What you see when your eyes can’t

Published on June 28th, 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 Capt Ron Schaper:
The first day of September, the heart of hurricane season, doesn’t seem like the best time to set out from Fort Lauderdale for Europe, but in 1971 we didn’t have the type of weather forecasting available today. Besides, adventurous twenty-year olds were game for adventure.

Shortly after leaving Florida, the engine drive shaft coupling broke, so we were resigned to sailing the heavy steel ketch. Soon we had plenty of wind and did not even need the sails as hurricane Ginger grabbed us and blasted us up off the Grand Banks of Nova Scotia. There we were soon becalmed and the thick cold Grand Banks fog enveloped us.

The sails slatted, shaking off the condensed moisture as we sat dead in the water. With no drive shaft, we were immobile and strained our ears and senses for approaching ships. Our only defenses were a mizzen-head mounted radar reflector, a loud horn, and, if it came to it, a strong steel hull.

To me, this waiting game was more stressful than the monstrous seas and shrieking winds of the hurricane. Eventually, the fog cleared, the breeze filled, and we had a 66 day passage to Mallorca.

From David Barrow:
I remember during the 70s being in thick fog during a race in the English Channel, one of the busiest shipping areas in the world. We were listening to the slow chunk, chunk, chunk of large ships engines, our hands near engine starters in case something loomed out of the mist, as there was little wind. There were quite a few yachts in a small area.

Cassette players were beginning to appear on boats providing some musical relief. Some wag though had a collection of special effects. So in the middle of the channel we were treated to the sound of steam trains exiting a tunnel amongst others.

However, with the disorientation of being in thick fog, the one that caused a lot of questions for navigators, as you could imagine, was the recording of a man walking a barking dog along the beach as we were miles from land.

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