The Maiden Factor Blog

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Heightened senses and sparkling dolphins…

By Sarah Evans

What struck me most while sailing to the Azores was the sensation of being out at sea and being removed from everyday life for so long. Granted, 12 days is not an eternity, or even comparable to our skipper who has sailed 60+ days at once, but for a newbie like myself, it was an adventure! While at sea, your senses are heightened as a result of no distractions. During each watch, I sought to experience something new– though I never knew what it would be. Many of these moments occurred during my night watches, which were most strenuous due to the fact the boat acts as a cradle for me– I find myself struggling to stay awake during those dark watches. As a way to cope, I focused on the only outside distractions available on a sailboat offshore…

My third or fourth night on the boat I distinctly remember always keeping one eye turned towards the waves dissolving under the weight of the boat as I had an internal conflict over what I was or wasn’t seeing. Our wake was sparkling. My mind raced trying to pinpoint if this sensation was real or a figment of my imagination. I asked the others on deck, “Am I going crazy or is the water sparkling?” It was explained to me that it was bioluminescent plankton. Not more than ten minutes later I see what looks like a torpedo shoot through the water– and remember, it is 3am in the Atlantic ocean and pitch black. Then one of my crewmates exclaims, “Look! There’s dolphins!” And sure enough, playing around Maiden was a pod of dolphins, glowing as they swam. I learned that night that dolphins like to push around the bioluminescent plankton, which makes for a magical show for sailors at night.

Gazing off to the horizon each night to do a routine ‘horizon check’ in search of lights in the distance always made me curious. On waters as wide open as the Atlantic, crossing paths with other boats causes a small excitement (at least for me), especially during twilight hours. Two nights in particular on this passage stuck out to me. One calm, warm night we noticed on AIS two military ships (one named Danish Warship) and another in a language we couldn’t distinguish. An hour after AIS picking them up, I noticed a light off our starboard bow. Eventually more lights came into view and our curiosities and imaginations began to wander. Who were they? What were they doing? What have we sailed into? It wasn’t until reaching port that we found out it was the largest military training exercise made up of NATO allies to happen! During one of our last nights on this trip, as we came closer to higher traffic areas nearer the Azores, I checked the AIS on our B&G system to find a cargo ship 16nm away with a 0.20nm CPA (Closest Point of Approach). I alerted Heather, my watch captain, and she went down below to hail them… “This is sailing vessel Maiden, we have a CPA less than 1nm, what is your plan to keep clear?” As they crossed our bow we could begin to see their bow, stern, and starboard lights, as well as the massive size of this cargo ship– 163 meters! 

Blanketed by the night sky in the middle of the Atlantic is unlike any other night sky experienced. An indicator of night approaching was Jupiter and Saturn coming into view. Then constellations such as Orion, The Big Dipper, Taurus, Cassiopeia, and others emerged. Nights when the sky was clear, Heather would lead a “Constellation of the Night” with the crew. Greek mythology and other ancient myths and legends would fill our boat each night. During my midnight to 0400 watch was a perfect time to stargaze. What we thought were just an exuberant amount of shooting stars, turned out to be several meteor showers near the constellation of Orion, “The Hunter.” And every so often, when my eyes would wander upwards, I would get a glimpse of a satellite zooming across the sky, the lights of a plane blinking, or of something entering Earth’s atmosphere– burning up in green and blue flames. 

Life at sea is a beautiful and unreal experience. For myself, this sail to the Azores can only be described as ‘new’. Every moment was like one I’d never experienced before, it was a constant period of learning, astonishment, and wonder for me. Being on shore is a nice break, but the ocean is always calling. I am beginning to understand this feeling with each passing day as I spend more and more time with the women of Maiden, who so passionately exude a love for open waters.