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post #1 of 31 Old 08-14-2013 Thread Starter
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Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

Greetings all,
I am primarily a day sailor on the Chesapeake Bay between Baltimore and Annapolis interested in expanding my horizons a bit.
New GF enjoys sailing at night, finds it very relaxing (for her).
I am very anxious and hyper aware, looking for other boaters etc.
I have a 31 foot boat, chart plotter, AIS receiver but no radar.
Approaching a bridge at night, I could not see the pylons until I got within 100 yards although I knew they were there.
How do you avoid crab pits that you can't see?

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post #2 of 31 Old 08-14-2013
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Re: Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

Hi George,

It may help build your confidence if you pick a clear, moonlit night to begin with. You might be surprised how bright it can be on the water. Take some shorter trips in familiar waters maybe leaving in daylight. I've always enjoyed the night sail to St Michael's Island from Annapolis. Plot your waypoints ahead.
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post #3 of 31 Old 08-14-2013
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Re: Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

Hi George,

First up lets get you out to sea some place where theres no bridges!

If I were you I would go down to Norfolk and head out one afternoon and head straight out till you are clear of all those shoals off Cape Henry. Then set a nice course north, south or east and just go sailing for the whole night.

A bit of moon might be nice for the first time.

The most important thing is that many people, like me, find night sailing exactly the same as day time sailing. Maybe they even prefer it to day time! Theres much less traffic out. And anyone who is out is usually a professional in a ship, tug, fishing boat etc.

What you need to do in your first trips at night is learn to love night sailing To find "the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars".
Night sailing is best without moon imho. Thats when the full night sky comes so close to you. You feel part of the heavens, so close you can put your hand up through the velvet.

When you have all that done and under the belt then you can take to doing channels and bridges that you know intimately in the daytime.

Remember the FEMALES see better at night!! Believe it or not they have better red/green color differentiation at night. So if she can see the bridge it doesnt mean you have to yet. Just slow down and edge a bit closer.

I never sail into an unknown port or bridge etc at night. I will wait offshore till dawn. So when you do night work like discussed only do it in waters very familiar


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post #4 of 31 Old 08-14-2013
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Re: Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

Sailing at night, especially away from light pollution, is wonderful. Sailing at night can also be really difficult because lack of depth perception and misinterpretation of lights can be downright dangerous. You can almost get vertigo on a moonless, foggy night. Near land, knowing exactly where you are at all times is essential. Interpreting lights is much easier if you know where they should be, instead of relying on them to figure out where you are. No way do you want to be wondering which light you're seeing. It's much easier now than in the days of DR to pinpoint exact location. Unless completely familiar with an inlet, confusing background lights and relative locations of rocks, etc. it's better to avoid inlet running at night completely. Even inlets you are familiar with can be confusing.

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post #5 of 31 Old 08-14-2013
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Re: Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

My strategy for avoiding crab pots at night is to not think about them.

Seriously, most of my night sailing is during the Governor's Cup and I'm generally not in water where I'm likely to encounter crab pots, but there is little to nothing I could do to actively avoid them, so there is no use worrying about a potential problem until it becomes a real problem.

Fortunately, I don't have to sail under any bridges during the race and think I'd be sorely tempted to roll up the jib and motor under if I was in cruise mode.

I think being constantly aware is mandatory, but you don't need to be anxious in a bad way. Even on a moonless night you can see well enough to find the ATONS you need to confirm where you are.

During last years Cup which was my first overnight sail with almost no moon, and which was also overcast for the early part of the night we could see well enough to steer around most of the big chop we were sailing into. I was anxious going into that race knowing there would be no moon but I learned even under those conditions you can see pretty well if you let your eyes adjust and don't wreck your night vision with white light. This year was also moonless, but with none of the big chop and it was among the most enjoyable experiences I've had on the bay day or night.

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post #6 of 31 Old 08-14-2013
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Re: Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

That's also where having a handheld spotlight comes in handy. You can aim it at the water in your direction.

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post #7 of 31 Old 08-14-2013
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Re: Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

Originally Posted by gbm4th View Post
How do you avoid crab pots that you can't see?
MY 'Rule of thumb' on the Ches. etc when night sailing: try to stay in water that is deeper than 20 ft., stay away from the 'mouths' of big creeks; stay away from shoals and shallow banks in 'the middle'.

If you sail the Chesapeake, the crab pots are usually in the same cluster of places, year after year after year; ditto with the eel pots in late winter and early spring, just different 'usual' places. Memorize where they are and avoid those places, ... or else.

For 'thick concentrations', I use 'night vision' ... but that soon becomes a PITA, and is used only to enter the creeks that are essentially 'blocked' with pots. Its illegal for 'commercials' to set pots inside the mouths of creeks in MD ... sail there if possible if you have 'the room'. Magothy R. is fairly pot free once you 'get in'.

Use the engine only as absolutely needed ... you have a SAILBOAT. Learn to sail in the 'super-light and flukey'.

Mechanically, make sure that a pot line/warp cannot get caught between the top of the rudder and the hull ... a Stainless 'whisker rod' sticking down from the hull and just in front of the top of the rudder and which blocks the line from 'jamming or pinching' in that area is 'real helpful'. A FOLDING prop is the least likely to snag a line.

If you do snag a warp, immediately try to 'back-down' --- back the sails and sail the boat in reverse as your 'first' attempt at freedom.
Make sure you have onboard a razor sharp 'hooked knife' mounted on a telescoping looooong pole, to cut the line if all else fails. Try to retie the cut line ends if possible.

Lastly, If you have a boat with a wing-keel, stay at the dock.

At night you'll have almost the entire bay all to yourself, less 'stink-pot chop', more stable winds ... even at near "0"kts. On the upper bay if 'ships' disturb you, simply stay out of the channels - The Brewerton and Tolchester channels, etc.; simply stay north or west of these or in the shallow triangle just north of the bay bridges (where the crab pots are). Do talk to the 'commercials' if a problem develops or threatens, as they really arent used to seeing sailboats at night on the Ches. - channel 13, not 16 VHF. If that doesnt work shine a BIG light on your sails, as you scamper out of their way while blowing 5 long (five to ten second) blasts on your LOUD horn.

See ya out there some night.
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post #8 of 31 Old 08-14-2013
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Re: Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

If you do see a pot at the last second and you have to run it over center your helm. It is tempting to put helm hard over in a futile attempt to miss the pot but centered the rudder has less chance of snagging.

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post #9 of 31 Old 08-15-2013
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Re: Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

This was a great question with really helpful answers. I've been wondering the same thing and this really helped!
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post #10 of 31 Old 08-15-2013
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Re: Developing Nighttime Sailing skills

Originally Posted by gbm4th View Post
How do you avoid crab pits that you can't see?
Unfortunately, you can't avoid them. You have received some good advice to stay in the channels in the deeper water, where there should be fewer traps. You may be able to see some on the surface of the water for some last second maneuvering.

There are few, if any, other sailboats out on the Bay at night, but you may encounter some ships. Bridges are challenging. You should see lights marking the bridge channel, usually a green between two reds, sometimes below a red. Stay in the middle of the river or bay where the channel is likely to be. Watch the vehicle lights crossing the bridge to see the highest point. Be prepared to turn as you close on the bridge to enter the right opening.

Night sailing is a beautiful experience. When you feel up to it, try sailing into Solomon's Island at night. It has the best light show by far, with the Patuxent Naval Air Station, the offshore loading dock off Cove Point, the lights of the nearby Eastern Shore, and a plethora of lights of all different kinds.

Last edited by jameswilson29; 08-15-2013 at 08:10 AM.
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