On Rest & Sleep

Mike (Al) Merrithew

   We have a duty to maintain a good watch, but I have found that I can get good rest all through the day by taking advantage of some of the lulls, and areas where there is little boat traffic.

   The worst times for sleeping are those when everyone is tacking for a mark. Even on a 55 mile leg such as the one to Goderich, or the 110 mile leg to my mark 5 miles off Presque Isle, when folks are tacking that big lake suddenly shrinks. I have had a number of close encounters of the gelcoat kind, enough to make sure I keep a really good watch schedule on those kinds of days.

   On those slower days, straight runs and non-congested areas, I try to get good rest right off the bat. On the leg from Port Huron to Goderich I try to get at least one nap and several “down” periods where I do nothing but rest. The sleep periods are usually ten minutes, (maybe 15, now that I’m getting older). I set an egg timer and totally relax, usually falling right to sleep, even in mid-day, and waking up before the timer goes off. Some people say they can’t do that, but all it takes is practice. This is practiced all year round, even at the office. I put my feet up, close my eyes, and nod out for ten minutes, and have done it for years.

   I have read that one must be asleep for about 30 minutes before the sleep becomes restful. Not knowing all the ins and outs of sleep deprivation my comments might not hold water in the scientific community, but I find that if I can get several back-to-back 10 minute sleep periods, I feel really good the next day.

   Master Mariner, Dick Lappin says he gets his rest by going down below, and veging out, stretching out in a comfortable corner, under a blanket, and “shutting down” for a few minutes. Most of the time he says he doesn’t really go fast asleep, just a deep rest. But he takes as much time as he needs to, to get good rest.

   Generally, I really like the long legs where one does nothing but hang on and tweak the sails occasionally. This is when I get good meals and good sleep times. The time is set for 10 minutes. I get up and check the horizon, check and trim the sails, check the horizon, and fall right back to sleep. Five or six of those in a row, and I’m good to go.

   When the boat stops, I try to grab a nap. It seems like we work more furiously when the boat is going slow. If things seem totally stagnant, it may be that you need a little rest. Take a couple of naps and then try to get the boat moving. Take time for a meal, and then see if you can’t get things moving along better. Good rest and good food are “fast” as far as I am concerned. It works for me.

   I’ve even done some novel things to help pass the time. When the boat was parked for an hour and nothing looked promising, I cut a hole in the bottom of a paper cup (drogue), and attached this to a tin can with a long string. The can was placed up on deck and the cup in the water. When the boat started to move the can rang out loud and clear. I was able to sleep, and catch the first of the breeze.

   I remember one dark, stormy night, Black Magic was beating toward Thunder Bay and the wind was really howling, blowing about 45 kts. I got tired listening to the waves growling as they laid themselves against the side of the boat. I laid down on the cockpit floor and fell asleep only to be awakened by a huge wave that jumped inside the boat with me. Another time that same evening, I was awakened by the sound of the autopilot grinding away. The seas were really confused by 2 distinct wave trains and boat had been knocked past head to wind and was doing a 360 in 40kts or so of wind. Don’t think that won’t wake you up in a hurry!

   Good sleep is the key to a safe passage. Arriving at Mackinac Island rested and ready to party is a lot better than arriving there “stupid and staggering” and unable to open your champagne. Of course, Dave Evans does just fine any way.

Big Al