The other day sailing started at about 6 AM, from Bar Harbor, and went through until the following day at about 4 PM, when I anchored in Dyer Bay. This wasn’t exactly planned ahead, but since doing these various overnight passages it has become more comfortable to just not worry about “anchored for the night” as a desperate priority. I’m liking this a lot – it has significantly reduced my stress levels about wind that quits blowing, and choices about nearby harbors that for one reason or another do not seem appealing.
If I had been aware of what the weather was going to actually do, rather than what was in the forecast, I might have done something different, but as it was I had a very, very interesting night. For one thing, there was fog. From about 10 AM until about 3 PM the following day visibility varied from 50 feet to about a quarter of a mile, averaging about 100 feet. Talk about sensory deprivation! I’d rather be in a cozy harbor for that kind of extended fog, but it really was an interesting experience. The AIS worked, showing me where the fast catamaran whalewatch boats were going, and showing them where I was, and I’ve never been so happy about all the noise that lobster boats make! Between the engines and the squealing winches, even though I almost never saw them I always knew where they were. And apparently they were picking up the return off the big radar reflector, and occasionally hearing my foghorn blasts, because we never seemed in danger of a near miss. Eventually I started to relax more about that.
Adding to the visibility issues, the wind stopped blowing. For a very, very long time. By evening I was a few miles off the entrance to Frenchman Bay, and things pretty much stayed that way, with a little variation here and there, until well into the next day. Sheesh!
But here’s the fun part: after dark, eventually with a quarter moon showing through the hole in the fog straight overhead, the other boats were gone, and it was all about sea life. Porpoises, who had been coming by now and then during the day, came by in the night also, making their typical breathing noises. And some kind of seabird, or rather a group of them, spent quite a bit of time around the boat chattering in the dark. They were flying, fast, and there were no splashing sounds like terns diving, and then when the light came up in the morning they were gone. Petrels maybe? They seemed small rather than large. I’m looking forward to getting home to my bird sounds CD, or maybe taking a crack at bird sounds on the Internet while I’m out here.
The most exciting thing was the phosphorescence in the water – and fish! About 2 AM I was out to fuss with sails and steering – with all that open water and miles in almost every direction, the boat left to drift was making a beeline for the only nearby land, Baker Island, some ways off of Mount Desert Island. Plotting our position with the lat/lon coordinates off the GPS, we were 3 1/2 miles from that island. No more casual drifting in the non-wind…
So anyway, there I was out in the cockpit to sort things out and thinking gee, that’s a funny reflection in the water. Then it came closer, a faint oval splotch, maybe 6 feet long. Apparently this was minnows, stirring up the phosphorescence, because the next thing that happened was individual streaks shooting through the water, bigger, and then some bigger streaks after them, and then all the light was gone except for the individual sparkles of the phosphorescent plankton that light up when the waves disturb them. I don’t think that big oval thing happened again – maybe once or twice – but the shooting streaks came by a number of times. One set looked like the pattern of schools of mackerel that I’ve seen going by during the day in a couple of harbors. But who knows! It was like watching shooting stars – never knowing where they would come up, and such a thrill every time it happened.
Now it’s three days later, and I’m in a relatively cozy cove on the northeast side of Dyer Island. I’m still recovering from having gotten so tired – I really could’ve been resting instead of sailing, starting out the other day! As it was, I sailed overnight already a little in need of rest. But gosh it was fun! The lobster folks who came by in the morning I’m pretty sure thought I was out of my mind, out there floating on the glassy water, but they were friendly about it, and I could hear them talking in the fog afterwards, snatches of words about the sailboat, and the motor (unused), so I think it made for some entertainment.
I do have some thoughts about fatigue, as a result of this particular venture. The wind started blowing, finally, around noon on the second day, so I was able to start sailing, rather than mostly hanging around floating in place or drifting as the tide went first one way and then the other. I sailed into Dyer Bay – after an attempt at Gouldsboro Bay that was eventually abandoned as too hazardous in the fog and the giant swells, which were breaking dramatically on the island rocks very close to the narrow channel. Dyer Bay, right next to Gouldsboro, was much simpler to get into but not as protected from the swell. By 4 PM I was anchored in a spot that rolled as much as Bar Harbor but was vastly more peaceful in terms of noise and boat wakes. It was so nice to go to sleep all snug! Leecloth up, but otherwise no worries.
Next day (this was the day of the lobsters) I sailed off in search of a truly restful place to stay a little while and catch up on both sleep and general restfulness. It took about six hours of sailing to get to this cove on Dyer Island, and oddly enough since I had just had that great night’s sleep, this was the day that I felt truly compromised by fatigue. By fatigue I don’t mean sleepiness – rather, the changes in reflexes, thinking, situational awareness, and decision-making that come with inadequate rest. I made three mistakes that day, over the course of that sail. They all turned out okay, but they were things that should not have happened in the way that they did.
So now I’m grounded – at anchor until I can show myself that I am neither exhausted after some small task, nor mentally confused at something that is normally a little mentally challenging but perfectly doable. The striking thing about fatigue is that it’s kind of like hypothermia – when you’re in it, your brain is affected, and your ability to perceive what’s happening is compromised. I’m accustomed to hypothermia issues, and know how to maintain my awareness and vigilance, and how to stay aware enough to take appropriate action if I am becoming that kind of cold. While I’m here resting, I’m thinking about how to develop that awareness and vigilance about fatigue. And even more important, refining my priorities so that choices I’m making well before this kind of fatigue can happen mean that I have a much better chance of avoiding it in the first place. I love sailing through the night – but I’m going to do a better job of making sure that my average state of rest is in a better place, so that I have better reserves for unexpected things like no appreciable wind for a solid 12 hours (NOAA forecast 5 to 10 for the entire time!)
Meantime, it’s the image of those fish shooting phosphorescent streaks through the water that keeps me perfectly delighted to have done exactly what I did. You don’t see that stuff if the wind is blowing, because the water isn’t still enough for that sort of thing to show – it was an extraordinary night.