Mixing pleasure and panic

Published on April 5th, 2021

Avoiding collision requires visibility which is hard in the fog, and once was a whole lot harder before pinpoint navigation tools. But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and provides good stories… here’s one of them:

From Robert Boynton:
This was a while ago during a SSS Farallones Race starting on San Francisco Bay. I was already anxious as I always am before a solo ocean race when I left the dock for the starting line. Once cleared of the breakwater I was soon deep into a heavy fog.

It being just dawn, I picked up a light that I thought was Alcatraz and headed for it thinking to pass it to port. As I approached the light I eventually realized I was heading straight for rocks as the light was not Alcatraz but Point Blunt on Angel Island that I had to pass to starboard. As I was fairly close to the rocks, this mistake amped my anxiety even further.

I got to the starting line in heavy fog, cleared the start and headed to exit the bay at the Golden Gate Bridge. With 30 to 40 boats all close hauled headed towards the ocean, some on port tack others on starboard, with almost zero visibility and a slight flood tide, the fleet began to compress. I could see nothing around me except an occasional flash of a sailboat going by along with occasional wakes from the fishing fleet.

While there was no visibility, there were plenty of sounds; motors, sailboats tacking, buoy bells but over it all was the Golden Gate Bridge foghorn which, when under the bridge is so loud it will shake your fillings out and not very calming.

As my anxiety was peaking, the radio crackled with a message from an inbound tanker to the race committee. ‘Race committee, please let your racers know that I am a large tanker inbound coming through the gate from the ocean, please advise your racers to keep clear’. Anxiety peaks again!

This was at a time before AIS, or really chartplotters, so I’m pretty much dead reckoning and scared to death of running into a tanker. Sounds and wakes were all around me, but I could see nothing. Minutes later the radio crackled again and this time it was a racer reporting he had seen the tanker, it was inside the gate and all was clear. Whew, panic over!

However, right after this report the tanker captain got on the radio again, very agitated, and announced that he was not inside the gate at all but still heading in and to please watch out…panic level is now back up again.

Thankfully I got out the gate okay, the fog lifted and I never did see the tanker, but what a start to a long day… I’ll remember it forever.

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