The young racer had been sailing for days without sleep, but he was ahead of the fleet in the Solitaire du Figaro, a grueling, singlehanded race off the coast of France. Sailing into the harbor to the cheers of the crowd, he stepped from his boat onto the wharf to accept their congratulations—then his safety harness jerked him back. There were no crowds, no wharf. He was standing on the gunwale of his boat surrounded by empty ocean. “I’ve heard similar stories from a couple of other sailors,” Damien Davenne, a chronobiologist with STAPS University in Caen, France, told me. “When they are hallucinating, they can’t tell what’s real and what’s not. It is believed that sailors have been lost at sea after stepping off the boat.”

Chronobiology is a young science dedicated to the study of biological rhythms—literally, the biology of time. STAPS university focuses on the science and techniques of sports and physical activities, and many French solo sailors consult its staff to help them manage their sleep while racing. But sleep deprivation is an issue that affects not just racers, but cruisers as well.

In fact, hallucinations are just one symptom of sleep deprivation, and it’s not only single-handed sailors who go too long without enough sleep. Most cruising boats make ocean passages shorthanded, often with only a husband and

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Sail

Sail4 min readScience
Ask Sail
Q: I am noticing more and more cruising boats carrying high-tech membrane sails, and I was wondering why that is. —Carter Dickens, Houston, TX It’s all about the engineering. Specifically, membrane sails are highly engineered, so you can end up with
Sail3 min read
Vive La Difference!
Following up on the J/121, which won a SAIL Best Boats award in 2018, the new J/99 represents a similar concept in a smaller package. Specifically, the new 32-footer’s deck layout and rig have been optimized for smaller and even double-handed crews,
Sail6 min read
The Legacy
On this idyllic California summer morning, Soncy, a classic 40ft Rhodes-designed sloop built in 1957, is on her way to Santa Catalina Island. On board are owner John Clark Jr., his 10-year-old son, Ian, and me. As we motor out of New-port Harbor whil