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With both hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee, I gazed astern into the Puget Sound mist. All I could see was darkness, but as my eyes focused I noticed a green light, then a red light poke through. The lights were high above the water and I instantly recognized what they were–the bow lights of a large cargo ship. I wheeled around and refocused on the chartplotter, where my suspicion was confirmed by a blinking grey triangle outlined in red. The AIS stats read: “Cargo Ship,” destination “Seattle,” speed “25 kts” – this behemoth was moving fast and not in a friendly direction.
I set my coffee aside, made quick work of a gybe and altered course nearly 90 degrees. I wanted the change to be drastic so there would be little doubt as to which way I was going relative to the oncoming ship. As the vessel slipped by in the inky black night I gybed back and made my course good for Seattle.
This wasn’t a close call by any means, but one that would be repeated as the night wore on. When operating in shipping lanes day or night, maintaining a sound watch is of dire importance. Just like exercise strengthens the body, dodging ships, fishing vessels, ferries and tugs on a busy night watch will sharpen those seamanship skills that often get dulled by day sails and buoy racing.
If capable, don’t be afraid to venture out on a night passage. Sailing at night can be extremely rewarding and the experience will help you gain confidence in your overall sailing abilities.
Enjoy this week’s Cruising Compass.