December 17, 2009

Fog and fear

I’VE JUST BEEN READING Frank Dye’s book about his wanderings in a 16-foot Wayfarer sailing dinghy. Year after year this Englishman returned to the USA to complete various stages of a voyage from Miami to the Great Lakes via Maine and the St. Lawrence River.

I can think of no book more likely to put people off the sport of dinghy cruising. Night after night Dye complains of being wet and cold, wrapped in two sleeping bags and flannel pajamas on the bottom boards of his boat. And when he’s not being wet and cold, he’s being frightened by howling winds, breaking waves, contrary currents, and thick fog.

His book is called Sailing to the Edge of Fear, but he tumbles over the edge on too many occasions for my liking, and often enough it’s because of fog. Fog is very scary stuff. What can you do about it?

Actually, there isn’t much advice to give about getting caught in fog that isn’t covered by common sense. If you see a fog bank forming ahead, and you have a chance to turn back to a safe anchorage, do so. It’s the seamanlike action to take.

Fog is treacherous. Go slowly and listen very carefully. If fog catches you out, try to get into shallow water and anchor there. Oftentimes that’s easier said than done, of course.

You should raise a radar reflector as high as you can so other vessels with radar sets will see you. And you should be meticulous about making the right sound signal every two minutes or less. I have noticed that too many skippers are very lax about this. I have even traveled on a Washington State ferry that made no sound signals in thick fog, presumably relying on radar and clearance from Seattle Traffic Control, which can’t possibly tell the ferry if a small craft, invisible to radar, is in its path.

If you’re sailing, the correct signal is one long blast and two short blasts. That’s also the signal made by a vessel not under command, or restricted by her ability to maneuver. The same signal comes from a vessel engaged in fishing, or towing or pushing another vessel.

If you’re under power, the fog signal (and the signal in any kind of restricted visibility, by the way) is one long blast every two minutes or less.

And one last tip – take along a horn that you can blow into. The fog horns that work off cans of compressed air don’t always work. I can vouch for that. I can also tell you that blowing the damn horn as loud as you can every two minutes is a pain in the you-know-what. You can’t go anywhere or do anything that lasts more than one minute, fifty-nine seconds. It puffs your cheeks out and raises your blood pressure. It makes you dizzy and produces black spots before your eyes. But it’s better than being run down at sea. So do it.

Today’s Thought
He that bringeth himself into needless dangers dieth the devil’s martyr.
— Thomas Fuller, Holy War

“I’ve found out why production has slowed down since you got that second computer.”
“Good. What’s wrong?”
“The big computer’s shoving all the work on to the little computer.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great advice. Having a "blow-as-hard-as-you-can horn" is a must for a backup. The manual pump Ecohorns are extremely useful as a primary. Unlike a compressed air can you can generally fix most of the malfunctions that arise.