Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Don’t Do What I Did

January 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

We can plan summer boating trips far in advance and invite only the people we really like to join us. However, there’s always a party-crasher lurking about, ready to ruin a good day on the water.

Predicting Mother Nature’s mood several days in advance (let alone while planning an outing weeks in advance) is difficult. Meteorologists certainly do their best, but it is bright and sunny as I write this story on an afternoon where thunderstorms were forecast for the entire day (maybe two towns over they are getting drenched, but I’m about to reapply my sunscreen).

Weather played a major factor in a day earmarked for boating with family and friends. I’d checked the marine weather report, where I heard that the morning’s mist should burn off before noon. Boaters know that weather situations can quickly become intense on the water. When highs and lows converge, the results range from unstable to disastrous, and when the dew point and temperature are within a few degrees of each other, nature’s ill humor shows up as fog. Knowing this, I heeded that foggy a.m. forecast and pushed back our plans, giving the sun a full morning to banish the haze.

We left the dock under an overcast sky. I could see well beyond the marina and the updated forecast was reassuring. Yet shortly after entering the canal, a haze grew over the water and my visibility became limited. I hesitated for a moment, but then I thought about my familiarity with these waters and the boatload of people aboard that would be so difficult to reschedule. I decided that I was comfortable heading along the channel to a great restaurant so we could at least enjoy a late lunch. Away we went!

As forecast, the mist lifted the further east we traveled, so I dismissed any concern about the weather and focused my attention on all the other concerns of a captain. Apparently, Mother Nature doesn’t like to be ignored — as I navigated through the channel, a large landmark along the shore was shrouded in clouds. I figured we were still OK as the fog was on the shore; the channel markers in the water remained clearly visible.

Suddenly, it was a whiteout situation. We were enveloped in fog! I quickly powered down the engines, fixed our location on the GPS, and contemplated my next move while designating a passenger to sound the foghorn and another to ring the bell. Did I want to drop anchor in the channel and wait it out, or do a quick U-turn and try to elude the heavy haze?

I decided to turn and slowly retreat, relying on instinct, my navigational tools, and the GPS route I had created to get us to the restaurant and back. Now turned around and able to see about 100 feet ahead of me, I put the engines into forward. We headed at a snail’s pace along the pre-planned return route, crawling past one barely visible marker after another until we emerged from the fog.

If my boat wasn’t equipped with GPS, I would have had no choice but to drop anchor and wait it out, sounding my bell and foghorn and radioing out a warning to oncoming boats in the channel. I learned that forecasts aren’t infallible and that I should have trusted my instinct, not rationalized it away with excuses. Sure, I had a boatload of people looking for a fun meal on the water, but with fog in the vicinity, we should have just stayed at the dock and ordered in pizza.

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