November 19, 2018 by Carn Rigger

5 Spectacular Things You'll See on Night Watch

Night watch can be your next favorite posting

After a solid day of sailing, it can be a great feeling to watch the sun as it sets, whilst grilling some fresh fish on the back of your yacht. That doesn't always mean the sailing is over. If you're ever on a night passage, you'll definitely be spending some time night watch to make sure everything goes smoothly during the dark hours. From changes in weather to other boat traffic, a night watch requires your attention.

That doesn't mean it's all work. In fact, a night watch often grows to be one of a sailor's favorite postings. Nighttime on the ocean can be a magnificent thing, and here are some of the most wonderful sights a skipper lays eyes on.

1. Bioluminescence

Bioluminescence - Joanne Paquette

Image thanks Joanne Paquette

After a few days of living on the water, you realize how much life there is in the ocean. From giant sunfish down to microorganisms, there's life so vast we haven't even been able to understand how it all works together.

If you're lucky enough to float into bioluminescence, it can even seem like the water is alive -- and that's not far from the truth. This phenomenon is rare but absolutely magical. Tiny phytoplankton absorb energy from sunlight all day. That energy is stored until some sort of motion causes them to release that energy in the form of glowing green or electric blue light, visible only in the darkest of nights.

Motion from anything like wave action or weighing anchor or even your own swim stroke can cause these tiny phytoplankton to release their ethereal light. If you're on watch, however, your best bet to experience the magic is through the glowing streaks that dolphins leave behind as they play through the radiating water.

2. The Brightest Stars

Bright Night Sky - Alex Cherney

It really takes just once glance skyward on a clear, moonless evening to understand why ancient sailors used celestial navigation. Any other night and it's still a safe bet that the sky will present the most spectacular stars you'll ever see.

The milky way seems to wrap around the earth, and the reflection on the water creates a dim glow like no other. With so many shooting stars, clearly visible planets and passing satellites, sometimes the hardest part of night watch is finishing your shift.

Plus, if you're sailing in a part of the world you've never been to before, you'll see brand new stars and constellations not visible from back home -- yet another reason to learn to sail the Caribbean.

3. Passing Squalls


If the ocean isn't lighting up with bioluminescence, there's a good chance that the weather is doing something similar. On a warm, Caribbean night, the humidity mixes with cooler air and pops up lots of little passing storms called squalls. While rarely dangerous, these squalls usually last just a few minutes before the sky clears up.

Casting an eye towards the horizon can reveal many squalls, some many miles away, putting on a light show that dances and flickers as the storms move across the water. Experiencing so many thunderstorms all at once while under a starry sky is an experience that's not easily forgotten.

4. Glasslike Water

Glasslike water

The ocean is constantly moving. Whether it's the tide coming and going, or waves lapping at the hull of your yacht, it's pretty rare to see it all appear to come to a stop. Though unusual, when the weather and other conditions are just right, the water turns as still as a pane of glass.

This phenomenon can bring the sky to the ground and create an effect that feels like you're standing in a globe of stars from top to bottom. If your time on watch covers the sunrise, consider yourself even luckier -- then observe as the morning light and activity bring waves back to the water.

5. Absolutely Nothing

Night Watch - Emily Harris - Classic Yacht TV

Image © Emily Harris / Classic Yacht TV

Sailing and crewing a yacht can be tough, physical work. During daylight hours, there's always something to be done, whether it's cooking in the galley, hoisting the jib or just polishing brass. A night watch is reduced to the bare essentials of keeping your ship moving in the right direction. That means in good conditions, there's not much to do besides, well, keep a sharp watch.

This quiet solitude is a nice change of pace from the otherwise busy days at sea. Even without any stars, squalls or bioluminescence, there's plenty of wonder in the inky darkness to keep a soul occupied.

If you get lonely, however, there's no shortage of friends on the high seas. From cruise ships to container vessels, these commercial rigs always have a radio officer on duty. You can use the VHF radio to chat with these folks from all over the world to hear interesting stories, weather conditions and where their next port-of-call might be.

It’s easier than you think to experience night sailing for yourself. Sailing Virgins runs Island Adventure courses in the Caribbean. Focussed on people in their 20s and 30s, if you’re outside this age range don’t be afraid to get in touch - there are several options available.

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