Night Sailing


On a hot summer day in 2007 around six o’clock in the evening, a full moon began rising above the Ventura coastline, and some friends and I got the idea that it would awesome to sail to Santa Cruz Island at night. We called our parents, grabbed sleeping bags, and in a few short hours, we were leaving the Santa Barbara Harbor under sail as the sun set.  For me, the memories of laying awake in the back cockpit, warm breeze on my skin, listening to the water, with friends barely visible in the faint glow of the instruments and the soft moonlight, is one of my best memories of high school. Last week, I struck out again under a full moon, this time sailing the Olympic class 49er with Dane.

Sailing at night is a crazy experience.  With less ability to see the boat, you rely more on movement and sounds to tell you how the boat is moving, and everything seems to happen at an accelerated rate.  The vast expanse of water makes it extremely difficult to judge distances, and it’s easy to lose track of where you are relative to the shore.  To keep the boat balanced, instincts must rely on feel rather than visual stimuli, so the experience is very introspective and zen-like.

On our way out to the ocean, we towed a wetsuit clad, John Kelsey behind the boat while he snapped away on his camera.  As the sun went down, he recorded video, and snapped photos until we started losing his black hooded head amidst the dark water.  As the last bit of light slipped away behind the Mesa, John hopped into the coach boat with the rest of the support team, just in time to catch a glimpse of a whale spout in the distance.  We chased the whale up the coast for about 15 minutes, before heading back in the direction of the harbor.  On our way, we were escorted by a group of dolphins, who darted back and forth beneath our boat, putting on a show in the dusk lighting.

Just after sunset, an orange glow began to emerge on the horizon, as a massive moon poked up over the hills.  At first, it didn’t cast much light on our boat, but it didn’t take long before our lines and sails were lit up, and our shadows fell over the sails.

Half way through the night, we noticed a set of running lights heading straight for us.  After a minute, the craft that they were attached to began to materialize out of the night, and we realized that the Coast Guard were closing in at high speed.  As they got nearer, red and blue lights came on signaling us to stop, and they pulled up next to the coach boat.  Of the rules we were probably breaking – having no running lights, too few life jackets, no CF numbers, no registration present, and probably a dozen other things – we were surprised when they told us that they saw our super powerful, Light In Motion, Gobe lights, and thought that we were shooting off distress flares!  They were relieved to find out that we weren’t sinking, and asked how much longer we would be on the water for before heading back to the harbor.  The Coast Guard get thumbs up from us! After another hour or so on the water, doing some drills, playing with our lights, and snapping some more awesome photos, we packed it up and headed for home.

Thanks John for the incredible shots. (JohnKelseyPhotography.com)

Author: A Salty Brother

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