One of the things I like best about remote anchorages or overnight passages is the night sky. To be in a place with no light pollution, staring up at the stars, is a truly humbling experience.
As a teenager, I’d camped in some “remote” places where we saw “lots of stars.” But it wasn’t until I was in a place over 100 miles from the nearest tiny settlement (too small to be called a town) that I really saw what the night sky could be.
Now, on the boat, star gazing is almost as much of a daily ritual as watching the sunset.
Watching the full moon rise and set is always spectacular. And did you know that the full moon always rises just at sunset, and sets just at dawn? No matter what your latitude and how long the “day” and “night” are? One will be rising in the east as the other is setting in the west. My photos never do the moon justice.
Lunar eclipses can be spectacular, too. When you’re all alone in a remote anchorage or on a passage, it’s easy to understand how the ancients developed mythical explanations for the event. Our first crossing of the Sea of Cortez just happened to coincide with a lunar eclipse and I happened to have the watch on a beautiful, clear, light wind night that contained it all from start to finish.
Space Station flyovers are another event to watch for — they can be spotted even where there is substantial light pollution. Check NASA’s official “Spot the Station” site to find when it will be visible in your area — it will even tell you what direction and how high in the sky to look. There are also numerous iOS and Android apps to do the same; some apps will work with a GPS-enabled phone or tablet even if you don’t have internet access.
Once we get even 10 miles away from the nearest town, we’ll almost always see at least one meteor (shooting star) a night. Far more during meteor showers.
And the further we get from towns and other sources of light pollution (I don’t want to call the moon a source of light pollution, but yes, the less moonlight, too), the more stars we’ll see.
Once the “dark sky” status gets to that of the rural sky in the image above (thanks, NOAA), we can start to see the Milky Way — always a special treat.
About ten years ago, while camping at Capitol Reef National Park, a “Dark Sky” park, I realized that I’d become horribly spoiled living on a boat and particularly in the Sea of Cortez with few large towns. We went to the ranger presentation on the night sky and discovered that we were among just a handful of people there who had ever seen the Milky Way before: over 80% of North Americans can’t see it due to light pollution.
The Milky Way becomes not just visible, but simply breath-taking, if we’re 100 miles or more from the nearest coast (which usually cuts down on air pollution as well as light pollution), with no moon, few clouds, and calm waters. Those nights are rare, admittedly, but one of the very special moments of cruising and doing overnight passages. The times that make all those “why am I doing this?” times disappear.
Some links above (including all Amazon links) are affiliate links, meaning that I earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more.