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:
Publish date:

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

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com No chafe, safe stay  If you’re leaving the boat unattended for a longish period, there’s a lot to be said for cow-hitching the shorelines, as this sailor did. They’ll never let go, and so long as the ...read more

belize600x

Charter Special: Belize

It would be hard to imagine a more secure spot than the Sunsail base on the outskirts of the beachside community of Placencia, Belize. The entire marina is protected by a robust seawall with a channel scarcely a few boatlengths across. It’s also located far enough up Placencia ...read more

DSC00247

DIY: a Top-to-Bottom Refit

I found my sailing “dream boat” in the spring of 1979 while racing on Lake St. Clair in Michigan. Everyone had heard about the hot new boat in town, and we were anxiously awaiting the appearance of this new Pearson 40. She made it to the starting line just before the race ...read more

01-oysteryachts-regattas-loropiana2016_063

Light-air Sails and How to Handle Them

In the second of a two-part series on light-air sails, Rupert Holmes looks at how today’s furling gear has revolutionized sail handling off the wind. Read part 1 here. It’s easy to look at long-distance racing yachts of 60ft and above with multiple downwind sails set on roller ...read more

HanseCharles

Video Tour: Hanse 348

“It’s a smaller-size Hanse cruiser, but with some big-boat features,” says SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane. At last fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, Doane had a chance to take a close look at the new Hanse 348. Some of the boat’s highlights include under-deck galleries for ...read more

amalfitown

Charter Destination: Amalfi Coast

Prego! Weeks after returning from our Italian flotilla trip last summer, I was still feeling the relaxed atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a Mediterranean paradise, with crystal-clear waters, charming hillside towns and cliffside villages, plenty of delicious food and wine, ...read more

image005

Inside or Outside When Sailing the ICW

Last April, my wife, Marjorie, and I decided to take our Tartan 4100, Meri, north to Maryland from her winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida. This, in turn, meant deciding whether to stay in the “Ditch” for the duration or go offshore part of the way. Although we had both been ...read more

MK1_30542

SailGP: There’s a New Sailing Series in Town

San Francisco was the venue of the biggest come-from-behind victory in the history of the America’s Cup when Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013, so it seems only fitting that the first American round of Larry Ellison’s new SailGP pro sailing series will be ...read more