Friends later told us that the fog that day was worst of the season. When we were recruited to do this Demi-Downeast loop, I said to Joanne, “Perfect. Maine in September means cool nights and clear days. The fog is worst in July.”
This year that truism got turned on its head. (Maybe Obama is to blame.) And it happened on the day that we were taking the boat from Rockland to Boothbay Harbor as part of loop that begins and ends in New York with the boat having been trailered from Quebec City to Bangor.
We had waited until noon in case it would burn off, as it had the day before. But the fog stubbornly prevailed and remained as thick as Seattle clam chowder and just as unpalatable (Click to read the author’s rant on chowder.)
Normal cruisers would not have left the dock at Land o’ Rocks that day, but deliveries have a different logic, tied to clock and calendar. We cast off from the fuel dock at Journey’s End Marina around 12:30 and headed to the Muscle Ridge Channel with a hundred feet of visibility.
Now, Downeast veterans will tell you: Muscle Ridge is full of gnarly, keel ripping obstructions, choked with lobster buoys and filthy with gnarly, hard-charging lobstermen who don’t seem to slow down one bit in zero visibility.
There are two things that take all the fun out of a transit—heavy seas and fog. At least with fog, there is an antidote in marine electronics. Our Cutwater 28, like all Cutwaters and Ranger Tugs, is outfitted with a suite of Garmin electronics. The radar performed very well without my having to attempt any tuning. It's nifty anti-collision features are something I'll probably write about later. Even the smallest vessel, a little wooden sailboat, showed as a return and objects within a couple hundred feet displayed, which is what you want in fog.
About those lobster buoys, as I mentioned, they were thick. This is where Garmin’s autopilot really came in handy. It’s got a neat dodge feature. With a quick press, the port and starboard arrows add or subtract a degree from your heading, but hold them down longer, and the boat begins to turn, and the longer you hold them the more dramatic the turn. Lift your finger off the button, and the boat goes back on course.
In little or no visibility, however, this means going slow. We never went more 8 knots the entire time in Muscle Ridge Channel.
Fog plays with your mind. It induces claustrophobia. It distorts sight and sound. It feels like you’re wearing a wet blanket. When you first catch sight of a buoy—and Joanne must have spotted a thousand of them before me—they loom large, magnified by the water content of the atmosphere. Then, of course, you know by the shape that it’s just another pot marker and you press and hold.
As we neared the southern exit of the channel something truly bizarre happened, and maybe a savvy reader can explain it to me, because Google can’t.
It happened when I noticed a lobsterman on the radar, and gave him a blast of Cutwater’s horn. Then from our starboard side, in our case the mainland side, there began a very LOUD siren sound—whoooOOOOP, whoooOOOOP, whoooOOOOP.
What was it? Some new audible aid to Navigation, like those new horns that are activated by hailing on a specific VHF frequency? Or was it activated by the sound of my horn blast? Or was it the work of a malevolent fishermen wearing headphones.
It was driving us crazy. We were trying to concentrate on radar and plotter screens, dodging a pot a minute, and now this sound. We couldn’t go any faster to get away from it, and it must have lasted for a half hour. If I knew that it was warning us away from a particular ledge, I would have been tempted to run onto it a wide open throttle to end the torture.
As Joanne memorably remarked, “It was like being captives in some hellish video game.”
But it got better. Visibility opened up through Muscongus Bay and soon we were in Boothbay Harbor Marina, determined to celebrate by eating lobster for having successfully dodged a thousand pots.