How Do Sailors Sleep When Sailing Solo?
Sailing solo can be a fun adventure that allows you to get in touch with nature and uncover a true sense of self, but it certainly isn't for everyone. One of the most frequently asked questions I hear thrown about is "How to sleep when sailing solo?" Well today, we will unveil the mystery and deliver some helpful tips should you decide to try it yourself.
Single-handed sailors absolutely have their work cut out for them, but managing to complete a one person sailboat adventure can be extremely gratifying. There isn't a whole lot to worry about when sailing alone, it's a lot safer than falling asleep at the wheel on the freeway. If your bearings are set and you aren't drifting too much you'll be in for a smooth ride, but some solo sailing sleeping tips can't hurt.
Micro-Napping and Micro-Waking
The truth is, you won't get much sound sleep when you're solo sailing. You'll need to learn how to function with minimal sleep. The first week or two might feel like hell, but I promise that it does get much easier with practice. You'll want to set a course, catch some sleep for around 2 to 4 hours before waking up to scout the horizon and heading back to bed for another 2 hours or so. If you scan the horizon very quickly and don't allow your brain to switch back on, you'll get back to sleep without much of a problem.
Riding along while asleep is a strange feeling that requires an extra bit of confidence, but if you become used to this kind of schedule you'll make amazing time. This half-awake state of being can feel very strange, and there is nothing wrong with dropping anchor and taking things slow while getting some quality sleep. Anchors aren't completely fool-proof though, so you'll still want to keep a close eye on where you actually are compared to where you were when you went to sleep.
Speaking of sleep... Your sleep will be of much better quality if your cabin is properly dehumidified. Mold and mildew can not only make getting to sleep that much harder, but it can also present a serious health hazard if it gets severe enough. I highly recommend sticking a disposable moisture absorber container somewhere near your bunk. If you decide you don't need sleep and caffeine isn't doing the trick, a blast of a large personal air horn should snap you back to your senses for a bit. That's mostly a joke. Don't use air horns for things other than their intended use please.
Tune Into Your Radio
When I say tune into your radio, I'm not talking about the channel that you're on (though it should be the VHF distress frequency on channel 16). You'll need to tune your brain into that radio so that the sound of it will snap you out of a dead sleep. If you're sleeping lightly then you won't have much of a problem, but as with most of the things on this list it will probably take a bit of practice. It can be a little annoying, as I've sat bolt upright from a decent sleep just to hear a little radio crackle that amounts to nothing at all. Still, always better safe than sorry!
Now, even if you're micro-napping disaster can strike at any moment so you'll want to catch your Z's in a safe spot. Flying blind down the middle of a major shipping lane is a good way to wake up in the middle of a fight for your life. Passage maps of shipping lanes can help a lot with charting out decent spots to catch a catnap, especially when paired with an overlay map of trade winds and westerlies to keep you chugging along without needing to run your engine dry. The more fuel you can keep for when it's really needed, the better!
Ride Like The Wind
Speaking of trade winds and westerlies, I think it's pertinent to talk about how to keep yourself moving while napping. Ocean winds don't shift in the same way that wind does on land, so you'll probably find it pretty easy to catch a wind stream and ride it basically as long as you please. You might want to work on setting up a few lines to hold your sails in place so you aren't blown off course. Getting back to where you're supposed to be can be extremely detrimental depending on how long you've been off course.
Problems with Auto-Pilot
You might ask "Why wouldn't you just switch on auto-pilot and get some restful sleep while solo sailing?" Well, mostly because that would require a ton of extra power. How often do you want to run the engine to recharge the battery? Maybe you can shove some additional solar cells onboard, but it really isn't ideal. You'll be much better off if you simply learn to manage the convenience of autopilot and put yourself to the true test. Nobody is impressed by a single-handed sailor that had an over-reliance on their auto-pilot!
Is Solo Sailing Easy?
It definitely isn't. I've been stuck cruising through shipping lanes to the point that I was unable to sleep for almost 48 hours. I'm getting far too old to pull things like that anymore without some serious side effects. While it does award an amazing sense of accomplishment, it's obviously a lot more fun to cruise with a partner. Not only more fun, but healthier and easier... I'm not at the age where I feel like I have something to prove anymore. Solo sailing was a fun experience, but I don't see myself doing it again in this lifetime.