Saturday, October 20, 2012


It seems that every time my wife and I take out a friend for a first time sail aboard Mischief that we experience something new.   Today, we took our friend Laurie, and wouldn't you know it, we enjoyed two new sailing experiences.  This is a post about one of them.
Checking NOAA's National Weather Service Marine Forecast for New York Harbor earlier in the morning, I knew there was coastal fog but that it was predicted to burn off by 9 AM.  Laurie, who lives closer to Jamaica Bay than we do, texted a little later to say that it was very foggy there and to ask if we were still going sailing.  Since there was no fog in our neighborhood and the NWS was predicting that the early morn fog would burn off, we texted to Laurie that we were still planning to sail and that we would meet he near the boat around 9 AM.

We met Laurie a little after 9 AM and were on the boat by 9:15, motoring out of the dock by 9:30.  As we were motoring out of Mill Basin, heading out toward Jamaica Bay, a power boater heading back in passed nearby and yelled to us that the fog out in the bay was like pea soup.  As we passed the transition between Mill Basin and Jamaica Bay around 9:50 AM, we started seeing more behind us than before us.  I throttled down the outboard and asked my wife to turn on the navigation lights and hand me the compressed air fog horn.  I asked her and Laurie to focus ahead and let me know immediately if they saw anything in front of us.

Eventually we lost almost all visibility.  Had it not been for my Garmin GPSMAP 78sc preloaded with U.S. coastal charts, I would not have been able to as safely navigate through the fog.  I could not see any of the usual navigational buoys, buoys I had passed numerous times in daylight as well as dusk, until I was a mere 30-40 yards away.  We also encountered several anchored fishing boats about 30-40 yards distant, none with engines running, lights burning, or bells ringing, but safely avoided them.  None of the usual land-forms were anywhere near visible.

Jamaica Bay after the morning fog cleared
Barely moving under power in a light wind, we raised the mainsail and turned off the outboard.  Still close enough to a buoy to see that there was not enough wind to overcome an incoming tide, I restated the motor and headed further down the bay.  Within 5-10 minutes we were completely out of the fog with nearly unlimited visibility.  With a change in course I turned off and raised the motor and headed south on a close reach.

Even though we were in the early morning pea soup fog only a few minutes, I can now understand how easy it would be to lose one’s bearings, become disoriented,  run aground, or  run into another boat under foggy conditions.

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