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juro 03-16-2006 05:28 AM

Eye opening experiences in a boat
In the spirit of discussing what NOT to do, here is a true story about boating that might get others to chime in with their own close calls.

About 20 years ago a friend and I were out on the Straits of Juan De Fuca fishing for coho salmon on a small craft rented from the McChord Airforce Base near Tacoma Washington. John was an enlisted man and able to get boats cheap enough for our budgets thru the MWR program.

Well this usually meant we ran like maniacs friday after work, drove like mad to the Olympic Peninsula, got up at o dark thirty and fished like it was our dying day. By Sunday we were totally drained and fell asleep bucktailing for coho with the motor on and the lines out.

This area is on the Coast Guard's list of dangerous places and there is no outcome to a shoreline encounter other than catastrophe. The volcanic spires form moon-like shapes in the rock shore which can be 100ft deep a broad jump from the nearest rock. There is a small settlement here and there, certainly nothing of significance until Port Angeles along that coastline.

Somehow the tide kept us going in a safe offset from shore - we woke up from a sound slumber 9 miles away from where we nodded off. The motor was still running and the lines dragging. For all we knew they could have been hit 100 times and we didn't know it.

For all we knew we had crossed the strait and were looking at Vancouver Island! The silva boy scout compass I got when 12 years old was in my pocket and dispelled that rumor. It took us a while to realize where we were, luckily I had fished down coast before and recognized Pillar Point. The seas came up and tossed us in our small craft but we made it back by the light on the docks.

That was a mild incident compared to many much more harrowing experiences on boats - suffice it to say I go out from the dock with utmost respect for the sea and as prepared mentally as well as physically to outwit fate each day when boating.

Sure most days are pleasant joy rides but we are just as often a mistake away from trouble and preparedness on the deck and above the shoulders is key.

And then there was Acklins day II...:Eyecrazy:

D3Smartie 04-16-2006 09:01 PM

nothing like the fog out of Sekiu to get your head spinning and end up lost...
Almost got lost with my brother out there one day but we were able to follow a boat that randomly appeared out of the fog back into port....

OC 04-18-2006 10:33 AM

Not knowing where you are in a boat is a very scarry thing. How many of you have taken a good coastal Nav course? It's amazing the confidence they can build along with good seamenship values. One I recomend is designed by a small company out of Seattle called Starpath. They have many courses and all are serious, not your local 2 hour course by the Coast Guard Auxilery. Google Starpath and take a look.

Yes fog for us New Englanders and Northwesterners are big issues as the summer months get into full swing. I have noticed that most boats of all sizes have radar out here on the Puget Sound, a lot more than back East. I know it is hard to have that dome on a boat used for flyfishing but what a great invention and the cost for recreational boaters is very affordable now.

Some tips for fog I learned many years ago before Radar and GPS. Even on nice clear days it is good to do a good survey of your surroundings. On nice days I take a very good look around about every ten minutes. Things I observe are wind dirrection relative to sun position, wave dirrection and swell dirrection if there is one to sun postion. Then the sun position relative to the surrounding land. If you do this enough it becomes a natural thing to do and you really get to understand how many degrees the sun changes over a half hour or so, second nature. A good look around at the sea state can be helpful in your fishing too. If there is already some fog with visability I always am paying attention to sea state incase the fog really closes in. Even in heavy fog one can still see the brightness of the sun and its postion. If you know all mentioned above you can find your way home or at least close to home. We practice this a lot in foggy weather with radar and Gps on but we put a towel over the screens and just check them once in awhile unless a boat has come up on the Radar. What I have found if you do not use the sea state to your best interests is we all have a tendency to steer to the left and end up in the big circle game. I used to do search and rescue in Montana and they always taught us that a lost person will circle to his left most often. I wonder if lost folks below the Equator circle to the Right? Take the time to learn these observations so they become second nature and it could save your life. But it is also a great enjoyment having great observation skills in nature. I did not mention all the basic safety issues about fog, like stopping every minute or so and using your air horn and then listening for a resonse. You can learn about all that in a regular coastal course.

Does anyone know where I can buy one of the old tin fog horns with the wooden mouth peice. They were not as loud as the air horns of today but I really think the tone they had could give a much more accurate location of your boat. The modern air horn sound in a fog spreads out very quickly and it is hard to pin point where it is coming from.

Smcdermott 04-18-2006 12:11 PM


Those are some very good points. I keep a spare handheld GPS in the bag and have paper charts for all the areas I boat in but have been caught out in the fog with no radar. I have seen some rigs with a single radar pole bolted to the deck and supported by the grab rail. I can't imagine this setup would be too much of a hindrance on casting. I believe the units on the market today still run in the $4K-$6K range which I would consider a substantial investment for a 20' center but to your point how much is your life worth. I hope that boats without radar use good judgement when moving in the fog and reduce their speed to what is reasonable for the given visability but realize that may not be the case. I took a navigation course run by the Power Squadron that I thought was pretty good. They ran it as an option after the basic boating course. It was about 10hrs in total meeting once a week for a month.


