BIOLUMINESCENCE aka PIXIE DUST

posted May 30, 2014, 11:02 PM by PacificNorthWest MultihullAssoc   [ updated May 30, 2014, 11:10 PM ]

I am not sure how old I was the first time I saw one of nature's most delightful light shows but I know I was quite young.   We were not a boating family when I grew up, both mom and dad worked hard and long just to make ends meet and it was a luxury if we took a trip on the water.   I am sure it was my father, ever the naturalist, who pointed it out and explained why seemingly innocuous water if agitated would sparkle and flash with a dazzling array of light that Disney himself might take delight in.

The natural spectacle of bioluminescence, caused by a single celled plankton that has the magic gift of emitting light, can range from individual sparks of light to an unearthly radiance surrounding an anchor line to a burst of radiance outlining a fish as it darts here or there.   It can serve as a telltale extending behind our boats and may form 2 or even 3 parallel tracks as each hull slides nearly effortlessly through the water.

I am continually amazed that many long time boaters have never seen it or believe it to be little more than a fable, conjured by sailors too long from port. My son Roger used to take a boatload of friends out from Shilshole and then proceed to make all sorts of cryptic patterns in the dark waters after sunset, patterns that lasted for only a short time.

Nearly all of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea and its tributaries abound with the little beasties.   Sometimes their presence is seen only as solitary flashes but as the darkness grows, they become more conspicuous.   A week ago in Sequim Bay, we showed some friends who are only a bit younger than Linda and I, their presence at the dock.   Like a group of children, they oo'ed and ahh'ed as they whirled a length of rope.   I have been sailing at night and in a seeming fit of ecstasy, hopped from the cockpit to the net to laugh and playfully slap it, making it sparkle with their presence.   I have seen it creaming the edge of whitecaps and outlining the breaking edge towering astern as we run before the waves.

It is here now so if you have a fancy and can score a ride, go out for a look.   I find it plentiful in bays that can warm a bit but it can just as likely be here there and everywhere.   You see it best in the darkest conditions, so put the lights out and face away from those city lights.   Better still, the next time you are laying on the hook in some secluded bay, take a moment and really look at the water around you.   I can almost guaranty you will look longer than a moment.

If so inclined, Google bioluminescence and see pictures of the magic world wide.


Martyn & Linda Adams

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