When in doubt, listen for the bark

Published on April 19th, 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 are two of them:

From Rich Jepsen; Alameda, CA:
Back when I was young and dumb, in the days of radio direction finders (RDFs), I was a coastal cruising instructor teaching a course for my school on a C&C Landfall 38. Our three day weekend out of San Francisco Bay, the short coastal cruise course was to take us north to Drakes Bay, Pt. Reyes, south to Pillar Point Yacht Harbor, Half Moon Bay, and home again, to Alameda.

After we had spent an evening early in the week covering the cruise plan and buffing up plotting, RDF, and math skills, I was pleased and proud to let the students handle the navigation and dead reckoning. They took their compass sights, made their calculations, and we were spot on during Day One’s clear visibility.

Upon getting underway early on Day Two, we had a very low, drizzly overcast leaving to head south, fully expecting that to generally rise and dry out as the sun got higher. Except it didn’t and the fog dropped to the deck within two hours.

Out came the RDF and we settled in on a radio signal within a half mile of Pillar Point. My students loved the RDF, playing with it, taking bearings and plotting them, and, as we motor-sailed south, they were happy to note that our position made steady progress to our next destination.

I was so pleased with them I didn’t bother to check their plots, but near sunset with a bit of a temporary break in the fog, we came upon the coast again and out popped the shoreline of what looked more like San Gregorio, 10 miles south of our target.

During the long, sheepish motor back north to Pillar Point, I quietly reflected on my hubris and the big lesson of how nothing separates navigators and navigation instructors like fog.

From David Redfern:
Sailing in absolute zero with 35 knots of fog off the Grand Banks, we went through a fleet of fishing boats. However, we knew where they all were because of their live fog horns. Each boat had a Labrador dog that gave one bark to be replied to by the others. We were of course in the land of the Labrador. Very effective in fog. Quite spooky too.

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