Night sailing beneath a million stars
We were reeling from a few hectic days of preparation, as we set off from Seattle for an extended weekend, a getaway for which plans had materialized quickly and unexpectedly. Thankful for long summer days, we departed Elliott Bay Marina at 6 pm, bound for the heralded cruising grounds of the San Juan Islands. Weather permitting, we agreed that this would be our first true overnight passage, yet another exercise to ready us for our upcoming departure.
After dinner and a lovely sunset in Admiralty Inlet, Neil took the first watch as we motored against a flooding tide and a light northerly wind on our nose. I tucked in down below to sleep for an hour or two on the main salon starboard cushions. An evening gale warning was in effect for the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with winds expected to be 25-35 knots (i.e., 29-40 mph). As projected, winds subsided around midnight, and we chose to press forward, rather than spending the night in Port Townsend. Renowned for heavy blankets of fog and sometimes harrowing conditions, the Strait stretches over 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the interior waters of the Puget Sound. I was on watch when we reached the Strait just after midnight. The night sky was a beautiful and dizzying mosaic of stars.
Like clockwork, the northerly breeze that had funneled down Admiralty Inlet during the first several hours of our passage shifted to a westerly and piped up. I woke Neil, and we readied the sails. Conservative, we chose to sail under a reefed jib alone, as winds rapidly climbed to 28 knots. As the winds increased, so too did the feeling of wooziness in the pit of my stomach. Unlike some newbie cruisers who have no problem keeping their cookies down (ahem, Ellen), from 1:30 to 3:30 am, I went three miserable rounds paying homage (i.e., puking my guts out) to King Neptune over the side of the boat, a personal record. Apparently, the ole bear demands more than just rum.
Neil’s intuition as a sailor and seemingly innate ability to understand The Red Thread are traits rivaled only by his iron belly. Neil’s queasiest moments were those in which he had to suffer through the sound of my retching overboard. I was thankful that he was alert and pumping with adrenaline, such that I could try to sleep off some of my sickness after the wind eased to a consistent 16 to 20 knots. Laying below, I was transported to 2011, when I traveled alone for a month in India and spent a number of nights aboard a crowded train. The clamoring rhythm of sails, pulleys, and sheets (i.e., ropes) echoes through the hull of a sailboat underway, bearing a striking resemblance to the sound of a heavy train on steel tracks.
I joined Neil again in the cockpit just before 5 am, as color began to flood the sky of a new day. We had watched the moon rise at dusk and saw it depart from view long before dawn arrived. The wind had subsided to the low teens, and he had hoisted the main sail while I was below. As sick as I had been and as exhausted as we both felt by the time we reached the southern tip of San Juan Island, we were also rather triumphant. We had done it – together, we had completed our first of many night passages. Eventually, the wind fizzled entirely, and we fired up the engine to travel the few remaining miles to Roche Harbor. We set our anchor firmly in the muddy seafloor, launched our outboard, and Miss Sassy Strings took us into town.
Port of departure: Elliott Bay Marina, Seattle, WA – 08/05/14
Port of arrival: Roche Harbor, WA on San Juan Island – 08/06/14
Distance traveled: 72 nautical miles
Total time: 16 hours
Engine roaring: 8 hours
Sails soaring: 8 hours
Neil’s reflections: The starry sky was ablaze with light, with streaks of shooting stars sporadic and wonderfully unexpected. The westerly swell, reaching 5 feet at times, crashed around us with bright neon green phosphorescence. While alone on watch I had a joyful moment listening to my favorite stand-up comedy station on Pandora laughing into the beautiful night. This was an incredible, albeit exhausting, experience.
Jessie’s musings: Our crossing was a win for us, another big step toward being ready to embark on our big voyage. In all of the beauty we saw and as proud as we felt, our first night sail also highlighted one of my greatest fears about our upcoming voyage. I worry that I will find myself horrendously seasick on every passage. Seasickness is miserable and can be debilitating, but it also causes me to be a less competent sailing partner and places a greater burden on Neil to manage the boat. I suppose appreciating our fears is also part of getting ready…
14 thoughts on “Night sailing beneath a million stars”
Such nice pictures. Fun to hear your adventures and yet scares a parent to death. You are both so strong and adventurous. Being able to do things that many only dream of. So very proud of you both!
