Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Night sailing

People who are not really into sailing sometimes ask questions about storms and pirates, but these things are a rarity. It's like a serious car accident on the highway; you're out there every day, not giving it much thought, and the odds are actually way worse than in sailing.

But what most would find scary, I mean on a regular basis, is probably night sailing. A night watch is a lonely thing. And there is no way around it when sailing short handed.

We always try to get nice crossings with a full moon, but preparations take time, and we often end up with no moon at all, pondering ahead in gale force winds and pitch-black darkness.

Sometimes we get the full moon by pure luck, like the crossing of Lake Michigan, which was the greatest night sailing I've ever had. No worries about whales or half-sunken containers. Just a nice strong breeze pulling the spread out sails, and the full moon straight ahead, giving the waves a hypnotic shine of silver.

It's not easy to capture this on a photograph. A tripod doesn't work well on a rolling boat. I guess the photograph could be taken, somehow, but the real problem is framing the sur- rounding experience of vastness and beauty.

With a clear sky and no moon there's a chance to finally see the stars, without any light pollution from modern civilization. I once had a sudden insight in the Milky Way, how the galaxy tilted and looked dense in the distance, and how everything seemed to spread out as the stars got closer and, visually, further apart. I realized how the Milky Way continued on the other side of the earth, again getting more and more dense in the distance. I really can't explain the overwhelming sensation. Our little boat was suddenly sailing in the Milky Way.

The sun setting and rising is only the beginning and the end, of a long night sailing.