19 June 2017

Sailing In The Dark | Bright Lights & Stormy Weather

Those of you who have followed our blog for a while will know I'm a bit of a scaredy-cat. Alligators, sharks, being abducted by aliens, running out of chocolate chip cookies and sailing in the dark all freak me out.

Unfortunately, when you live on a sailboat and you want to get from the Bahamas to Florida or vice versa, inevitably you're going to have to do some night sailing.

You'd think I'd be used to this whole sailing in the dark thing by now. I did a bit when we cruised in New Zealand, I've crossed the Gulf Stream five times now and we've done some night passages in the Bahamas. But each and every time the sun starts to set, I start to get a wee bit worried.

Will a freighter run into us? Will a whale come up alongside our boat and capsize us? Will we run out of cookies before the sun comes up?

When we crossed back to Florida from the Bahamas to sort out our whole dinghy davit saga, things started out okay. The sun was shining, there weren't too many freighters in our path and I had enough snacks to keep going.

I bet you're thinking, this all sounds too good to be true. Hopefully, something exciting happened or this is going to be a very boring blog post to read.

Well, you're in luck. We did have a bit of excitement in the form of stormy weather and bright lights.

First, the weather gods had some fun with us. We started to hear all sorts of warnings about severe storms over our VHF when we were about 28 miles away from Lake Worth (our entry point into Florida).

We really didn't need to hear the warnings because we could see dark skies and a huge bank of lightening crackling across the water. It seriously was huge - a giant horizontal swath of lightening across the horizon.

Did I mention that lightening freaks me out? Especially when I'm on a boat with a giant metal rod sticking out of it. Sailors call it a mast, but we all know what it really is - a lightening attraction device.

We had to divert south to avoid the storm, adding hours to our passage. Good times.

Then the sun went down. Scott told me to go down into the aft cabin and try to take a nap. It's possible he was tired of me hanging out in the cockpit complaining about the lack of cookies on board. Regardless, if someone offers to keep watch while I take a nap, I'm going to say yes.

I settled in down below and had just closed my eyes, when a bright white light shone through the portlights.

This was a seriously bright light. Not moonlight or starlight or the lights from a passing boat. No, this was the kind of light that alien spaceships shine down on you right before they abduct you.

You'd be proud of me. I didn't scream. At least not out loud.

I ran up into the cockpit. After all, if they had abducted Scott, someone had to steer the boat.

Turns out it wasn't aliens. It was the Coast Guard. They sneaked up behind us without any running lights and then turned their giant spotlight on us.

Scott figured it was the Coast Guard. For some reason, he doesn't share my fear of alien abduction. I guess it's true, opposites do attract.

They told us to maintain our current course and speed and asked us the usual questions you'd expect - how many people on board (two), are you US citizens (yes), do you have any weapons on board (no), where are you going (Lake Worth), do you have any cookies (no), what was your last port of call (Mangrove Cay), are you going to clear in with Customs & Border Protection when you get to Lake Worth (yep) etc.

After following us for a while, checking out our details and shining their bright light on us a few more times, they slipped away into the night.

Eventually, we made it to Lake Worth after a very long passage and I added 7.5 hour of night sailing to my log book.
Cruising Log | Saturday, 29 April 2017 – Wednesday, 3 May 2017
Woke up to find four charter cats hovering nearby. Think we anchored in their usual spot where they take the punters. Anchor up 9:00 AM. Anchor down at 2:00 PM at Allans-Pensacola Cay. Anchorage bigger than I remembered. Nautical miles = 26. Engine = 45 mins. Spending = Nil.

Our dinghy, Boo Boo, kept crashing into our boat all night long. Very annoying of her. Anchor up at 9:00 AM. Anchor down at 3:00 PM at Great Sale Cay. Nautical miles = 35. Engine = 1 hour. Spending = Nil.

Anchor up at 8:00 AM. Anchor down at 12:00 PM at Mangrove Cay. Put Boo Boo up on deck for the Gulf Stream Crossing. She’s a heavy girl and a real pain to maneuver into place, but we got her there in the end. Sure makes you appreciate having functional dinghy davits. Nautical miles = 22. Engine = 1 hour. Spending = Nil.

