Since my first car days, driving around Mt. Rainier in the middle of the night, I have loved having extra lights on my car, driving lights. No video games, no internet, we didn’t pretend life, we lived life.
Fast forward 40 years and during my first year with Dauntless, I somehow found myself, cruising the ICW at night, a few times too many. Cruising at night in marked channels is so much harder than cruising on the open ocean. There are frequent course changes, by the minute or even necessitating hand steering. I soon found that that the spot light on Dauntless, mounted on top, forward of the pilot house, did little more than light up the foredeck, thus killing whatever night vision I had.
I found it more effective to stand outside, either in the dark or using a handheld LED flashlight. But when cruising alone, it’s difficult to be both outside the pilot house and steer the boat. The solution, a driving light. They also come in very handy when looking for an anchorage or mooring spot, with other small boats, like a dingy, that may not show up on the radar.
My first driving light for Dauntless was a large Hella (made in Germany) that I hung under the bow pulpit. I was worried about the anchor hitting it as it swung into place, but that turned out not to be a problem.
It got all the way to Ireland and on the second day in Ireland, as we were re-positioning the boat, rafting her to a fishing boat by hand power alone, we managed to punch the lens of the light out, with the anchor of the nearby boat. The light still functioned, so I left it.
Lucky for me, because 11 months later, as I was cruising up a very narrow channel in southern Sweden, looking for an appropriate place to anchor after an exhausting day, that light saved my bacon.
The channel of “deep” water was only about 8 feet deep and Dauntless needed almost 5 of those feet. But the channel was only about 40 feet wide and outside the channel was only three feet. I had already hit two rocks while in Finland. This was not the soft mud of the Eastern U.S. or even the southern Baltic, this was the jagged rocks of Scandinavia (similar to Maine, as they are related geologically).
I was terrified. In large part because the channel was marked with non-reflective buoys that were spaced too far apart. In other words, as I passed one buoy, I could not see the next one more than half a mile away. Then I thought to turn on my driving light.
It wasn’t exactly like the sun coming up, but it put enough light down range to pick out the marker buoys. My task became easy and 30 minutes later, I was at the spot on the chart that had deep water off channel, so I could anchor and get some much-needed sleep.
My driving light was not going to last with a broken lens, letting water get into the housing. Earlier in the year, I had discovered that the replacement lens, was almost as much as the entire light, almost $100. In Sweden, more than half the cars have some sort of auxiliary driving lights. Why? Because it’s dark and for Europe there are a lot of big animals, mostly European Moose, (smaller than the North American version) on the road at night.
I found three large lights for $100. Later in Ireland, I got a few more of those Amazon LED fog lights (5” diameter). Link My Amazon Fog lights
(These lights look like an even better deal for 10 lights, An even better deal
Originally, I also had two 4″ fog (diffuse lens) facing forward. But they turned out to be only marginally effective. Also, during the same trip, I had to anchor just off the channel in Northern Ireland. I left the spreader lights on for increased visibility and I turned the forward fog lights down to illuminate the hull (they only consume 4.5 amps/hr). I then realized they illuminated the anchor chain well as I was hauling anchor. So I left that way ever since.
All these lights are made for vehicles and thus are waterproof, but the weak point are the brackets. They are mild steel and rust quickly. So, one of my winter projects was to replace those brackets with stainless steel.
I realized Vietnam does so much in stainless steel. Every household has numerous items made from stainless steel: kitchen racks, shelves, shoe and coat stands, etc. Therefore, this was the place to have it done.
Ideally, aluminum would be better, since the housing of the lights is aluminum, but that’s more expensive and the Vietnam market couldn’t sustain it. For the same reason, the stainless steel is to specification 304, not the more salt-water corrosion resistant, 316.
The language barrier can also be formidable. In my neighborhood, virtually no one speaks English. The stainless shop I found last year did not. But that means the translator, must understand the concepts that are being translated and understand my diagram I drew for the two types of brackets and the frame I wanted made. Trinh was up to the task and two days later, we got a call, saying my brackets were ready.
The frame cost $31, each bracket $3.50.
I’ll be back to Dauntless in mid-March, getting her ready to move north later in the spring and southeast Alaska this summer.
If nothing else, I’ll be able to better see in the dark.