Fog

My favorite organization, Oregon Women’s Sailing Association, is full of wonderful energetic women who do amazing things. I don’t know where to start. They invented Sail for the Cure and this year raised nearly $30,000. They have workshops on neat stuff like hull integrity and electrical systems. Racers organize a racing series; cruisers get everyone out for Wednesday Night Sails. Just look at their website. I simply enjoy myself. And to hold up my volunteer end a bit, I help with the newsletter. Here’s what I wrote for newsletter, but editor Alice Patten contributd the first sentence that says it all.

FOG

Fog makes you feel stupid and powerless. So when you are suddenly engulfed by fog, what do you do? I tend to panic while my skipper remains calm. Eventually the fog breaks or we break out of it. Here’s what we did to manage several episodes.

Our first encounter with fog was as brand new sailors out on the Columbia in an Island Sailing Club Cal 22 in comfortably light winds. All of a sudden the lovely wispy clouds ganged up on us in a white out! Where were the riverbanks? The shipping lane?

We opted to leave the sail up so we’d be more visible should the fog break around the mast. And we left the motor off so that we could listen for shipping and for cars on the I-5 bridge. When the fog loosened a bit, we slid back into our Hayden Island slip.

Our second incident was smack in the middle of Juan de Fuca Strait, where the shipping lanes converge. We’d deliberately waited for a bright calm day and were motoring back to Port Townsend. Out of the blue the fog closed in. Visibility dropped from miles to about 25 feet. We were in blinding white dome!

We did three things. Switched on the VHF for calls from vessels that might catch us in their radar, blew on a cheap but loud fog horn and ran the folding radar reflector up a halyard.

Last summer, cruisers along the BC coast got fog in July as well as “Fogust”. Fog is more likely in the morning but early birds enjoy solitude and get good anchorage or mooring buoys. Following our clear, crack of dawn departure from Victoria, the Vancouver Island shoreline gradually disappeared and we were socked in. We switched from charts to our hand held Garmin GPS chart plotter and crept up the coast. Finally we spotted a buoy near Sidney port and circled it for an hour. When the fog broke slightly we found our way into the marina. Over lunch the blue sky returned.

Our last incident was in the Boundary Channel. On the chart it looked idyllic, cutting a clear path between the San Juans and the Gulf Islands! Little did we know it was also a major shipping lane. The fog caught us on a short leg to South Pender Island. Grey fog, thick as mashed turnips, and with rain that did nothing to dispel it. Rocky islands studded the shores. We tethered ourselves in. Jack managed the helm while zooming in and out on the GPS plotter. Suddenly, we heard ourselves being hailed on the VHF. “Sailing vessel in the shipping lane, can you read me?” The captain of what was likely a huge vessel informed us he was moving at 14 knots with us in his path! As I answered the call, Jack struggled with the GPS plotter, which had chosen chose that moment to break down! I explained the problem and the pilot gave us our optimal heading. We got back on course, deeply grateful for his kind encouragement and navigational expertise.

Without the GPS plotter, we could only rely on radar. Sitting on the top step of the companionway, I zoomed in and out on the radar screen. Every 45 seconds I’d emerge to do a 360º scan of a “horizon” that was 50 feet away. At one point I “saw” a vessel at 12 o’clock and yelled to Jack to turn sharply to the left. As he did, an ugly “deadhead” slid by on starboard. But this log stuck into the bottom helped us find our location on the chart.

Was there more we could have done in these situations? Certainly. As lessons are learned, sailors develop mental checklists. Please add your strategies for managing fog to this list.

• Sail, don’t motor if there’s any wind. You can hear much better and your sails may break through low lying fog and be visible to commercial vessels.
• Go slow.
• Blow your fog horn at regular intervals.
• Hoist a radar reflector.
• Monitor VHF channel 16.
• Use a GPS chartplotter and/or radar if you’ve got them.
• Circle a safe, known navigational aid such as a buoy until visibility improves.
• Be patient. Fog recedes as quickly as it arrives.

Advertisements

0 Responses to “Fog”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Archives


%d bloggers like this: