Registered users don't see ads

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight

Discussion in 'Ask All Sailors' started by Phil Herring, Mar 11, 2019. Add this thread to a FAQ

  1. Phil Herring

    Phil Herring Dethroned Admin

    Joined Mar 25, 1997
    4,416 posts, 338 likes
    US Bainbridge Island
    Have you made an overnight passage?

    Maybe it was offshore sailing or a passage on the Great Lakes, but it could be as simple as getting to the other end of your lake after dark.

    How did you handle navigation, watches, and other marine traffic?

    Share the tricks you use after dark.


  2. kappykaplan


    Joined May 1, 2011
    926 posts, 173 likes
    Pearson 37
    US Lusby MD
    Many times, but not recently. Sailmaster in Annapolis introduced me to a watch routine that ensures a full night in the sack every other night. Port and Starboard watches. 0600-1200, 1200-1800, 1800-2300, 2300-0600. On watch cooked the meals, on-coming cleaned the dishes.

  3. Kings Gambit

    Kings Gambit

    Joined Jul 27, 2011
    3,000 posts, 679 likes
    Bavaria 38E
    US Alamitos Bay
    My most recent was an over nighter from Ventura to San Diego, about 130 n.mi., on a Memorial Day weekend. Departed around noon Ventura; arrived Harbor Island, San Diego around 1030 next day. Motored or motor-sailed more than half the distance, but at least not all of it. Three crew aboard, including me. I did not organize us into strict watches, being only the one night. I think I took a “nap” between 0200 and 0600, relieved by one of the crew who had slept between 2200 and 0200, etc. One thing that happens during overnight races (one night) as well as on this trip is that the crew doesn’t fall easily into a “watch schedule.” There has always been some evident “discomfort” with respect to seasickness among some crew that affects a watch schedule, etc. Prepared food is usually ignored or merely picked at. Crew would rather nap in the cockpit than go below, etc.

    Navigation was by Garmin GPS handheld chartplotter & paper chart. But, I know the area well, as did the others. It was a night threatening rain along the way, low clouds in places, with uncomfortable chop and swell from the west and south. I stood that watch between sunset through our clearing past Santa Catalina Island and away from most traffic. I used me 7x50 Fujinon and me VHF to spot traffic and to hail, respectively, as needed. We did see the lights of a tug towing a barge that was going to cross ahead, approaching from stb. I hailed the guy. He told us he was altering course to avoid us, and passed maybe a kilometer off our starboard side. That was OK with me!

    It was not really a fun “passage.” But, we did get about three weeks with the boat in San Diego, which WAS fun!

    BTW. I don’t think I’d do this again without some refresher activity on working the boat at night. The instruments were too bright in the cockpit. I was out of practice using the dim adjustment; ended up turning off the depth meter which would not come back on for some reason. Could’t read anything in dim light w/o eyeglasses, etc., so I had to keep those with me all the time, etc. A few other things. Prior to that trip it had been several years since I had overnighted the boat. Ah, the creeping decrepity. :evil:

    Last edited: Mar 11, 2019
    michael44a likes this.
  4. smokey73


    Joined Oct 26, 2010
    707 posts, 162 likes
    Hunter 40.5
    US Beaufort, SC
    The last time we used a modified 4 on 4 off schedule. We had 4 people, two on at a time, motor sailing most of the way offshore from Brunswick GA to Morehead City, NC. When I say modified, I mean that if the 2400 to 0400 watch felt like it we (meaning me and my watch partner) would let the 0400 to 0800 watch sleep a little longer. I'm not sure this would work for a much longer trip through. I seem to enjoy the midwatch from old Navy days and tend to like to see the sun come up so if I'm alert I'll stretch out that watch. Some hot coffee and a cigar in the cockpit reminds me of midwatch on the Submarine (no sunrise of course) - my favorite time. Of course you can't smoke on a Sub anymore, probably for the better.

    Roadking Larry likes this.
  5. PJL


    Joined Apr 22, 2014
    11 posts, 1 likes
    Hunter Passage 42
    US Austin, Texas
    Made several multi-night passages on the way from San Diego to La Paz Mexico and others going from La Paz to the Puerto Vallarta area. Some single night trips as well. Only 2 people aboard during any of these. The schedule during the first part of the very first night was to change off every three hours. Given that neither of us was falling asleep while on watch we modified the schedule... As long as the person on watch was comfortable and awake, let the other person sleep; otherwise wake the other person. Also, wake the other if both were required for some task. Part of the time we would both be awake and that provided the time for visiting.