Love you very much.
Thanks, mama!! I love you, too! I hope I always keep you on the edge of your seat at least a little bit! ~Jessie
Thanks for the shout out Jessie. Congrats on the first night sail, but sorry to hear that you were sick – sounds awful! You probably just didn’t eat the right type of cookies before you set off – chocolate chip ones are a sure fire cure for any type of sea sickness 🙂
Come to think of it, Ellen, there were absolutely no cookies on board. Shame on me!! I should’ve known better 😉 next time… ~Jessie
Chocolate chip cookies are pretty much a cure for everything. Home made ginger snaps work well too.
Ginger snaps sound like an excellent idea…next passage we’ll have some on board for sure!! Would you mind sharing your recipe, April? ~Jessie
It was such a pleasure meeting you at the marina–Brian Freers parents. We are looking forward to following your sailing adventure to Australia. Hope your seasickness subsides soon.
Hi John & Barb,
It was lovely to meet you both! Thanks for joining us here and for following along 🙂 I, too, hope it subsides eventually. I am confident I can cope…and hopefully with at least a bit of grace. ~Jessie
Glad you got through the seasickness still wanting to go sailing! My personal favorite item for seasickness is oyster crackers, like come in those little packets at restaurants, that you get together with clam chowder (only the crackers, for seasickness 🙂 – I always ask for extra crackers, to save). Second choice is the organic version of saltines, available nowadays in health food stores. This is not a food that I ordinarily eat, because of assorted food issues – but I love them, so it’s become pretty funny that the upside of seasickness is that I get to eat treats!
You know all the basic stuff, like staying hydrated ahead of time, and not letting yourself get hungry? I’ve also found it really helpful to ease gradually into situations with more boat motion. When we first launch the boat, just looking at the mast moving against the sky at the dock is enough to be a little unsettling. By a few days later when things are packed and it’s time to sail on the river, the mast against the sky is fine. But we have an easy progression from here – Connecticut River dock, to some time on the River, to Long Island sound, and from there out to the open water and swells. Maybe you’ll get to fit in some smaller sailing time before your full departure, to help ease into it more? Maybe with easier conditions forecast?
The time I was actually throwing up was the first time I sailed overnight. There were crazy waves – a heavy north chop, laid over a southerly swell – but also I think I was just really scaring myself staying out for the first time (about 10 years ago, in the Falmouth cutter). It’s become so much easier, over time.
Anyway, I hope that you easily find what works for you – maybe gingersnaps will be just the thing!
All best wishes,
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Thank you for your kind thoughts, good ideas, and encouragement! I am hopeful that time into each passage will help to ease my belly! I will heed your advice and try to be more diligent about hydration, in particular. I know I could do a better job at that for sure!! We are out on the boat quite a bit these days practicing one thing or another and trying to enjoy our last moments with loved ones here. We are in fairly protected water, however, and our version of swells pales in comparison to those on the Strait of Juan de Fuca or the Big Blue. Sigh…I’ll keep you updated!
Cheers and fair winds on the other coast,
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Hi Jesse and Neil,
We just discovered your blog via Cynical Sailor and are really enjoying reading about your cruise preparation adventures, which sound OH-SO familiar to our own. Our anti- sea sickness routine involves ginger in all its forms and half doses of travel sickness meds. We have one here in France with cafeine in it, which is great for offsetting the droopy drowsies. Bon courage !
Maria and Patrick on Spray
Hi Maria & Patrick! Ginger, thank goodness for it, eh?! I appreciate your recommendations…wish I could find a caffeinated motion sickness medication here in the US! In the meantime, I’m going to start trialing ginger root (go straight to the source) and see if that is more useful than the processed ginger candies and teas. I just found out about you two as well — also through Salty Sidekick Linda 🙂 I am loving your blog! ~Jessie
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