Blind Faith - Sail Magazine

Blind Faith

<br Without question, fog is the biggest reason sailors cite for avoiding the Maine coast in summer, despite the fact that it is otherwise an excellent cruising ground. Although sailing in Maine can indeed be quite opaque, this need not be too disconcerting. Instead of being mindlessly fog-phobic, it is better to view fog, wherever you meet it, as just another navigational puzzle to be
Author:
Publish date:
fog

No matter what others say about the dangers of combining fog with inflexible schedules, skippers will still sail off into thick pea soup, common sense be damned. Someone’s timetable inevitably “forces” a cruise through the grey wilderness. Many may vow “never again,” but they do it again anyway, so I will spare you my own advice about never venturing out if visibility is less than a quarter of a mile.

Instead, I will tell you this: all fog ends. And it gets thinner. Exactly when and how depends a lot on what kind of fog you have in the first place. To live with and conquer fog, you must understand what it is and know how to cope with it.

Hear No Evil

Audio cues like crashing surf, boat engines, barking dogs and sea birds can be just as important when sailing in fog as the bells, gongs and whistles on navigation aids. Sometimes they are more important. In any case, your hearing can often be much more useful than your eyesight when fog gets really thick.

So the first rule is this: use your engine as a last resort. Like blinding headlights on a dark road at night, your engine impairs your hearing not only while it’s running, but also for several minutes after you shut it off. Even if you post a lookout on the bow, well away from the engine, its drone can make it hard to pick out the first sounds of an approaching powerboat, crashing surf or other important features in the aural landscape. So use your sails first and foremost; leave the auxiliary for dead calms. When you do motor, shut down the engine at frequent intervals and listen closely to the world around you.

fog2

Remember, too, that some points of sail are better for hearing danger than others. In general, sailing upwind in fog is safer than sailing downwind. Sailing upwind, sound is carried to you; sailing downwind, it is carried away. And, of course, a moderate breeze will carry sounds farther than a light one.

The thickness of fog can also affect whether you hear things sooner rather than later. In 100 feet of visibility or less, only the loudest foghorns are of much value, and even their locations can be hard to pinpoint as sounds can literally bounce off fog banks of varying thicknesses. Sounds may disappear and reappear. You should never assume you are going to hear an audible navigation signal as you approach it.

The Plots Thicken

When visibility falls to near zero, it is best not to plot a course for a harbor that has a narrow entrance or lots of traffic. Outside of Maine, harbors like this are less common, but east of Casco Bay it’s easy to find mile-wide estuaries leading to harbors rarely visited by most pleasure boats.

Fortunately, traffic is easier to avoid in these days of inexpensive GPS devices. Before GPS, most skippers plotted the same courses to the same buoys, thereby increasing the risk of collision. Today you can create your own waypoints and stay well away from those popular courses and buoys. It may take a little more time, but the pay-off is a safer, less traffic-filled passage.

Courses plotted to the lee side of islands tend to work out well, because the warmth of the land thins the fog and may accelerate the summer sea breeze. Courses that take you well inland are also helpful, as the air here warms up more quickly and disperses fog sooner. The upper reaches of many rivers often provide excellent sailing while those sailing farther downriver are left grumbling in the soup.

fog3

Loud and Proud

The best way to avoid collisions in fog is to make noise. Always carry a powerful handheld signaling horn and know how to use it. Even if you don’t always follow the rule about sounding a signal every two minutes while underway in fog (one long blast for power vessels; one long and two short blasts for vessels under sail), you should be prepared to when you know there’s traffic around.

If you hear a boat approaching in fog and determine there is a risk of collision, the appropriate response is five short blasts on a horn. Short blasts are defined as one second each, but I’ve found slightly longer blasts work much better.

Radar, of course, is a very useful collision-avoidance tool, but remember not all vessels will show up on your radar screen. Fiberglass sailboats and small skiffs can be hard to detect, as are kayaks, which are increasingly common in the waters where I sail.

Another useful way to make more noise is to use your VHF radio. Make periodic scurit calls on channel 16 announcing your position, course, speed and intended destination.

Most importantly, when visibility is very poor you should slow down. Maintaining a modest pace is the most prudent approach to fog. That and the other tips outlined here have kept me from banging into anything in the 35 years I’ve cruised the Maine coast.

Related

daviscards

Davis Instruments: Quick Reference Cards

CHECK THESEIf you’re sailing with new crew this summer or your kids have suddenly and inexplicably started to look up from their phones and take an interest in the finer points of cruising, these Quick Reference Cards from Davis are a great way to further their boating education. ...read more

01-rbir18-596

Another Epic Round Britain Race

There are basically two kinds of offshore sailboat races out there: those that take place annually, like the Fastnet and Chicago-to-Mackinac races; and those that take place every other year, like the Transpac and Newport-Bermuda race, in part so the competitors have sufficient ...read more

01b_WALKING-KEDGE-OUT-cmykpromo

Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, ...read more

SailAwayCharter

How-to: Navigating on a Bareboat Charter

So you graduated from navigation class where you practiced dead reckoning, doubling the angle on the bow and maybe even celestial nav, and you now feel well prepared for your first charter trip. Well, you won’t be doing any of that on vacation—not past the first day, anyway.Most ...read more

04-Turtle-rescue

Turtle Rescue in the Vic-Maui

Strange and often wonderful things can happen in the course of an offshore sailboat race, and one of the strangest and most wonderful things we’ve heard of recently took place during the 2,300-mile 2018 Vic-Maui race, from Victoria, British Columbia, to Lahaina, Hawaii.It ...read more

dorcap-open-blue

ATN Inc: Dorcap

COOL SLEEPYou’re fast asleep in a snug anchorage, forehatch open to catch the breeze, when you’re rudely awakened by a sneaky rain squall. Now you’re not only awake and wet, you’re sweltering with the hatch closed. Sucks, right? That’s why ATN came up with the Dorcap, an ...read more

HIGH-RES-29312-Tahiti-GSP

Ask Sail: Who has the right-of-way

WHO HAS RIGHT-OF-WAY?Q: I sail in Narragansett Bay, which is a relatively narrow body of water that has upwind boats generally going south and downwind boats generally going north. When sailboats are racing, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way over the port tack boat, so ...read more