Night Sailing

Tuesday Afternoon, July 13, 2021
Latitude 54o 04’ N
Longitude 13o 20’ W

As implied in Sunday’s blog, sailing during the day, by the light of the moon, or even by the light of the stars on a clear night is typically preferred to sailing in total darkness. One of the reasons for departing Maine on the Summer Solstice was so the trip would start with the benefit of nearly sixteen hours of daylight, supplemented by the light of the full moon that would follow 3 days later. However, even though I generally plan and prefer to sail when there is light, nighttime has provided some of the most memorable and inspirational experiences over the years.

With that in mind, I looked forward to clear night skies during our crossing, but as fate, or the normal weather patterns, would have it, we have rarely seen the moon or the stars. Based on our experience, the North Atlantic is an overcast ocean. I had expected to be awed by brilliant displays of constellations but that has not happened. There have been some exceptions, like Jupiter reflecting off the water early one morning through a temporary parting of the clouds or looking up through a small clear patch above the mast just in time to see a shooting star streak overhead. But, on average, Rockport harbor is a much better place for star gazing.

What has been as fascinating and rewarding as seeing constellations has been watching the phosphorescence of the surrounding sea on the nights when the moon was no longer shinning down through the overcast and before we had come so far north that the skies hold a perpetual twilight. Even without the moon, the skies were not completely dark so you could still make out a horizon, and the sea was not completely black, but rather a dark charcoal color.

When the seas were relatively calm, the surrounding water exhibited flashes of lights, like a field full of lightning bugs, but these flashes were much stronger than the glow of a lightning bug. They resembled an electrical discharge close below the water’s surface, creating plate-sized flashes stretching out across the water on both sides of the boat.
If the conditions were rough, there would be short lived horizontal flashes off to port and starboard, running along the tops of the waves as they crested.

And with any speed, the boat itself sails through a turmoil of glowing foam excited by the bow wake. Sometimes there would be bright individual sparkles the size of pearls swept up and moving with the foam. And from the stern of the boat, we trailed a thick, glowing, animated tail, swishing back and forth like a playful cat.

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