As we all know, or ought to by now, using white cabin lights during a night watch is a bad thing. Sure, you can see whatever you’re looking at really well at the time, but you and everybody near you, will be blinded for up to 20 minutes until your eyes adjust to the darkness again once the light is turned off. Enter: red night lights.
Red light allows you to see well enough to read, navigate, cook, find your socks or what have you, but won’t overwhelm your night vision. Once the light is turned off, you can still read the compass, search the horizon for MOBs, buoys, ships or other things to bump into. I have lots of them aboard Mahalo.
There are red lights in the galley, over the nav station, in the head and in the forward cabin. I have a favorite dedicated flashlight with a red lens too. I love my flashlight, it goes wherever I go on a boat, hangs around my neck and has thousands of miles under it’s tiny keel. It was made by Pelican, the folks who make all those cool waterproof boxes, and several waterproof and shockproof flashlights. Imagine my panic one night last summer when I couldn’t find it.
It was the first night of a nine day charter aboard Mahalo. We had a boat load of ladies out for a learning adventure to the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast motorsailing from Long Beach to Santa Barbara. We had finished dinner and cleaned up, and had given the crew a taste of night watches. They were experiencing looking at other boats’ running lights, practicing using the radar, plotting our positions every hour, log keeping, eating cookies and pouring hot drinks. As we started our watch schedule and the wind and waves built, slowly the number of bodies in the cockpit dwindled. Guests aboard are not required to stand night watches so I soon found myself alone in the cockpit for another two hours. No biggie, I decided to catch up on some reading. All I needed was my trusty flashlight and some fresh batteries. It wasn’t in the drawer where it was supposed to be. Maybe my duffle bag from the last delivery? Nope. A different drawer? Under some junk? My tool bag? Nope again. This is so unlike me to misplace my stuff! Try again. Still nothing.
Ok, now it was time to get creative. I remembered a cheapo flashlight that came with the boat, which of course I found on the first try, but it had a white lens. I’d read about people using red nail polish to cover a light bulb, but I’m not really that kind of a girl, and certainly don’t have red nail polish onboard. Red plastic sheets to repair tail lights on a car? None of that stuff either. Hmmm… What about a red felt marker?
I put some batteries in the flashlight, grabbed a red marker and covered the lens with red ink. I let it dry a minute and gave it another coat. After a quick horizon check, I covered the lens with my hand and turned it on. It looked like it might work, so I uncovered it and was quite happy with the result. It wasn’t quite as red as the real flashlight, but when I turned it off, I could still see in the dark. Wahoo! Back to my reading..
Later in the charter, the florescent tube in the light over the galley broke when the light fixture took a direct hit from a pan lid. I know the red tubes are next to impossible to replace. Some company used to make red plastic sleeves to slide over florescent tubes, but I haven’t seen them in years and don’t have one on the boat anymore. Would the felt marker work? I had a spare white tube and gave it the treatment. It worked like a charm after two coats were put on. I wondered about the heat from the light burning the ink but after six months of use, they all seem to work just fine.
The rest of our trip was fantastic. We made it to all the Channel Islands as well as Catalina Island, had some great passages, great food and lots of laughs. I had tried for years to visit all the Islands in one trip, but had been turned back by nasty weather and time constraints. I’m going on record as saying that bull Elephant Seals are really big when they swim up to you while you’re rowing ashore in your Avon Redcrest inflatable dinghy. It’s amazing how fast you can row those things with three people in them when you are properly motivated.
So, toss a red marker in your fixit bag, it might just come in handy one of these days.
I found my favorite flashlight the next morning in the back of the drawer. I guess we were heeling more than I remembered.