Sailing in fog, inshore piloting, and more - Sail Magazine

Sailing in fog, inshore piloting, and more

This month: coping with fog, inshore pilotingSeamanshipSailing in fogSummer sailing and fog seem to be inextricably linked in some parts of the country, and everyone who races or cruises will run into a bank of the gray stuff at one time or another. When you do, your priorities change from making good time toward your destination to not running into other
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0

This month: coping with fog, inshore piloting

Seamanship

Sailing in fog

Summer sailing and fog seem to be inextricably linked in some parts of the country, and everyone who races or cruises will run into a bank of the gray stuff at one time or another. When you do, your priorities change from making good time toward your destination to not running into other traffic and not running aground.

Modern electronics have taken some of the angst out of coping with fog. With GPS, at least you'll always know where you are, so grounding's not so much of a worry. Radar is the greatest asset you can have when fog closes in on you; there is no more terrifying sound at sea than the throbbing diesels of an invisible ship, and being able to track its course on a radar screen is far preferable to cowering in the cockpit waiting for a bow wave to loom out of the mist.

But it would be foolish to place all your trust in electronics. The smaller your vessel, the less likely it will produce a radar echo—that a ship will see your tiny echo on its own radar, or even that a watchkeeper is checking the radar, is not guaranteed. Let's hope you have a proper radar reflector, not one of those bird-feeder look-alikes, and that it works well.

If you don't have radar, your ears are your best defense. It's a shame you can’t rely on them. Sound travels a long way over the water, but in fog it's hard to tell which direction it is coming from. Differentials in temperature and wind create skip zones over which sound waves travel in a curve, sometimes returning to sea level several miles away. The upshot is that you may be hearing an engine or foghorn close by on your port side that actually belongs to a ship some way off to starboard, or you may hear nothing at all until the other vessel is very close indeed.

I always try to make the boat as quiet as possible. This can be difficult. If you're under sail the noise of the bow wave is annoyingly intrusive. If the engine is running, only someone on the bow will be able to hear anything else. It's best to have two listeners, each scanning one side of the boat. I was taught to concentrate in fog by cupping my hands over my ears and closing my eyes; this doesn't look very cool, but it works.

Some vessels make the required sound signals, and others do not. Usually the offenders are other sailboats or powerboats whose aerosol foghorns have run out of puff. You should always have a backup noisemaker on board so you can give the required one-prolonged-two-short blasts every two minutes (one prolonged blast if you're under power). Even whacking the boom with a skillet is better than no noise at all. Bone up on the Rules of the Road for a thorough guide to sound signals.

At the first sign of fog we immediately mark our position on the chart and always keep up a running plot if we are within a few miles of the coast.

We've also always insisted the crew put on PFDs and harnesses, too; I would hate to have to try to retrieve a man-overboard in dense fog. If we're in a heavily trafficked coastal area, we'll head toward the coast and shallower water, well away from the big ships. When it comes to fog, discretion is most definitely the better part of valor. P.N.

Techniques

Heads down, but take it easy
When gybing shorthanded in any breeze above the lightest, steer 10 degrees or so off dead-downwind, then trim the mainsheet tight and cleat it. Now gybe carefully to a similar angle on the other side of the breeze. As the boom flops across the boat, the sail will tend to luff. The trick to an effortless gybe is to counteract the luffing with a nudge of opposite helm. When things have stabilized, ease the mainsheet to trim for the new course. If it's windy, you’ll have to let out the sheet quickly to keep the boat controlled. T.C.

Pilotage

Keep on track

For close piloting inshore, it is important to steer down a straight track from one navigation mark to the next. Merely aiming the boat will not be enough if there is any crosscurrent. As soon as you round a mark, line up the following one with some convenient object behind it. This will establish a natural range. As long as you stay on the range with the objects in line, you must be on the straightest track. Casual ranges are not always as obvious as the one shown in the photo above, but anything at all will do—even a distant cloud if there isn’t much wind and the leg is a short one. T.C.

Words from the Wise

"Without the proper chart table and working space found on larger craft, the navigator of a small family cruiser spends much of his time doing what is called 'coastal pilotage...' He learns to look at a chart and see it as a three-dimensional shoreline, and to look at the land and visualize it as a flat chart. What he is really doing is nautical map reading. Far be it from me to suggest that it is unnecessary to learn the more formal navigation methods. On the contrary, to cruise safely and successfully a sound knowledge of coastal navigation principles is essential. But it is as well to realize that while you can keep up an accurate plot in fine and settled weather, as soon as bit of a sea gets up, or the weather closes in, in fact just when you need a good plot, you are likely to have your hands full coping with the boat, and all you will be able to do is sail by eye."
—Colin Jarman, Coastal Cruising (1975)

This month's contributors: Tom Cunliffe, Peter Nielsen

Click here for the Cruising Tips Archive

Related

Stearns Photo

Racing the Solo Mac for a Cause

There are plenty of reasons to do a Chicago-Mac race, and Rich Stearns, who has done literally dozen of ‘em should know. This year, though, he’s doing the Solo-Mac for an especially important reason: to help those with prostate cancer.“Two years ago, I was diagnosed with prostate ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comRafting dangerOne unseen danger when sailing yachts lie alongside one another for a convivial night is that if they happen roll to a wash or begin to move in an unexpected sea, the spreaders can clash ...read more

180615-01 Lead

A Dramatic Comeback in the Volvo

After winning three of the last four legs in the Volvo Ocean Race (and coming in second in the fourth), Dutch-flagged Brunel is now tied for first overall with Spanish-flagged Mapfre and Chinese-flagged Dongfeng following the completion of Leg 10 from Cardiff, Wales, to ...read more

MFS-5-2018-Propan-SP02

Tohatsu LPG-powered 5hp Propane Motor

Gassing it UpTired of ethanol-induced fuel issues? Say goodbye to gasoline. Japanese outboard maker Tohatsu has introduced an LPG-powered 5hp kicker that hooks up to a propane tank for hours of stress-free running. Available in short-, long- or ultra-long-shaft versions, the ...read more

180612-01 Landing lead

Painful Sailing in Volvo Leg 10

It’s looking to be a case of feast or famine for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean fleet as it continues the epic struggle that has been Leg 10, with it having been all famine thus far. Painful is the only word to describe the light-air start in Cardiff, Wales, on June 10, as the 11-boat ...read more

01-13_07_180304_JRE_03695_4605

Tips From the Boatyard

Within the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard sits a communal sail loft which provides service and repairs for all seven teams sailing in the 2017-18 edition of the race. The sail loft employs only five sailmakers who look after 56 sails in each stopover. If you’re thinking, “wow, these ...read more

sailCarwBasicsJuly18

Sail Care for Cruisers

Taking care of your canvas doesn’t just save you money, it’s central to good seamanship  Knowing how to take care of your sails and how to repair them while at sea is an important part of overall seamanship. The last thing any sailor needs is to get caught on a lee shore with ...read more

Ship-container-2048

The Danger of a Collision Offshore

This almost happened to me once. I was sailing singlehanded between Bermuda and St. Martin one fall, and one night happened to be on deck looking around at just the right time. The moon was out, the sky was clear and visibility was good. Still, when I thought I saw a large ...read more