Before technology took over

Published on March 25th, 2021

The COLREGS are the international “rules of the road” to prevent collisions at sea and its most basic tenet is to only proceed at a safe speed so the yacht can take “proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.”

But avoiding collision requires visibility which gets harder in fog, and which once was far harder than today. You have to be of a certain age to recall boating on a foggy day before pinpoint navigation. Here’s a couple of stories:

Scott Boye; Friday Harbor, WA:
Decades ago I managed to get a ride on a Cabo race, and as I was foredeck on one of the watches, my job was to change sails and handle the pointy end when we gybed. As such, I didn’t pay much attention to where we were on the course.

The navigator, an ancient guy that always questioned the drivers as to their compass course, came up on deck one of the mornings when there was some fog. He listened for a while and said, “Time to gybe.” I wasn’t brave enough to ask why, but one of the crew did. The navigator went into an explanation about how the locals would drive on the beaches of Baja because it was more direct than driving inland to the main highway.

“These farmers always have a few mongrels in the back of the pickup truck,” he said. “When I hear them, I can tell we’re within a mile of the beach. That’s what we call ‘Dog Bark Navigation’.”

From Tom Anderson; Marblehead, MA:
While sailing off Marblehead in my 19’ Cape Dory Typhoon many many moons ago, the fog came in thick and fast one midsummer weekend afternoon. As the fog came in, I took a quick compass reading of where the Channel entrance bell was and immediately tacked the boat and started sailing in that direction.

It was amazing how quickly the fog clamped down and it took a while to slowly sail along that rhumb line that I so hoped was right while listening carefully for the bell’s 2+1 sound. Yes, eventually I found the bell, and to my amazement so had several other boats, both power and sail, all larger than me just milling around the bell.

Some of the other boats looked at me in surprise as I continued to sail past them toward the harbor entrance (that bearing I had down cold), and one motorboat operator called over “Do you know how to get to the main harbor?” This surprised me very much as his boat and all the others were so much bigger. I replied just “Yes”.

And so onward I sailed with at first just one boat behind me, then I noticed that more were following. It was like a parade! And yes I found the harbor with all my “ducklings” behind me.

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