The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

There’s A Light…

[A quick note from John:

I could certainly do with a break from Person Overboard articles and discussion, and I suspect that many of you may be feeling the same.

Sure, safety stuff is important, but it’s easy to get so immersed in it that we forget that offshore sailing is really very safe and, most important of all, a lot of fun.

And there is no one better than Colin to remind us all of how truly wonderful cruising is. Read on to see what I mean.]

We live in a world of convenience aboard boats nowadays. A flick of a switch and the saloon is flooded with clean bright LED light.

But back in my youth I sometimes sailed aboard leaky old gaffers, which (as often as not) had only one engine battery, and what light there was emanated from smoky oil lamps mounted on bulkheads or on the saloon table.

Inconvenient, yes; healthy, maybe not—I don’t much miss them below decks. But, at the same time, they shed a warmth and mellow light that adds to the sense of human companionship bestowed by good malt whisky on a cold, damp and tired crew sated on adventure.

So aboard every boat I have subsequently owned there has always been at least one oil lamp in the locker.

I justify this eccentricity through the feeble pretence that it’s there as an emergency anchor light, but the truth is actually far more whimsical. It’s that the warm, yellow glow from that little oil lamp lends a magic to the night air in a silent, remote anchorage in a way that no other source of light could ever do.

To sit for one quiet moment in peaceful reflection, lubricated with a glass of red wine, basking in its glow, sets the day to rest in the very best of ways. The mind wanders back to the days when all this wonder was new to me, and before too long friendly faces around a smoky saloon table all those years ago gently invade my thoughts. Some long departed, others simply much missed, I love to share these wild places with them.

That lamp has been a source of comfort in anchorages from Africa to Brazil, and now here in the Bras d’Or Lakes in Canada. These days I restrict it to deck use alone for health reasons, but for all the modern conveniences of instant light I would never sail without it.

An oil lamp on a modern aluminum expedition boat—you couldn’t make it up.

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