Posted 10-Apr-08 at 01:56 PM by webadmin

I decided to take a little cruise down the North Sea coast. I have travelled this route many times. There was a bit of fog around when we left home, but on the coast it was blue skies and sunshine with 4 miles visibility in all directions. We set off down coast about 3/4 mile offshore. Watched a pod of porpoise, played with a dolphin and saw some grey seal on flat calm seas (a long 6" swell). Really enjoyable

The dolphin wouldn't come close unless we made some waves by moving sub-hump - absolutely amazing creatures!
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After traveling about five miles south I looked back to see a shore-to-horizon fog bank approaching from the north. Where the <expletive> did that come from Oh <yet another expletive > what do we do now?
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We were ¾ mile off a rocky section of the shore so couldn't head directly for land - there was little choice but to head into the fog to return back to the harbour. No problem, I thought, we'll just head north until we reach the harbour breakwater. Not quite as easy as it sounds! Visibility had reduced to less than 20metres. There was no wind or wave action to give any sense of direction and you couldn't even tell where the sun was by this time! Being a bit concerned that there was nothing to the right (or was it the left ) except 400 miles of open ocean and Denmark, there was no choice but to use the GPS to re-trace our outbound track. Speed was reduced to a still-scary 6mph so return progress was very slow. Then just to add to the rising tension, the GPS batteries failed!! I swapped them for the spares but the GPS wouldn't lock onto the satellites again - it took ten minutes of floating around in a dead silent fog hole before it locked on again. Out came the spare GPS at this point followed by a quick radio check and a rummage around to find the flares!! Thoughts at this stage were – if I have to make an emergency call how is anyone going to find us in this - the flares won't be visible in this dense fog? The craft has the radar signature of a flea! After an urgent request from the passenger to see dry land again we headed directly for shore. We almost ran straight onto a wood breakwater as we approached the shore. Visibility was less than 15 metres at this point. After a few minutes composing ourselves we had no choice but to head out onto the water again to round the breakwater - we had to move far enough offshore to stay clear of the breakwater so, once again, visibility was virtually nil. As soon we moved offshore the disorientation set in again - you have to place complete trust in the GPS as you are totally blind. The harbour entrance is marked by a big red buoy and is only about 25metres wide - the seaward side is bounded by a large stone pier/breakwater. We came upon the marker buoy but could see no sign of the pier only 25metreas away! Trying to find the launch point in the harbour was also a bit of a challenge - we had to creep along the shore line trying to remember where the piers and buoys were located!

Although this happened on the open sea it could just as easily been an estuary or a wide river – the result would have been very similar. The disorientation was very weird – far far worse than driving a car in fog (no road edges or white lines on water!)

So....
Lessons to be learnt (I’ve learned then – I hope you do to!) from this are:

No1 - weather is the number one threat (and fog is the No1 weather threat - way above wind and rough water that I thought were more important). The rate at which weather and water conditions can change is very scary!

No2 - carry PROPER safety gear and check it works, hopefully you will never need it but when you do need it you REALLY DO need it! Make sure you have a backup for the backup for the backup for when the main backup fails, etc...

I carry what I consider adequate safety gear (GPS x 2, batteries, lights, flares, VHF radio) However, this little episode has made me realise that a good old-fashioned compass might be a good thing to add to the list! You can NEVER have too much safety equipment as far as I'm concerned

Please don't let this little story stop you enjoying your craft (it won't stop me!) - the pleasure you get and the sights you see always make it worthwhile. Nothing bad happened this time – it was just a “learning experience” I’m sharing with you