Sailing The World's Oceans

Dream ~ Discover ~ Explore

Sleeping At Sea

Contributed by John Stuhldreher

There are two choices regarding sleep on a boat underway: 


A.  Don’t sleep; or B. Pass out.  Since No Doz, espresso,
and running-in-place on deck only lasts so long, at some point
the sailor succumbs to exhaustion and finds himself
face-down in some sort of horizontal position—on a bunk,
on the floor, in the head, but hopefully not on the water.

On Solstice, we had a crew of three, which conveniently
worked into three-hour shifts on watch at the helm.  More
importantly for the sleep-deprived, that also meant six hours
off until the next shift. (But 30 minutes have to be trimmed
off the top because that’s how long it takes to peel the layers
of Everest-summit-worthy clothing needed for the chilly
nights on the Pacific).

Generally, the middle part of the boat, amidship, is the less
rocky part of boat.  Think of a see-saw.  Either end will have
some serious movement; but in the middle, not quite so
much—but of course there will still be movement and
rocking—just less. Kind of like how the 10th row of a Justin
Bieber concert is less annoying than the 2nd row—both will
be loud, wince-inducing, and have ‘can’t believe I’m actually
here’ moments (at least that’s what Bill has told me about his
concert experience).


Since slumbering on a boat is occasionally like sleeping on a
bucking bronco, certain sleep-assistance aids are needed—ones
beyond even Bed, Bath and Beyond.  In this case, “lee cloths. “ 
In sailing, ‘in the lee’ or leeward refers to the downwind side of a
boat.  That means that the boat is going to be leaning downward
in the direction opposite in which the wind is originating.  What it
means to the sleep-deprived is that the sleeper is going to roll
right out of the bunk and probably end up lost in the bilge only to found years later.  So the lee-cloth acts like a wall on the open side of the bunk to keep the sleeper in place —like the protective barrier on the top bunk-bed during an earthquake.  The lee cloths on our boat were an engineering marvel of bungee cords, webbing, and discarded lines all creatively mounted to the walls and ceiling.  Imagine a beautiful and intricate spider web: Now picture the opposite—that would be us.  Solstice lee cloths.

Now one of our crew members thought I was saying, “lee claw” the entire time, which in a way, makes more sense and I kind of prefer.  The “claw” keeps the sleeper firmly in place, offers protection, and wards off any offensive intruders (at least until you’re awakened for your watch because you’ve failed to set your alarm and have overslept…).

So that’s how we slept on the high seas.  And we’d wake up to a tasty pot of coffee brewed by using a stove-top percolator – which I read was once very popular with 19th century settlers traveling via stagecoach into the western frontier.  And come to think about it, that’s about how long it would take to make a cup of coffee. And now that I can think even more clearly having slept, is about the same amount of time it would take to swim 60 miles off the coast Baja to a Starbucks and back—of course in time for my next watch.

Thank you Bill for inviting me on this first leg of your journey, it was a truly a passage.  I look forward to living vicariously through your blog posts and wish you, Jake and Jackie safe travels on the adventures that lay ahead.  

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