One morning in October of 2004 while fishing just offshore of Sand Key Light all of the sudden fog began to move in on us. Our GPS was malfunctioning so all we had to use was our compass or our instinct to find our way. Fog is a real hazard out on the open water. Fog is most dangerous in the shipping channel. A tanker or a cargo ship in the fog is a serious hazard. Navigating past the shoals was our concern. When the fog rolled in we were three miles offshore of Sand Key Light. We were right on the edge of the shipping channel. Oil tankers and cargo ships sometimes get as close as eight miles from shore. The main shipping lane is 15 miles out. There is a current rip out there that holds fish. As a result of the weather conditions we decided to stop fishing.
Getting back to Sand Key Light was no big deal. The light is 5 miles outside of the harbor. The seas were calm. The fog was like being in a cloud. The clouds dropped to sea level. Sometimes it rains offshore and pours so hard it is tough to see at all. We caught a few cero mackeral before the fog got there. The captain was a nervous wreck. To get Mitch to lighten up I told a joke about using the force to navigate through it. The fog had us somewhat lost. We had no range of sight.
The facts were that we were heading north from the light towards the harbor. The shallow water was to the west of us. The fog gave us a scare. We were worried about our vessel and our reputation. We kept faith in our compass heading. Our sense of direction proved good when we found ourselves just east of the range marker about a quarter mile east of the harbor in more than enough water. Once we could see the shoreline our nerves calmed.
The radio was full of conversation about the weather. Steve on the Linda D IV said it gets like that all of the time in New England. Some of the best captains were almost lost that morning. The captains who had fog experience went out. The ones who were around before electronic navigation had the most confidence. Navigating in the fog is a learned skill. It is common sense to use whatever means of navigation needed to be safe. On that morning all the other boats had a working GPS in our fleet. I guess it was a learning experience. Even for most captains who had their navigation equipment working thought it was best to go in that morning. Our lives wern’t on the line at all. For Mitch as a captain his job as well as his reputation were on the line. For me it was important to make sure we avoided making a mistake. I remember getting caught in the rain several times when navigating was tough. We figured it out. I knew the boss would blame me just as much as the captain if something went wrong. Between the two of us we got it straightened out. We were doubting ourselves to some extent, yet we trusted our instinct, and got through it alright.
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