If adventure is what you’re after, you will love sailing into the sunset and beyond! Imagine – the cool evening breeze filling white sails as the golden hues of sunset are replaced by the darkness of night. The wind whips through your hair, the dark waves lap at the sides of the boat, and the twinkling stars hang steadily above the dancing mast. Your crew has navigated carefully and knows exactly where to go and how to get there, but you cannot actually see your destination until you arrive. Night sailing is simultaneously exhilarating and relaxing; it requires the diligent attention of every crew member and provides an excellent time to share stories and bond with one another.
Many of the summer teen adventure programs offered by Sail Caribbean incorporate at least one night sail – this way our students experience the excitement as well as the necessary preparations in a fun and safe environment. Typically, night sails are scheduled a little later into the program to give the crew a chance to learn the ins and outs of yacht sailing and the teamwork it requires. Once everyone feels comfortable working together to operate the boat in the daylight, the adventures can really begin!
So, what’s so different about sailing at night? Really, the main (and obvious) difference is the inability to see your surroundings clearly – but this is a big difference and requires several additions to our pre-departure preparations and sailing procedures. Prior to night sailing, Sail Caribbean staff lead lessons discussing the equipment and gear needed, personal safety, etiquette for a night sail, how to interpret right-of-way at night, and additional navigation information.
Preparing the Boat:
Every single item on the boat must be completely stowed away so there is zero chance of an accidental tripping hazard. This is an excellent habit to be in for any time you sail, but it becomes especially important for longer sails across potentially rougher water such as the trips our Echo and Delta programs make. All navigation lights are double checked to ensure that everything is in top working condition. The bimini is lowered and jacklines are run along the lengths of the deck so that crew members can remain physically attached to the boat and still move about safely while underway. A “ditch bag” is also put together containing items which would be useful in the event of an emergency that required the crew to “ditch” their boat. [We’ve never needed to use it, but it’s an important step for all sailors to be in the habit of – just in case.]
As always, when on deck every student and staff member wear a personal flotation device (PFD) as well as an additional harness and safety line. The harness and safety line, used for night sails and rough weather, allow the crew to clip themselves to the standing rigging or jacklines creating a physical attachment to the boat. No one at Sail Caribbean has ever had to rely on a harness to stay safe, but we operate with the knowledge that it’s much better to be safe than sorry. Careful navigation is incredibly important, as students who participate in full overnight sails in the Leeward Islands especially know, when you can’t use land as a reference point because it’s either too far away (blue water sailing) or too dark to see how close it is.
Once all the preparations have been made and the fleet is on the correct course, the magic of the night sail really sets in. With the bimini down and the wind in your sails, it’s the perfect time to learn about celestial navigation, constellations, and mythology. It’s also a great time to sing songs and tell stories. Enjoy the peacefulness of the sail, and then get ready for the adventure of anchoring or mooring your boat in the dark for the first time!