  6. NotCook


    Joined Dec 29, 2008
    649 posts, 170 likes
    Treworgy 65' Custom Steel Pilothouse Staysail Ketch
    US St. Croix, Virgin Islands
    We did a 12 day passage from Portsmouth, VA to the Virgin Islands a few years ago.

    More recently, we did an overnight passage from St. Croix to St. John. The hardest part of that one was slowing g down enough to arrive in the Pillsbury Sound after sunrise!

    On the 12 day passage we had 3 crew total. We scheduled 2 hour watches, with the next two hours following your watch as a “Watch Assistant”. You Had to be in the cockpit available to the Watch Captain to run errands, fetch coffee, make adjustments, etc. otherwise, you could nap until needed. After your “assistant” shift, you were off watch. Most of the time you just slept.

    We used Garmin chart plotter, which worked flawlessly. We had AIS, which we found useful for contacting crossing commercial vessels to coordinate who would fall off. Fortunately, our 30 year old Wagner 50 autopilot worked flawlessly for the entire trip - something it has never done before or since.

    We started with the Caribbean 1500 rally, which I highly recommend. However, before we made it out of the Chesapeake, our steering went out! It turned out to be a set screw holding a key in a gear on a shaft. We found and corrected the problem, but lost about 4 hours on the fleet.

    We maintained communications with the other vessels by scheduled SSB check-ins.

    I will tell you this - we had absolutely miserable weather. I don’t think you get used to waves breaking against the glass of the pilothouse, or washing a foot deep over the upper deck.The pilothouse windows and portholes are armored glass, but it still makes me nervous.

    I’ll say one more thing about an extended offshore passage. There is no comparison between the stress of being a crew member and being the one ultimately responsible for the lives and safety of the good ship and crew in foul weather. None.

    The overnight to St. John was pleasant under a full Caribbean moon. I would do that again in a heartbeat.

    Gunni likes this.
  7. Rick D

    Rick D

    Joined Jun 14, 2008
    6,678 posts, 208 likes
    Hunter Legend 40.5
    US Long Beach, Shoreline Marina, CA
    I do three on, three off. What I settled into is a crew of five. I'm the fifth and float, splitting the other two shifts. I did four hour shifts, but it didn't work out well for the crew; nothing specific, just comfort level. Also did variations with six crew, but it was more crowded than effective. The first night typically is an adjustment night. Thereafter, it becomes more routine. Longest was about nine days.

  8. Hayden Watson

    Hayden Watson

    Joined Apr 5, 2009
    661 posts, 159 likes
    Catalina '88 C30 tr/bs
    US Oak Harbor, WA
    I do one or two distance races a year that involve at least one full night. one of these races is a double handed 100 mile race that begins at 19:50 with a 40 hour limit which often means I have two full nights. I try to do most of the night work and sleep as much as possible in the daytime because I can feel the trim of my boat better than anyone else. For navigation I have chart plotter and cell phone based AIS.

  9. TomY

    TomY Alden Forum Moderator

    Joined Jun 22, 2004
    1,628 posts, 1,497 likes
    Alden 38' Challenger yawl
    US Rockport Harbor
    Our best trick for an overnight is to reset our speed reference. As a young family, nearly all our early overnights were spent under power. I think we fell into that trap from our 'cruising days' traveling up and down the East Coast. Our early overnight passages were set at a speed average of 4-5 knots (then 28' boat) of boat speed.

    Simply that meant; unless the wind was going the right way to send us at 'that' speed, we'd drop sails and power.

    Most coastal cruisers I've met often mention a boat speed, usually above 4 knts., at which point they douse sails and run their engine. Wind goes light, you get a nagging feeling as speed drops, you see your ETA, growing,...

    So start from the beginning: To adjust your speed reference set a new time expectation. If it takes 24 hours at 5 knots to make your overnight, allow 36 hours, maybe more. Without the speed schedule stress, raise sails even in light air, even if it means bearing off wide of your rhumb line, and sail a chunk of miles toward your destination.

    This doesn't guarantee an overnight passage under sail(you know that!), but your odds of miles covered under sail will go up, and that alone makes for a much more pleasant overnight passage in our experience.

