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A couple weeks ago I wrote about cardinal marks, and ended the post with the challenge to name the specific location of one in the Caribbean. One person did meet my challenge on Facebook, pointing out that a cardinal mark is positioned just off Clifton on Union Island. Unfortunately, not a single person responded on the blog post itself.


Well, as it happens, I recently took note of another one myself, not far from where we’re anchored right now as a matter of fact. Just off the Devil’s Table in Bequia, a cardinal mark warns mariners to pass to the west of the large reef. The funny thing is, I only noticed it at night when I spotted the mark’s white light flashing 9 times (funny only because I wrote in that earlier post how I used to have trouble with the light signals).

How I remember which cardinal mark is which:

  • Both triangle tips pointing up = North
  • Both triangle tips pointing down = South
  • Triangles pointing away from each other in a diamond shape looks like an egg. Egg begins with the letter E. That is East.
  • Triangles pointing towards one another looks like a wine glass. Wine begins with the letter W. That is West.
  • Note that the triangle tips always point to the black part of the mark. The remainder is yellow. When looking at a mark that has no triangles on top, I reverse engineer what I just wrote to determine which mark it is.

Always being the annoying teacher, I quizzed Rebecca to see if she knew what the mark was off our port side. Unfortunately, from where she sat, her view of the cardinal mark was obstructed. What she saw instead was some misguided sailor, not far from the cardinal mark, making his way towards the harbor with a bright white strobe light flashing on top of his masthead. Not only was this confusing to Rebecca, it also seemingly threw off the captain of the huge ferry that was steaming up behind the sailboat. I say that because while we were both watching, the ferry turned on a massive spotlight, illuminating the sailboat as if to say WTF?

Just don’t do it!

I’ve ranted before about cruisers who turn on strobe lights at anchor (just don’t do it). Running one while underway is even more stupid, unless of course you’re in distress, and are trying to call attention to yourself. Nautical lights are meant to talk to us, but they only work if we’re all speaking the same language. Just imagine if someone typing out morse code decided to throw in some extra dots and dashes, just so that you’d pay more attention to them! Stupid, right?

Leave the flashing reds and greens to channel marks!

While I’m ranting about lights, please people, get rid of the flashing red and green ones too. Yes, we’ve seen both. In fact, I specifically remember two vessels, anchored just outside the marked channel in a Grenadian anchorage, that sported lights like that, one red and one green. It was as if they had gotten together and actually planned how they could add confusion to the already well lit anchorage. End rant. Have a nice day, people!


  1. Mike: We’ve been following you two since you were first in the Bahamas. We have been busy these last few months and haven’t been following you as religiously as we would like. Just want to know if you still plan to travel to Patagonia? We have a 32 ft. PDQ. All the best. Kathy

  2. Hi Rebecca and Mike. Thanks for taking the time to write about your adventures. Really helps get by till my next sail. Glad to see you are out exploring the wonderful Caribbean. The Chesapeake is a great place to sail but it is hard to beat the crystal clear Caribbean. I would love to hear your opinion on your favorite places to snorkel. The Tobago Cays looked amazing. We are planning a visit south and snorkeling is my main goal. Thanks, Sail on.

    • Hi Tom. Our favorite snorkeling has been in the Exumas (Bahamas). You can’t beat the water clarity there. Our all-time favorite was Rum Cay. South of that I’d say the next best is the Virgin Islands. There are some good places south of the Virgins but often the water clarity is hit or miss.

  3. Hi Mike. Well put.

    What in your opinion (and maybe a blog post to get others’ options too) is the best way to better illuminate your boat when at anchor?

    A single mast head white is technically correct but does little for the drunk returning from the bar at midnight going too fast in his dinghy who is looking at water height.

    I have heard of people having a white solar lantern hanging in the cockpit off the middle of the boom in addition to the master head light. Would that be bright enough or be confusing to have 2 white lights above each other. Or use a blue light which has no navigational meaning, but could add to the confusion. Others have cockpit lighting at floor level connected to the house batteries to ensure all night burn which creates a glow in the cockpit. White again could be a good option for for night vision if you come on deck and want some light that option may not be ideal.

    What are your thoughts and experiences as someone out on the water?

    Thanks for a great blog!

    • This is a good question. Before I answer, I have a confession to make. When we were cruising in the Bahamas, and would set out for a party that would go on until after dark, we made it a habit to turn on the red cockpit light (the red light was there to preserve night vision when underway) so that we could more easily find our boat amongst the hundreds of others in Georgetown. That was 5 years ago, and I wouldn’t recommend it now, but it worked.

      I agree that the masthead all-around is not ideal if you’re trying to be seen by dinghy traffic. We had a beautiful, super-bright, portable LED light that we would rig in the foretriangle, or under the boom, immediately after anchoring. It plugged into a 12v receptacle, and had a photocell so that it would turn on and off automatically. I loved it, but it died. 🙁

      Presently we turn on two Luci lights in our cockpit (in addition to the masthead all-around). They work well, but sadly, do not last all night as I had hoped them would. Many of our friends have various LED lights in the cockpit, or on deck. I think the more, the better. It makes your boat less likely to be struck by a passing dinghy, and makes it a very uninviting target for thieves.

  4. Why don’t you use the original, and still correct, light in the fore triangle. This should be slightly above the cabin height so that it can be seen all round. It also lights the foredeck and the mast to some extent so that others can see the size and orientation of the boat. It helps that the light swings slightly and this makes it more eye catching.

    I still use a hurricane lamp for this. It uses a tiny amount of paraffin (kerosene), it easily lasts all night and of course it doesn’t go out.

    The use of a unsatisfactory masthead light is a relatively new option. It doesn’t light the boat at all. It is hard to spot amongst other boats and shore lights. It is hard to place amongst others as it waves about in a crowded anchorage. I know from your pictures that you hardly ever have crowed anchorages but I still regard the masthead light as unsatisfactory.

    As regards other lights, it is a good idea to leave a cabin light on. Again this copies the requirement for bigger boats. With modern LED lights this is not much of a drain on the battery.



    • Why don’t I use a light in the foretriangle? Because I don’t at present have one. As for your suggestion to use a hurricane lamp, sorry man, IMO unattended fire and boats don’t go together. This is 2016, not 1900.

  5. One of my peeves is folks that build a structure on the shore near their house because it’s cute.

    I’ve gone to leaving a cockpit light on. It’s LED so it doesn’t draw squat and it lights the boat. Much better than a strobe.

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