21 April 2014

Sailing In The Dark & Eating Lots Of Cookies

Sunrise as we make our way out of Whangaroa Harbour to head down south.
Saturday & Sunday, 8-9 March 2014
While Scott has done a number of overnight passages cruising and racing in Europe, my experience with sailing in the dark has been zilch until this summer. Since then we've had a few early morning departures and a few late night anchorings so I've logged a few hours of night sailing under my belt now, but as Scott kept pointing out what I experienced was nothing like sailing throughout the entire night. He absolutely loves it - especially seeing the stars, the solitude and occasionally phosphorescence glowing alongside the boat. He is nothing if not a consummate salesman and brainwasher - how else would have he gotten me to get rid of almost all of my stuff and move onto a 26' sailboat? So when he suggested we sail through the night on our way back down from Whangaroa, somehow I found myself saying yes. 

We hadn't originally planned to do a night sail. We had wanted to anchor in Tutukaka for the night. It is supposed to be a really neat anchorage, plus it is just fun to say Tutukaka, so I was looking forward to seeing it. We got an early start, leaving Whangaroa at 7:00 am as the sun was coming up, but we didn't make it past Cape Brett until 3:30 pm so there was no way we would be able to get into Tutukaka before sunset. At at this time of year, the sun was setting earlier and earlier which was really cutting down on our daylight sailing hours. Scott cleverly said, "You don't really want to try to anchor in Tutukaka during the dark do you? Look the book says that it has a narrow entrance with rocks on either side. It might be dangerous. Why don't we just carry on sailing to Kawau Island?" It was genius on his part using words like "danger", "rocks" and "narrow entrance" because suddenly sailing in the dark to Kawau seemed like a really sensible option. So we did.

The sky was really dark when the sun set, with only a third of the moon shining and lots of clouds obscuring it most of the time. It was pretty spooky. And a bit scary (well for me, not Scott). But if you have a PFD, a tether, a headlamp, a chartplotter and cookies, you feel somewhat prepared even if you can barely see anything. At first it was just us out there, so there was nothing to see. No lights is generally a good thing. Well, that is except for those things that can hit your boat which don't have lights, like whales and shipping containers. But I made a conscious effort not to think about those things. I've got this great technique - every time I think of something scary, I eat a cookie. Completely distracts me from what I was originally thinking of. Of course, if we do many more of these night passages, I'm probably going to get really fat.

We decided to do two hour shifts. We don't have any fancy stuff on our boat, so you have to hand steer the boat during the entire shift. Doing much more than two hours without a break at night was probably going to be enough for me. Two hour shifts obviously wouldn't work for a longer passage with just the two of us, but for this passage it seemed sensible. Plus, let's be honest, with a total newbie like me at the tiller, in the dark, constantly eating cookies to avoid thinking about whales and containers, it wasn't like Scott was really going to get any sleep anyway during the night. 

Bless him, he tried to sleep. But not to worry, I woke him up when I saw some lights coming towards us. When I first saw them, I went through my mental checklist. Whales and containers don't have lights so that wasn't it. After eating a cookie, I thought about what navigation lights on other sailboats and launches look like - red and green like a Christmas tree. These lights didn't look anything like that. They were white. I ate another cookie. Then I started counting the number of lights but I lost track. They kept getting closer and I realized it was a really big boat. I ate another cookie. Then I remembered that there are these types of boats that containers fall off called freighters. So I ate another cookie. And then I woke Scott up to come have a look. He came up top, looked around and said, "Looks like we're at Marsden Point. See all those freighters?" He seemed pretty blase about it so I had another cookie and carried on. Fortunately, my shift ended soon after that and I scurried down below clutching the bag of cookies.

It was good timing for our change of shifts because I really don't think I would have been that calm sailing through the shipping traffic going in and out of the port. Scott was fine with it and didn't seem to require any cookies. Which was good, because we were quickly running out of them. By the time Scott called me up for my next shift, we had made it through the port and were back sailing in the dark. We did a little handover, I tethered myself in and Scott went back down below to try to sleep. 

During this shift there was a whole new set of lights to worry about - the kind that tell you you're going to run into reefs and islands and those types of things. Fortunately, I had studied the paper charts and was starting to feel a bit more comfortable using our chart plotter so I managed to make it through this shift without waking Scott up. I thought about it, believe me, I thought about it. But I didn't because I thought he might ask me where the cookies were and they were all gone by this point. So I carried on. I did have a little moment where I really freaked out when Sail Rock in the Hen and Chickens Islands seemed to pop out of nowhere. And even though the chartplotter and common sense said I could sail quite close to it, I made a big detour around it. I probably added 30 minutes onto our sail, but I figured my sanity and Scott getting some shuteye were worth the extra time. When Scott came up for his shift and looked at my track on the chartplotter, he did roll his eyes a bit, but I think he knew better than to say anything.

Finally, the sun started to come up and I realized that I had made it through my first overnight passage without hitting anything. I did have a tummy ache from all of those cookies, but it seemed like a small price to pay. We had the anchor down in Two House Bay in Kawau at 1:45 pm and celebrated with some pretzels and coke. Because of course, what you need after a night of eating cookies, is some more sugar in the form of soda pop.

The sun comes up for the second time on this passage. Seeing Great Barrier Island off to port was reassuring - it meant we were going in the right direction.

And finally at anchor at Two House Bay, Kawau Island with the sun fully overhead. No whales, containers or freighters to worry about.


Total nautical miles = 119
Overall number of hours = 30 hours 45 minutes
Number of hours night sailing = 11
Number of times I woke Scott up = 1
Number of cookies I ate = enough to get a tummy ache

Sourced from LINZ. Crown Copyright reserved
Sourced from LINZ. Crown Copyright reserved.
Sourced from LINZ. Crown Copyright reserved.


  1. You are braver than I am. I could have handled the cookies, but sailing in the dark...not so much. I'm glad you have that under your belt.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

    1. I'm afraid my bravery only lasts as long as my cookie supply does! I'm glad to have ticked it off the list thought - hopefully, next time will be easier.

  2. Neither one of us have sailed at night yet. We're both excited and anxious ... we're gonna need a LOT of cookies!

    1. If you run out of cookies, I hear that chocolate bars work just as well too!

  3. I couldn't help but smile (and crave a cookie) as I read your post! Congratulations on two milestones: (1) successfully completing your first overnight passage, and (2) making yourself a legitimate contender for the next cookie-eating contest you run across at a county fair, carnival, or circus :) ~Jessie, s/v The Red Thread

    1. Entering cookie eating contests - what a great idea! Imagine all the trophies I can win and use to decorate the boat with!

    2. I swear, it's a small world out there! D and I met Jessie and her husband on their honeymoon last year on the West Coast of Vanvouver Island! Great post, Ellen! I really like to say Tutukaka as well, but my favourite is Whakatane! Hee hee. And, of course, who doesn't like cookies during a night watch!

    3. Wow - what a small world indeed! Oh yes, Whakatane is fun to say too! I thought people were pulling my leg at first when they told me how it was pronounced!


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