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Ajax_MD 08-13-2012 09:06 AM

Chesapeake at night
Any of you locals sail at night? I'm sure PDQ has, so I'll direct the question at the rest of you.

I've logged 4 overnight distance races, but last night was my first singlehand night sail, just plodding home from Annapolis City Dock.

It's amazing, the personality change that the Chesapeake undergoes at night. It was quite different from racing with crew on a Friday night. No other competitors around, no recreational traffic. No one talking, the radio was mostly silent.

I wish I could have kept going.

jsaronson 08-13-2012 09:18 AM

Re: Chesapeake at night
it is different and peaceful, but also more challenging. Running lights are not that visible. Crab pots and debris are invisible. Winds are even more fickle. But on the right night, it is great!

sneuman 08-13-2012 09:51 AM

Re: Chesapeake at night
In some ways, it's easier sailing at night. All the "clutter" is gone. The important thing, in the Chesapeake especially, is knowing your navigation lights. You absolutely must understand what a tug towing (or pushing) a barge looks like. The cruise ships can be difficult because they are lit up like Christmas trees and it's often hard to pick out running lights from that mess of illumination.

nickmerc 08-13-2012 10:55 AM

Re: Chesapeake at night
When I was in Annapolis, I used to sail more at night than during the day. I would get home from work, eat dinner, then head out for several hours. I found it delightful, relaxing, and peaceful. You really need to keep track of where you are. Not only do the nav lights on other boats blend in to the back ground, but navigational aids as well.

Ajax_MD 08-13-2012 11:00 AM

Re: Chesapeake at night
Yes, there's quite a bit of light pollution and clutter. Navigation aids tend to disappear into it when you're driving towards shore.

travlin-easy 08-13-2012 03:55 PM

Re: Chesapeake at night
Over the years I've logged thousands of hours navigating Chesapeake Bay at night. During that time I've experienced many, many things that can be somewhat frightening, the least of which is tangling up a crab pot in the prop. Commercial traffic at night is fairly heavy in the bay's upper reaches, mainly north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridges at Sandy Point. Lots of barges, both towed and pushed, some as far north as Havre de Grace.

If you're out in the bay during the July 4th fireworks displays, you can often watch a half-dozen at the same time, which is really neat. Another form of fireworks that I wasn't prepared for came from Aberdeen Proving Ground when they had a night-firing exercise using tracer ammunition. Kind of scary hearing a massive boom, then watching a brilliant, red meteor soar 15 miles up the bay toward Spetiua Island and explode.

In the middle bay near Solomons one stormy night I encountered a tug towing a barge near the mouth of the Patuxent River. All of the sudden, the tug turned off it's towing lights, made a U-turn right in front of me, and headed back up the bay. The barge, however, was still there - just floating free with one tiny light that you could barely see. It almost appeared to be a kerosene lantern. The was a guy standing next to the lantern holding a flashlight and waving us off. About 10 minutes later, another tug from somewhere down south hooked up a towing cable to the barge, turned on his tow lights, and headed south. I later discovered this is not an uncommon practice.

The closest bad encounter I had was near Tilghman Island at about midnight. My wife and I had been up the Choptank at Oxford, visiting with my cousin, and we all had dinner at an upscale restaurant that had no prices on the menu. (He insisted on buying and I didn't argue the point.) We got underway about 7 p.m.. there was a brilliant full moon and I decided to sail downriver, then head north and spend the night anchored in the lee of Poplar Island. I was nearly 3/4-mile west of Tilghman Island when I turned north, the moon was beginning to set and we were sailing very comfortably at about 6-knots. My wife hates sailing at night, she was petrified. All of the sudden, just 50-feet from the bow, hundreds of pound-net stakes came into view. I swerved to starboard, rounded up and the boat stopped about 6 inches from the stakes. I fired up the engine, turned on the spotlight, eased away from the net and motor-sailed out into the main channel. There were no lights on the net at all.

Unfortunately, there are lots of unmarked pound nets and old pound net stakes throughout the Chesapeake's middle and lower reaches. Additionally, there are some unmarked U.S. Naval Target Ships in locations near Point Lookout, Smith Point and Tangier Island, ships that have been blasted away to where there is nothing visible above the surface, but just a few inches below the surface those rusted, steel beams can easily rip the bottom out of any vessel of any size. One that immediately comes to mind is the San Marcos Wreck, which many years ago was a favored fishing spot for catching big flounder, weakfish and blowfish. There used to be a marker buoy there, but it was removed about 20 years ago.

While I still love sailing at night, I try to avoid it now - too many close calls. I hope to install 3G Broadband Radar in the next few months, which will at least allow me to see the things above the water.


Gary :cool:

4arch 08-13-2012 05:02 PM

Re: Chesapeake at night
On nights when a steady breeze holds up it's nice to be out as the wind seems to take on a smooth laminar flow you don't often find during the heat of the day. The confused and steep chop caused by wakes settles down and things go pleasantly quiet. Out on the water also seems to be the place to see the most amazing sunsets.

I appreciate the tales of near encounters with commercial traffic and unlit fishing gear and obstructions, but I honestly think I'd rather deal with those things anytime than to be in open water with good depth a half mile plus on all sides and still have powerboats blowing by at full speed 50 feet from my bow on weekend afternoons. I was out this weekend on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and had it happen 2 or 3 times. Drives me nuts.

PalmettoSailor 08-13-2012 08:58 PM

Re: Chesapeake at night
My night sailing experience is also pretty limited but one of the areas where I want to continue to develop my knowledge. So far its mostly been racing and "overnight" vs. a night arrival except a few times arriving at our home marina well after dark.

I haven't yet been in the situation of needing to navigate a less familar creek entrance or anchorage so haven't had to deal with nav lights blending with shore lights and the like. I also have the advantage of having sailed out of the southern bay for several years and now mid bay for a few years so I generally have some knowledge of the western shore from Annapoils down to Mobjack Bay which adds some comfort when sailing at night, at least when I know we'll be underway until daylight. Entering an anchorage and setting the hook in the dark does hold quite a bit of trepidation for me at this point.

Flybyknight 08-13-2012 09:33 PM

Re: Chesapeake at night

norsearayder 08-14-2012 07:40 AM

Re: Chesapeake at night
sailing offshore at nite is awesome,everything is muted,just you and the moon,i usually choose to stay offshore until dawn if iam fetching an unfamiliar harbor.with that in mind some of the inlets can get hairy at nite with the wrong tide current and wind.also at nite my debth perception and general vision go down hill

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