Night Time Sailing

Night Time Sailing

While prior articles offered night sails to see the fireworks at Navy Pier, or anchoring off Northerly Island for concerts, a few charter companies offer real night time sails – all night – to destinations away from Chicago.

What is night sailing like on Lake Michigan?  It is phenomenal.  Once you are far enough away from the city lights, stars shine like no where else.  On one rare night, the Lake was pitch black, the moon had set, and there must have been no humidity in the air where the stars were just as plentiful and clear down to the horizon as they were overhead.  I literally felt like I was standing on the top of Mount Everest.   It was a dazzling sight.  You can watch satellite after satellite whiz across the sky (to identify them, they are reflecting sunlight with a steady light, versus airplanes blink on and off).  Shooting stars are sometimes few, and sometimes regular.  One night, my watch partner and I saw one travel 1/2 way across the sky when it exploded – breathtaking to say the least.

How do you see at night?  When the moon is out, it is no different than hiking at night, there’s plenty of ambient light.  When the moon goes down below the horizon, the light from the stars still provide enough light to see your way around the boat.  Even with cloud cover, enough light shines through and you still can see.  There are navigation lights on all boats, required by law, that allows you to see what direction other boats are traveling, and right of way rules are designed to prevent collisions.

There is reduced traffic at night where most sail or motor their boats during the day.  It is quiet and peaceful most of the time.  It does get cool, sometimes bone chilling cold, and other times t-shirt and shorts weather.  Understanding what a night will offer in temperature and dew is important to know before packing.

It is common to run shifts on night sails with one-half of the crew sleeping below decks in bunks, and the other half running the boat on deck.  What is it like sleeping?  Probably the best sleeping you’ll ever have.  Normally during a night’s sleep ashore, pressure points begin to ache which causes you to wake up (most of the times not consciously) and roll over and go back to sleep on a fresh pressure point.  However at sea, with the motion of the boat, commonly you don’t end up with a pressure point aching, you don’t wake up to roll over, and sleep deeply non-stop.  Some compare it to being back in the womb.

Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis is a relatively rare random visitor.  In 40 years up and down the Lake, I have seen them five times, most recently this summer.  Never have they been multicolored, always in the green tones.  The “other watches” have seen them through the years too, but didn’t wake us up to share.

Of course you get to see the sundown, and the sun rise.  It is normal for the wind speed to drop at these times.  You learn a lot about how the world works, living and observing these changes in atmosphere.  Most don’t realize it, but a simple crossing from Chicago to Michigan gets you completely out of the sight of land for hours on end.

As it is teamwork to sail a boat, sometimes you do get shaken out of your sleep to help with a sail change, or douse sails with a fast approaching storm.  Good seamanship wearing a PFD and a harness is always a good idea especially at night.

Both Chicago Sailing and 3rd Coast Cruising are offering long distance sails, either along the Illinois/Wisconsin shore or cross lake voyages.   It would be best to call, not shop online, to really appreciate what each company offers.   I found Ahoy Chicago and Phenix Sailing say they offer “night sails” but I do not know to what extent.

Try it out, explore something new, you’ll be pleased and gain a new appreciation for the world.  And if your goal is to crew in a Chicago Mackinac race, you’ll normally go through at least 2 if not 3 overnights, so some practice at night sailing is a plus.

I’m still shooting holes in the myth that sailing costs an arm and a leg, or that it is inaccessible.  75% of boat owners have a household income of less than $100,000.  And here you don’t own the boat, you just use a boat for the length of time you want.

Chicago Sailing

3rd Coast Cruising

Ahoy Chicago

Phenix Sailing Charters – Catamaran

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    Glenn - Another very nice piece. You've captured all that is great about night sailing on Lake Michigan. You're writing is excellent and you are doing a great job of promoting sailing...a sport I love...and the fantastic natural resource at our door step...Lake Michigan. Also, great job on the LMSRF newsletter. Very much appreciated. Mike.

  • I just had the opportunity to read your article. You have definitely romanticized the experience for me, now there is an allure and not the overwhelming fear of being on a boat at night. Thank you. I might have to try it, however under calm conditions only.

    Sheree W.

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