OC 04-18-2006 12:40 PM

Sean, You can get a good 2.2 kw/ 16 inch radar at West Marine for about 1000 to 1200 dollars now. Black and white screen but a very good screen. These 2.2 kw radar are good up to 16 miles but more important are very good at close range. I can pick up crab pots and sea gulls when I am in the .5 mile space and can go down to I think .125 mile on the screen. They have all the bells and whistles like alarms for other boats coming into a set space. The program I like is distance to a certain point, I know GPS does this as well now but with the radar I can get direction a vessel is approaching at and its speed.

The single pole stands are more expensive than the radar but on a fishing boat it would be easy to make your own for a small price. You could also make it adjustable up and down in hieght so when it's not foggy out you can keep it lower. We will soon be buying a new radar and single poll mount for the new boat that has a few more than needed stuff on the pole. The boat had 24 inch dome on the mast which was good out to 24 miles I think. We just did not need that distance, it was too high for close in stuff and under sail it worked great for picking up air traffic to the windward side so we sold it. With the pole mount for the stern I can get manual tilt option to keep radar horizontal, GPS antenna stand, place for a cockpit spot light and a davit to lift the 8 hp outboard back on board. I like the 2.2 kw Furuno radar but they are all good now a days.

Smcdermott 04-18-2006 01:44 PM


I didn't realize you could get into Radar that cheap. Not sure that unit would work for me due to space concerns which is why I thought you would need to spend the $4K-$6K to get into a networked all in one unit. But certainly worth a look. Not only would it make you safer on the water but finding the blitzes would be a whole lot easier as well:lildevl: .


OC 04-18-2006 04:46 PM

I think it is JVC that makes a smaller unit and cheaper. Yes you will be able to see blitzes miles off. But you don't need radar to do that if you learn to scan the horizon with the proper mind set.:confused: I bet Juro knows how to from all I know about his abilities.

juro 04-18-2006 05:07 PM

Yeah I wish, if it weren't for the smell of low tide I couldn't find the beach at noon any more. ;)

Out west the deadheads are the killer, not to mention rocks cropping up in 80 ft of water from ancient lava flows etc. I guess other boaters are a problem everywhere in fog and it would be good to 'see' them.

Smcdermott 04-18-2006 07:02 PM


Originally Posted by OC
I think it is JVC that makes a smaller unit and cheaper. Yes you will be able to see blitzes miles off. But you don't need radar to do that if you learn to scan the horizon with the proper mind set.:confused: I bet Juro knows how to from all I know about his abilities.

Last year we were out in Narragansett bay when the silversides made their push up into the bay to spawn. Bass were all over them and with the fog continued to feast from about 4 a.m. till we left them at 2:30. We stayed on them by shutting off the motor and following the sound of the terns. Even the four stroke was too loud. We managed to stay with them but there was no one who could have by site alone, I don't care if you had 20/5. If you were a few miles off in the morning you might never have found them. Same deal for some of the tuna this summer. Enough visibility to watch for other boats but those fish were moving and can travel a few miles in a matter of minutes. No way you could have kept up on site alone. Listen for birds, watch the GPS and see if you could figure out a feeding pattern was the key. Radar would have been very helpful in both situations.


juro 04-19-2006 06:12 AM

Reminds me of an outing at Sekiu on the north Olympic Peninsula with a friend in his recreational ski boat. A split pea fog rolled in from the west and we were working the Caves area which in on the west cusp of a large bay about 2.5-3 miles wide.

He had no compass or electronics on board, I had my trusty boy scout pocket compass that my mom bought me in Sears as a young kid and that was all on board for reckoning tools.

In a flash the sight of the rocks left us and we pondered the next move. I dug out the Silva as the others argued about which way was which. Oddly the needle was turning faster than the second hand on my watch.

Mike says "so hotshot which way?". I scratch my head. Did we fall into the Bermuda Triangle?

It occurred to me what was happening...

anyone care to guess?

OC 04-19-2006 08:20 AM

I'll take a shot Juro, Too many rum&cokes:) . Most true ski boats have inboard engines, were you sitting on the engine box? I have not looked at the chart for that region but I know throughout the straits and the sound there are places that a compass is useless. Luckly the charts will let you know which places that happens in. Sailing on the Hood Canal has brought a large amount of strange experiences like the one Juro had. Not only compass failure but depth soundings. From time to time everyone's depth finders go to 4 dashes on the screen. This can last up to an hour or so then everyones sounder works again. We believe it is the secret workings going on a Bangor Sub Base. One that I have figured out recently is when the depth sounder goes into alarm which I have set at 10 feet. We are in 600 feet of water sometimes when that happens and it happens starting about now through May. Anyone know what is happening on these occassions? I bet Juro knows the answer.

juro 04-19-2006 10:21 AM

OC you are ten times the mariner I am but thanks for the vote of conf.

