Even the shortest motor to a new harbor can become a harrowing experience when thick folds of fog blanket the water. Visibility is limited to the bow and the cool mist condenses on your face and clothes as if you were standing in a downpour. Sound travels clearly in sharp contrast to the murk. It feels like traveling back to a time when navigation was always by dead reckoning with out navigation buoys and many boats were lost.
Erik and I could see the fog was lifting and decided it was safe to motor a mile or two to Five Islands Harbor. Preparing for the unexpected, we charted our short route, deployed the radar reflector, and opened up the manual fog horn that looks like a New Years party favor.
Skinny is too generous a term to describe the path we took down Little Sheepscot River towards Five Islands. We knew there was rock on both sides and all we had to do was stay in the middle of the channel and look for the red nun buoys. Ha! As we rounded the first buoy and entered the channel everything disappeared and we felt like the only people alive in the world. Silently boats on mooring balls faded into view astonishingly close to our bow.
Quickly, we turned on our radar and began to blow long blasts on the party horn to alert any nearby vessel that we were coming through. Luckily the channel was so narrow, we could see both sides and maintain a heading right down the center. This strategy worked until we passed the last day marker which marked the northern entrance to Five Islands Harbor.
“That channel looks too narrow and shallow!” I said even though my charts indicated there should be 10 feet at mean low water. Did I mention we were at slack low tide when all the depths are smallest? I was navigating and decided not to trust the charts and we continued past watching the daymark disappear in to the gloom. Was I mistaken? Now we were on our own-no time to re-chart our course, we used the GPS and our Waterproof chart and slowly followed the contour of the ledge island that separated us from a safe harbor.
No margin for error with these rocks and ledges, we had to find the next green buoy and turn in before it. Of course, my mind knew this was impossible because we couldn’t see the buoys or daymarks until they were along side our boat-how could we turn before it? We inched along, alternating neutral and first gear to maintain a snail’s pace in case we hit anything and kept blowing the horn.
Diesel engines came and went as local lobstermen tended their traps. They know these waters and I wanted to shout out to them, “Are we on the right heading to enter Five Islands Harbor?” But I knew they wouldn’t hear me over their own engine noise let alone ours. We were alone, inching along Turnip Island.
Slowly a dark hulled lobster boat appeared out of the gloom and seemed to mark the tiny entrance to our harbor. At first I worried we would need to divert our course to avoid him, but then we noticed the boat was on a mooring and simultaneously we saw the green bouy marking the southern most entrance and we were saved!
Erik is pointing to the daymark marking the north entrance we opted not to use.
Today the fog is gone and sunny skies remind us of why we love sailing the coast of Maine in summer. Memories of fog drift to the back reaches of our brains ready to be pulled out again the next morning we find ourselves enveloped in cool white mist.