hours and then watching the sky turn pink, yellow, and blue as the sun comes up through the clouds and over the barren mountains is worth the bumpiness and the fatigue and the tired, blurry eyes.

I overheard a conversation between two nearby sailboats who were only a few miles away. One was a single-hander, and the other boat captain asked him how he was doing so far. I had expected an answer along the lines of “I’m tired, but fine,” but instead he said: “I haven’t had any wind since Morro Bay. I’m loving this!” Pure joy. And so I let myself find some joy in the dark, rolly sailing. Granted, it was easier when the wind was 14 knots rather than 22, but I looked for the joy and the peace. And while I may never develop the pure love of sailing that that lone single-hander so clearly has, I do have a love of traveling and exploring. And if sailing is the means, then night sailing is part and parcel of the deal. Even if (especially if) night sailing comes with a whole range of discomforts and difficulties, I might as well find the joy, the beauty, and the exhilaration that comes along with it!

[Informational addendum: Our first overnight was from Ensenada to Isla San Martin, and our second was a 40-hour, two night passage from there to Turtle Bay. Both passages gave us little wind and glassy water. The wind for our passage from Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria gave us fairly steady winds of 17 to 20 knots, with some periods of more and some of less. We sailed with a reefed mizzen and full genoa, which kept us pretty well balanced and ensured that we weren’t overpowered. When the wind dropped below 7 knots apparent (about 12 knots true), we couldn’t keep the genoa full in the big swell, so we would roll in the genoa and motor until the wind picked up. We sailed about 85% of the trip and motored about 15%.

For the six overnights we spent underway going down the Baja coast, we generally split the night by having Tom do the early watch until about 10:30, Sara do the middle of the night watch from about 10:30 to 2:30 or 3:00 am, and I took over from about 2:30 until 7 or 8 am. However, Tom made himself available at any time we needed him and was always there during our shift change in the middle of night. So, all six nights the three of us would sit out there for 10 or 20 minutes talking together in the cockpit while I drank my coffee and Sara and Tom readied themselves for some rest. Somehow those midnight conversations reminded me of college, and I was 20 again.

The kids did better than expected on these long passages, mostly entertaining themselves with coloring, legos, tablets, TV, and lots of snacks, though they showed signs of boredom and fatigue, too. And though we did give them both some seasickness medicine on the rough passage out of Turtle Bay, they may or may not have needed it. The hardest thing was that they still needed fairly constant attention, which made napping and resting hard for us. It basically meant that one person was sailing, one person was napping or resting, and one person was tending the kids. This voyage would have been much harder without Sara along, and we’re so glad that she’s here to help us with this really difficult stretch!

After reaching the tip of Baja, rounding the Cape, and spending one extremely rolly night at anchor in Cabo San Lucas, we’re now in San Jose del Cabo in the dry, not-rocking beds of my friend Tracy’s parents’ condo. What an absolute gift! Thank you, Bonnie and Doug!]

6 thoughts on “Night Sailing”

  1. So jealous! I can’t believe you’ve been living on Korvessa and cruising the coast for two full months now. It seems like only yesterday we were still bolting things together.

    1. Three months now, Ian! I know, it’s amazing how much time has passed since those crazy days of getting the boat ready for the coast. Time is flying.

  2. night sailing reminds Ben and Me of sailing with your Uncle Mike (motoring not sailing because our ditzy captain dropped the one metal piece over the side we needed to sail so we motored from Maine to New York Harbor in a gale (ran out of fuel andhad to call theCoast guard for more fuel) and I have this picture of your Uncle at the tiller, totally soaked, looking like the ancient mariner and i have to have it in my mind as it was tooo stormy to pull out a camera. sooo glad you had Sara and each other
    you write so beautifully Sandi.

    1. Thanks, Charlie! I can totally picture that image of my Uncle Mike standing at the tiller, soaked through with rain. A physical picture would be nice, but sometimes there are those moments when you just have to tuck away the image in your brain, making sure you can pull it back up later. We’ve certainly have had lots of those! That sounds like a rough trip down to New York. A long one, too, even without the gale and running out of fuel! What an adventure. Glad you all came through it okay.

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