I guess there are no more guesses, so here's the answer...

We had been ripped all the way across Clallam Bay to slip Pt on the other side which is listed as a CG hotspot for rocks, turbulence and whirlpools. Although we could barely see each other on the same boat I could hear the slip pt horn faintly and it seemed to be coming from ten different locations. It dawned on me that we were spinning in a whirlpool.

No one believed me because we could not see any water commotion against the hull. Of course not, it was spinning too.

I went to the bow and formed a scoop with my jacket to hear the horn. I asked to shut down the engine for a minute to hear the horn, got a heading real quick relative to north if possible, and we iterated toward it which in retrospect is not a good idea. Moving away would have been safer but indistinguishable so on we went, me with the jacket over my head waving my arms left and right to keep the boat moving somewhat straight. The horn is situated on the bluff that looms above the most trecherous part of the point, so going toward it was risky - but there was no other reference. Eventually we came to the familiar clang of the bell bouy, so headed west to confirm it - and from there it's due west to the jetty blind as bats by compass.

The whole time the crew was doubtful of every decision, in fact I had to take turns forcing everyone to have faith after we attempted something they suggested that led us nowhere etc. I could have just as easily been wrong but my point is the situation was tenuous at best for all.

There was complete doubt until the rocks and american flag at the end of the jetty appeared thru the dark thick wet soupy fog, except in my mind since I had fished there often and knew the bell bouy well.

In any case, a silva boy scout compass decades old, a dose of luck, and a bit of familiarity with a horn and bouy got us back safely. I got a little more faith from the gang after that. That evening the fishing got red hot in clearing skies and we were none the worse for wear.

Moonlight 04-19-2006 10:32 AM

I'm gonna guess the ski boat had a world class stereo syetem with speakers loud enough to hear the Valkyrie over the drone of the motor at ski speed and that the magnets in the speakers were giving that Boy Scout compass the ride of its life.

Smcdermott 04-19-2006 10:56 AM

Last year Slinger, a friend of his and I decided to go back to our primal roots and sling some eels off the South County shore one evening. Again the fog rolled in and we needed to navigate by GPS in the dark on the way home. This was only a few months into my tenure with the new boat and electronics and I was trying to find some visual clues that would help me ratify what the little box on my console was telling me. I kept looking toward the shoreline and focusing on what appeared to be a distinct dark cloud. The funny thing was this clound kept following us and was really starting to fuel some questions in my mind about whether I could trust the instruments to get us home. After a few more minutes I came to realize that I should be named king of the idiots as the cloud I was so intently following was actually the shadow cast by the stern light and Slingers head on the fog.


Moonlight 04-19-2006 11:03 AM

Man overboard breifly...
Personaly I was most impressed by getting washed overboard by one wave and deposited back aboard by the next one!
We were fishing for Black Cod back in 1978 over 30 miles of Cape Addington in the Gulf of Alaska the "Westerlie' had been building for about a week and the seas were a steady 30' to 35' that far off shore you can't even see the tops of the mountains except for the ones that are beside you and behind you and in front of you.
This particular day I guess the Skipper had his belly full of rolling around inside the wheel house and anouced that were were heading in to Noyes Island to wait for the weather to cool down a bit. Danny was an exciteable boy and always way heavy on the throttle, we were litteraly surfing down the Mountains one minute and riding in the trough the next.
It was my first job on the High Seas and as a deckhand it was my job to wash up the cod after they had been dressed prior to putting them in the Ice Hold this was busy work and you just mindlessly kept your head down and both hands busy until the three or four tons of fish was all put to bed.
It was a beautiful sunny day not a cloud in the sky but that West wind just kept getting stronger it was now being clocked at 48 and we were running full out before it so I guess you would have to add 9 knots or so to that reading. As I recall I had a 10# Cod in my left hand and a srapper spoon in my right when a wall of water sent me sailing across the deck where I was slammed into the Rack holding our Bouy Line Anchors that slowed me down (hurt like hell too) but the water just kept rising and I floated clear of the boat just then another big comber broke and surfed me right on to the top of the Bait shed aft. I was not nearly amazed by all this as my crewmates who all gave a big cheer and then started laughing at me as they were very amused that I still had the cod and the sraper in my hands. The whole incident tokk but a few seconds and I never had time to asses my plight the ocean just let me go maybe I trew the hook whatever it was one of those "moments " that a fellow tends to remember.

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