“Lost” in the Fog!

We don’t cruise the New England coastline … yet. … So when major fog rolls in with no warning, it’s a bit disconcerting … it happened twice last winter in southwest Florida and once in 2010 in Belize.

We were sailing along on a beautiful sail between Naples and Marco Island … sunny skies, tourist beach activities in full swing when we spotted this bank of clouds far far behind us.  David’s comment was “uh oh”, my natural instinct is to poopoo his negativity, it’s a glorious day, it’s not going to turn ugly.   Guess it must be David’s Coast Guard SAR training because within an hour our glorious sunny sail turned into pea soup!  Ugh!

Fog bank off Naples, FL as we sail south to Marco Island.

Fog bank off Naples, FL as we sail south to Marco Island.

So what to do.  First of all, there were a LOT of boats out making the run either from Naples to Marco or Marco to Naples.    Traffic everywhere.  No problem on a bright sunny day, but when it turns to pea soup, watch out!

The fog bank is overtaking us and looking ominous.

The fog bank is overtaking us and looking ominous.

Three simple steps as Oso the Bear (my grandson’s favorite TV show) would say:

1.  Slow down!

2.  Turn on the radar.  If we didn’t have radar, we would have slowed even more.

3.  Make the appropriate sound signals.  We have both a bell and air horn aboard and used them alternately.  Here’s our fog bell if you need one, from West Marine – we just have the “basic brass bell” variety, it attaches, as you can see, to the side of our teak cockpit table drink tray so it’s in easy reach while we’re at the wheel straining our eyes into the fog.

Our fog bell obviously doesn't see much use and we dug it out of a lazarette.

Our fog bell obviously doesn’t see much use and we dug it out of a lazarette.

The airhorn is usually at it's station in the cockpit whenever we're underway.  Rarely used, it got a workout this day!

The airhorn is usually at it’s station in the cockpit whenever we’re underway. Rarely used, it got a workout this day!

Pea Soup Fog

Pea Soup Fog

At this point we kept circling in a small circle waiting for the fog bank to pass.  We could see one other boat, a trawler, within our confined circle of view and we figured his radar signature would be better than ours, so we tried to keep him in sight.  He was using the same circle tactics we were.

We could hear fancy power boats – both cigarette style boats and sportfishermen blowing by us — zoom zoom — and never spotted them, a very scary feeling!  Idiots!

In the

In the “distance” we could occasionally spot boats after we saw them on radar.

After 45 minutes or so, the fog bank lifted just slightly and we could barely make out the sea buoy to Marco, but waited to make sure the coast was clear before heading in the channel.  BIG mistake!  The fog bank moved back in & once again we were mired in pea soup.  Finally after over an hour, I thought to call Sea Tow inside Factory Bay/Marco Island.  They responded saying it was clear inside that the fog seemed to be sitting right over the sea buoy.  Great, just great.

Barely seeing the channel markers, thank goodness for good Garmin charts and radar.   Venturing outside the marked channel, we'd be aground!

Barely seeing the channel markers, thank goodness for good Garmin charts and radar. Venturing outside the marked channel, we’d be aground!

So the next time it lifted just enough to see a bit, using the radar and our sound signals, we crept closer to the channel.  Once again, we could hear sportfishing boats zooming past but couldn’t see them until they were almost upon us – luckily there were none close enough to cause serious heart palpitations.   We shouted curses they couldn’t possibly hear over their gazillion horse zoom zooms and made our way from marker to marker.

A couple of boats were coming out, obviously they didn’t realize the fog was settled in around the sea buoy.  Both returned before we could even get all the way down the channel.  Going 5 knots, alot of boats seem to get where they’re going quicker than Winterlude!   🙂

Finally, we could barely see the coastline and the fog seemed to be less dense.

Finally, we could barely see the coastline and the fog seemed to be less dense.

And once past this point, we could see well enough to discontinue the sound signals and radar monitoring and sail on in to Factory Bay.  Sea Tow was right, inside it was totally clear.  Go figure!

Anchor down and happily safe, we relaxed in the cockpit.   Just after dinner, the fog bank decided to move inland and we watched from our safe spot as it rolled over us and we were engulfed in pea soup once again.

Now we turned on our deck lights in addition to our really bright LED anchor light and cockpit light so any boats still out moving around would hopefully see us anchored.  With our dark hull, I always worry a bit about being spotted in the dark.   No problems although we remained alert with sound signals at the ready until it grew later and we heard no more boats.  Luckily the fog lifted before bedtime so we could get some sleep after an interesting day on the water.

Fog Rolling in to Factory Bay, Marco Island, where we're safely anchored.

Fog Rolling in to Factory Bay, Marco Island, where we’re safely anchored.

Obviously we’re not experienced in fog.  Maybe some New England or Northwest sailors (or anywhere else that deals with fog on a regular basis) will chime in with more tips on how to deal with it if we missed something important!  Please leave comments and share!   THANKS!   Cheers!  Jan

Comments

  1. Jan
    I worry about you using both a bell and horn, As a sailor without radar and fog dispersing sound so you cannot locate the direction of the boat I would consider that there are two boats in the fog not one. Also having being caught in fog I use the VHF radio to broadcast a securite of my location. speed, and direction from my GPS frequently.

    John

    • Thanks John! All I know is it was scary & we hope not to repeat it soon! Can you clarify on broadcasting a securite? Do you have a loudspeaker attached to your VHF? Or is it all over the VHF itself? If everyone that was out there that day was broadcasting locations on the VHF, Ch 16 would have been overwhelmed, too many boats since the sea buoy at Marco Island mid-day is a very popular place. Please let us know. The idea sounds ideal, the practicality in this situation, maybe not.

      • Jan.
        I broadcast over the VHF radio and interestingly no other boats did the same, unless I was the only boat out, I can understand if Ch 16 is overwhelmed prudence would be needed but would still broadcast.
        John

  2. Getting AIS is a good idea for seeing the other boats nearby if they are also AIS equipped.

    Many VHF radios now come with AIS readers and screens too.

Speak Your Mind

*