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Sailors Midnight

Chris Slaney in the dinghy. Photo by Amir Slaney.
Chris Slaney in the dinghy. Photo by Amir Slaney.

Yesterday was remarkable, I ate my evening meal in a restaurant, had a few drinks and chatted with other cruising sailors. On the dinghy ride back to the anchorage my wife marveled at how the full moon was so bright we could see the shadows of wavelets on the shallow sea floor. So which part of this was remarkable? The mere fact that it was nine pm and we were still awake.

Well into our second year of an Atlantic circuit and I am still struggling with the fact that I often succumb to what I’ve heard called ‘Sailor’s Midnight’; lights out and nodding off in the early evening. Cruising is held by many to be a healthy lifestyle but being in bed by eight o’clock is taking a health kick too far. How did it come to this?

There are several possible explanations. One lies in the old saying, ‘Early to bed, early to rise…’ Yes, we do get up with the sun, it would be a pity to miss it. Plus, when making offshore day sails and aiming to arrive at the destination in daylight, it’s best to be off at first light. But come to think of it I used to be up and about pre-dawn when we lived on land, had full days and rarely saw the bed again before eleven.

‘You know what our problem is?’ I tried one theory out on the wife. ‘Cocktail hour starts too early and goes on longer than sixty minutes.’ For a while I was certain this was the cause of early evening drowsiness. A vodka gimlet or G&T at five, followed by a glass of wine with supper is likely to do the trick. So we cut down on the alcohol and postponed sundowners until the stars were well and truly out. This made little difference and the bunks still looked very inviting by eight.

I guess these short winter days don’t help the situation. We spent the previous summer in Maine where northern darkness comes much later. Ferocious mosquitoes drove us below decks each evening but we were wide-awake until the local NPR stations relayed the BBC news at midnight. The days shortened as we began our trek south with the fall. The end of daylight savings time didn’t help.

Could drowsiness be induced by some technical quirk of life on board? The gentle rocking of a boat in the breeze and the almost total quiet of an anchorage by the Alligator River seems conducive to sleep. Or maybe it’s the energy saving LEDs I installed from stem to stern. They seem bright enough but who knows…

There are definitely some cultural differences at play here. Before crossing the Atlantic we sailed the Mediterranean, mostly in summer when the days are long and the cool evenings are a welcome respite from the heat. In Spain, Greece and Italy it’s normal to make a reservation for dinner at nine or ten o’clock and bars get lively after midnight.

Age might have something to do with it but anecdotal evidence would suggest not. I recall my father, well into his eighth decade, telling me that the older he got the less sleep he needed. The other day I overheard a Canadian cruising Mom surprised that her ten- and eight-year-old daughters frequently ask to call it a day at seven o’clock.

I’d like to do some more research on this topic if I could just stay awake.

Chris Slaney and his wife Nirit sail on Passepartout, a Wauquiez 43, and are in the midst of an Atlantic Circuit that began in the UK. After cruising the Caribbean, they spent a summer and fall on the US East Coast and are currently in the Bahamas.

 

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