2-3 MAY
Anchor up at 8:30 AM. Very lumpy once we got past Memory Rock, but settled down later. Saw a few freighters during the day. About 28 nautical miles from Lake Worth started seen dark clouds to north and west. Storm warnings for hail, tornados, gusts up to 70 MPH onshore. Continued on course for a while, then saw a bank of extensive lightening stretching out over the water. Diverted south and then gradually back west once saw storm breaking up. Lots of freighters at night. Some seemed to come very close to us. Coast Guard encounter about 7 nautical miles from Lake Worth. Anchor down in Lake Worth at 3:15 AM. Cracked open a couple of beers (yes, beer at 3:15 AM), called Customs & Border Protection to clear in and then off to sleep. Moved over to North Lake Work later that afternoon. Ordered new dinghy davit from Kato Marine and arranged for slip at Indiantown Marina. Nautical miles = 90. Engine = 11 hours. Spending = Nil. Crossing time = 18 hours 45 mins. Night sailing = 7.5 hours.

Have you ever been stopped by the Coast Guard or other law enforcement officer? What was your experience like? Have you ever been abducted by aliens? What was that like?

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  1. I'm not crazy about storms when I'm tucked safely inside my house - I can't even imagine being out in a boat on the open water. Yikes!

    1. It can be a little unnerving, especially when you're not sure what direction they're going to be heading and if you can escape them.

  2. This blog post takes me back to the day we were sailing up the Strait of Juan de Fuca and a lightening storm moved in -- it was crazy scary for all of the reasons you mentioned. But at least we had a few things in our favour: It happened during the day. We were in Canada (so no fear of alien abduction or USCG boarding). And we had plenty of cookies aboard.

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

  3. That would have been exciting, but we've been boarded by law enforcement so we know that feeling. When we came out of a weekend cruise we were boarded by the Stockton Sheriff's Department that were doing high profile stops looking for drunk drivers. They were very disappointed in us because we hadn't had a drop. They did their usual boat inspection and then went about their business. Both of us were retired cops, but still it is a bit frightening being pulled over in the water.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

    1. Really interesting to hear that even as a retired cop, it was still unnerving to be pulled over.

  4. Abducted by Aliens, for sure, but of course they erased my memory after they conducted their experiements, so I can't remember a thing. Pity, it would have made a great blog post...
    And it's interesting, I've been assuming we'd be boarded at least once by the coast guard, but in 9 years of sailing plus 8 1/2 months living aboard and cruising, it hasn't happened. But it'll come!

    1. I thought I saw you in the spaceship when they took me :-)

  5. We were motor sailing in fog in the strait of Juan de Fuca aboard our Cal34 in 2010 when suddenly, as if beamed in by an alien ship, a very expensive military looking craft appeared on our starboard quarter and hailed us. They were Homeland Security but maybe that's Coast Guard. I can't remember because I'm pretty sure they probed me and my memory is gone. But they were nice young men who sat in our cockpit after asking us all the questions. It was spooky because of the fog and because they were completely silent. How do they do that?

    1. The silent, no lights thing is very spooky. They just came out of nowhere.

  6. At least you are outside of the Bermuda Triangle now :)

    Mark and Cindy
    sv Cream Puff

    1. The Bermuda Triangle is definitely a place to be cautious around.

  7. Great story. I completely was engaged the moment you mentioned cookies. So did you ever buy more or do I need to ship some down to you? This reader needs to know. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  8. We've been approached by the Coast Guard in the night offshore of Florida too - it's really creepy how you don't see them until suddenly a bright light is in your face! I'd rather have a storm at sea than at anchor in the Abacos - at least you don't have to worry about poor holding, dragging into rocks or other boats.

  9. I know I'll be a bundle of nerves when we have our first (2nd, 3rd, etc) night sail! How sneaky of the Coast Guard .. glad it wasn't aliens trying to abduct ya'll!

  10. Maybe the aliens disguised themselves as the Coast Guard. They are a sneaky bunch, aliens.

  11. I have to applaud the Coast Guard for doing their job. And for being so sneaky. ;)

  12. That was freaky enough, but then you added the lack of cookies. Talk about a nightmare situation!


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