The wonders of night sailing

posted 8 Aug 2015, 12:55 by Dominic Thwaites

There’s something about night sailing which is magical. You see the slow descent of the sun and the 2 hours of twilight fade away starting, in last night’s case, with a rich crunchy, honeycomb orange all along the horizon. Navigation lights on. You then get to see the moon ascend in the sky, slowly losing it’s orange on the horizon turning to bright white. All the while you witness the gradual appearance of the stars until you can see countless millions (especially with the binoculars) with the milky way as the backdrop. As the night progresses you notice how the whole sky has rotated around the North Star. Every so often you catch a glimpse of a shooting star. The odd plane. And, I could swear, the ISS whizzing across like a demented star. Then the first signs of dawn; a slight lightening on the horizon. And you see the whole twilight sequence in reverse ending with the sun bursting out of the horizon and it is suddenly day again. Navigation lights off.

And that’s just the sky.

On planet Earth you see the slow progression of coastline lights hinting of unseen activity on land. You see an ever changing field of navigation lights that you must identify and react to. They may be buoys, lighthouses or they may be other vessels. If they are ships you watch their slow, silent but (hopefully) expected progress across your field of view. “Like ships passing in the night” is an evocative phrase which only really hits home when you are one of those ships.

In your immediate vicinity you hear the constant soothing swish of the boat ploughing through the unseen water. You can’t see where you are going. You just know there’s more water! Look back at the wash coming off your rudders and you see phosphorescence shining brightly. Your instruments are softly lit (to maintain your night vision) giving you a feeling of peace and control. You have a sense of safety as you are cocooned within your little survival box that is your boat in the middle of the ocean that would otherwise be unsurvivable. Of course, if it’s blowing a gale it’s a different story.

The point is, it is a story that you are forced to both witness and participate in, when in other circumstances you would never have the patience. Everything’s in slow motion (except the ISS). You are in slow motion. Hours inevitably tick by, like seconds on a clock.