    I wrote a short piece on one of our best overnights below:

    Sunset on the Gulf of Maine.jpg

  10. capta


    Joined Jun 4, 2009
    2,941 posts, 1,024 likes
    Pearson 530
    na Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
    No matter how dark it is at night, you can see under an oncoming squall, and if so the wind on the leading edge will be moderate. If it is black all the way to the horizon, I'll usually drop all the gear and wait out the leading edge, in which I have experienced upwards of 70 knots several times.
    As we usually sail short-handed, I'll shorten sail at dusk and add more at dawn if warranted.
    I don't really understand why so many people have a problem with sailing after dark, especially coastal or offshore. With a good set of (now, LED) spreader lights our decks are bright as day no matter how dark it is. I also believe one is more likely to stand a proper watch at night, whereas in the daylight it is so easy for one's attention to wander.
    In a big storm, sometimes it is a relief NOT to see the big waves barrelling down on me.
    But what one can occasionally see at night, like shooting stars coming down within the horizon, phosphorescence in a variety of ways (our last trip up from Trinidad was the most magical experience, with each breaking wave crest glowing bright green in the oh, so dark night), or the supernova we witnessed on our last sail south to the Caribbean, far outweighs the absence of daylight, for me.
    However, I stopped fishing at night after I'd caught my third Wolf Herring, not wanting to tangle with those toothy creatures ever again!

    Gene Neill and TomY like this.
  11. rfrye1


    Joined Jun 15, 2004
    587 posts, 9 likes
    Hunter H376
    US San Diego
    I've made the San Diego to Catalina Is at nite a few times. In theory its easier since the prevailing wind is Northerly. ANd at night is usually calms down. I have never had a clear night. Usually low clouds/marine layer. Use GPS (2) and update paper chart hourly. Also run radar when visability is low. The freighters scare me to death, they really move along!

  12. Charlie Jones s/v Tehani

    Charlie Jones s/v Tehani

    Joined Mar 1, 2012
    1,658 posts, 624 likes
    1961 Rhodes Meridian 25
    us Texas coast
    Across the Gulf of Mexico, single hand. Alarm set for every 20 minutes. Wake, check sails, course, horizon, reset timer, go back to sleep. 32 hours on the trip. No problems

    Gene Neill, capta and jon hansen like this.
  13. Gunni


    Joined Mar 16, 2010
    5,836 posts, 1,434 likes
    Beneteau 411 Oceanis
    US Annapolis
    We do short-handed multi-days including overnights - less than four crew, typically 3. Start with 2 hour watches and change things up if needed. Dogging watches helps to break the routine. I’m a nut about situational awareness, but I think it makes me more willing to sail in most any condition. Every day begins with a chart planning and contingencies. Paper and MFD both used. I have 4 GPS devices, 3 are chart plotters. Plan A, B, C, and Kimchee. EPIRBs (2) and a rental sat phone if more than an overnight.

    I won’t head out into a gale unless I know it is dying, but can weather one if encountered. Kind of like surfing ahead of a dying Nor’easter, less so as I get older. Like Capta, we shorten sail at night and accept any resulting slowdown as the price of being relaxed. Need to start using a weather router. Mama said so!

    Biggest issues seem to be keeping the crew to a watch schedule. Getting enough rest. Suspending liberal use of the beer cooler. I apply my best galley cook skills and take care of my guys. They are well fed, and watered. Lots of tasty snacks. Best coffee east of Seattle!

    Marine traffic, including trawlers and shrimpers are some of my biggest concerns - many do not transmit AIS, so I have to find them with radar. Port approaches are like the LA 405 at night. So we stay farther off. I am pretty chatty with the big boats, figure the squeaky sailor gets the safe crossing.

    Gene Neill likes this.
  14. Gene Neill

    Gene Neill

    Joined Sep 30, 2013
    2,706 posts, 1,269 likes
    C-22, Albin Vega
    US central Florida
    We've only sailed all the way through the night one time (well, twice), on our C22, sailing from Marco Island, FL to the Dry Tortugas and back. We tried to do 2/2 shifts on the way out, but we were both so amped up and well rested that neither of us really slept a wink. Coming back, it was more a matter of who was sleepy and who was not. We did a little better the second night, but of course we were more tired-er. It seems that this sleeping stuff is a skill which has to be learned by doing. Exhaustion is a good teacher, I suppose.

    The autotiller steered 90% of the time throughout both nights. The conditions were fine both ways. Not much moon at all, sadly. But ... I did see a freaking falling star (meteorite?) come streaking down, and impact the water not more than ... I dunno ... ten miles away?? Amazing. Never seen such a thing before in my life.

    There was virtually zero boat traffic. An occasional fishing boat, way off in the distance. We departed and arrived in daylight, so no issues there.

    Carlotta insisted on us (especially me) being tethered in while alone in the cockpit at night. First time doing that. We rigged up a system that worked quite well.

    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019

20% OFF innovative boat clips!
FixClip holds laundry, tools, anything to rails and life lines even in strong winds.
Mainsail covers
Pre-patterned mainsail covers to fit your boat
Teak companionway doors
Amazing artisan quality, custom made to fit your boat.
NEW, updated Get Rid of Boat Odors
The bible of marine toilets and plumbing, expanded and updated for 2016!