Night Flight Page 2

Not a sliver of moon nor a single star could pierce the thick clouds. We were sailing, levitating, in total darkness. Keeping Brick House, our Valiant 40, just half a mile off the unlit rocky shore was the only way to stay out of the swift counter-current as we fought our way south along Mexico’s Caribbean coast. It was important to sail all night and make good time
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Then the sonar numbers suddenly tumbled like a slot machine as the bottom contour climbed to 1,400 feet.

brick_house_shoal

My heart thumped. This was enough of a change to get my attention. I decided 1,000 feet was the drop-dead depth at which I would turn Brick House directly out to sea. Continuing south, the bumpy sonar line still gave no indication of a consistent vertical rise to the surface. We were now sailing well inside the charted shoal, and straight ahead on the plotter was a sounding of just 12 feet. As we moved toward it, the sonar line again began ascending. First to 1,300 feet, then up to 1,250. I was up off the nav seat with my toes on the companionway ladder, but held myself back to watch the instruments. The sonar soundings suddenly increased and the color line began descending, first to 1,400 feet, then to 1,500. We sailed south down the center of the shoal and now there appeared nothing to be concerned about.

We sailed parallel to the coast and out of the charted shoal into 2,000 feet of water, but just 3.5 miles south another shoal loomed on the chart. This one extended 1.5 miles off shore and had an outer depth contour of 328 feet shoaling up to a minimum depth of 66 feet. As we nosed over the line into the charted shoal, the sonar soundings stayed around 1,800 feet. The black shore was now punctuated with a string of evenly spaced white lights. The nightvision scope is overwhelmed by such brightness, so I pulled out our Fujinon Techno-Stabi 14-power binoculars instead. Cutting through the darkness with stabilized optics, the binoculars showed me what appeared to be a low-slung hotel stretching along the shore. At its north end was a stubby lighthouse blinking every six seconds. As we cruised south the shore turned black again. Now the night-vision scope showed the gray outlines of several small fishing boats moored stern to shore. After that, there was nothing but the rocky shore and black night.

My eyelids were drooping as Brick House moved south, away from the most worrisome areas on the chart. As the navigational suspense decreased, so did my adrenalin levels; my arms felt weak and my thinking was getting sluggish. What had seemed like a couple of hours was in fact seven.

As the black horizon yielded to the gray dawn, Rebecca awoke and made it clear that she was annoyed I had taken an all-night shift. Before handing over the watch, I showed her the plotter track. I explained why I had closely followed the coast and hoped she would do the same. Suddenly she was wide awake. When I awoke many hours later, I looked at the track on the chartplotter. I could see that as soon as I had gone to sleep, the track had veered to seaward and then had turned back slowly and continued south.

Veteran circumnavigator Patrick Childress is currently in the Pacific

Related

CCA-story-2048x

Safety Culture Starts with the Skipper

Sailing might not be the first pastime that comes to mind when you think of extreme sports, but that’s not to say risks don’t abound. The Cruising Club of America tackles many of them head-on in their newly released guide for skippers, Creating a Culture of Safety: The Skipper’s ...read more

GMR19_F53_0539

Boat Review: Beneteau First Yacht 53

Luxury performance-cruising isn’t entirely new. You can go fast and still be comfortable. You can even race if you make the right tradeoffs—or so says Groupe Beneteau, which recently launched its First Yacht 53, in the process also reinventing the company’s “First” brand. ...read more

BirdonBoard

Cruising: Birds of a Feather

One of the neatest things about sailing offshore is the other lifeforms we encounter. We smile when we see flying fish skimming over the surface of the sea. We cheer when dolphins leap and dance in our bow waves. We are duly reverent when mighty whales sound and spout, and ...read more

pirate-marlin-logo

Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament

This Spring has felt a bit like a slow day of fishing but it’s almost time to time to Bait…and Switch. The Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournaments offer something for every member of your crew. Exceptional fishing, fun times with family, old friends and new. Our run is short, our ...read more

Tusk.00_00_16_21.Still001

Tusk by Spyderco

Spyderco's Tusk knife combines a blade and marlinspike to create a multitool perfect for marine use. Made with corrosion resistant materials like titanium and LC200N steel, a nitrogen alloyed steel, and Spyderco-exclusive locking mechanisms, this knife is one of the toughest ...read more

IY11.98_fTaccola©DJI_0200

Italia 11.98 Performance-cruiser

This past winter, SAIL principal editor, Adam Cort, check out the new Italia Yachts’ new 11.98 performance-cruiser at the boot Dusseldorf show in German, and says he can attest to the fact it’s a boat more than worthy of the attention of North American sailors. Available in ...read more

01-LEAD-2017_IDALEWIS_0219

Racing: Doublehanded

I was born in 1955, and although I was a tad young to actually follow the first Observer Single-Handed Transatlantic Race, I grew up in the age of the pioneers of solo offshore sailing—Francis Chichester, Robin Knox-Johnson, Alec Rose, all Knighted for their singlehanded ...read more

newport-400c-updated

Spectra Watermakers

The world's quietest and most energy-efficient watermakers. Our product line ranges from hand operated desalinators that can make 6 gallons a day to our largest system that produces 20,000 gallons of fresh, potable water per day. Spectra Watermakers has the complete package: ...read more