Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades

Published on April 14th, 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 is one of them:

From Robert Muggleston:
In June of 2001 Jim Mertz, “the Iron Man of the Onion Patch” (between 1936 and 2004 he did 30 Newport Bermuda Races; all but two in that stretch), asked me to join him for the Marion Bermuda Race. He kept his Beneteau First 42 Allegra at American Yacht Club in Rye, N.Y., and needed help moving the boat from Rye to Marion.

Was I game? Yes!

I took the train to Rye where Jim and the co-owner of the boat, David Schwartz-Leeper, and David’s two teenage sons, waited for me at the dock. We shoved off at 1700 for the motor up Long Island Sound. Once out there – after dark, of course – we found ourselves in crippling fog.

I thought my placement on the bow was somewhat dubious, since everything beyond my outstretched arm was a mystery. But at least up there, bathed in the soft glow of Allegra’s bow lights, I was away from the clatter of the diesel.

There was an earnest conversation between Jim and David regarding the Long Island Ferry. They’d (correctly, it turns out) identified this vessel as the one that stood the best chance of running us down. If there was radar aboard Allegra it didn’t work. And, of course, this was pre-AIS. David would occasionally blow on a bugle. After a frantic search below, the boat’s radar reflector had been located. This was the extent of our collision-avoidance.

Soon there came a heavy, rumbling noise. But from where? The fog seemed to channel the noise like a ventriloquist. Was it to starboard, or port? From off the bow, or the stern? It grew louder and more menacing, and yet I still couldn’t pinpoint its location.

David was halfway through his version of Reveille when the ferry finally sounded its horn, and it was deafening enough to blow our collective hair back. David did an amazing job not dropping his bugle into Long Island Sound.

“There it is,” Jim said, pointing into the fog off our stern. I squinted, but the only evidence of the ferry had been the one blast, and a bow wave that nearly knocked us on our beam. A quick call to the ferry confirmed that they had had us on radar the whole time. But, to this day, I wonder: Why so close?

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