Thursday, November 15, 2012

A fabulous ship for an ocean trip

…. was the wholloping window blind.
No wind that blew dismayed the crew nor troubled the captain’s mind. 

There was absolutely no wind to worry about today but the fog was another matter altogether.

I was up pretty early this morning, got the lines off around 8:00 boat time and headed out into First Narrows.  The current was running pretty good under the bridge, maybe 2 or 3 knots so it was a slow grind out.  It was still dark when I cleared the bridge but up until then that hadn’t been a problem because there was enough light from the city.  As soon as I got past the bridge it got real dark but I could see light starting to show in the east so I just took it slow out through English Bay.  And then it happened.

The fog rolled in or maybe I ran into a fog bank, I’m not really sure.  In the space of a few minutes I went from being able to see the lights of all the tankers at anchor in English Bay to my own little fog cocoon.  My initial reaction was panic and terror.  Fortunately that didn’t last long but its pretty alarming to know that there are all those huge boats out there moving around and not be able to see past the anchor on the bow roller. 

We have used our radar a lot because we thought getting accustomed to it when we could see would prove helpful whenever the day finally arrived that we couldn’t see.  That was a very good practice because it all made sense this morning.  I could see all the signals from the big tankers at anchor to the south of me and I could see a big guy crossing my bow about a mile out.  Then he turned and came pretty well straight at me.  Of course I couldn’t actually see that – all I saw was an open lane in front of me on the screen with this large blob working slowly but steadily closer to me.  We passed less than 1/4 of a mile apart but I never even saw a hint of his lights.  I know he was there because of the way the radar echoes behaved but I absolutely never saw any visible sign of him.

I’ve got another tool that I used to good effect this morning too.  Bruce told me about an Android app that gives me access to the AIS system.  AIS is a VHF (radio) system for transmitting ship information, including GPS position and heading from ship to ship.  The commercial guys are required to have it; us recreational guys can have it at our option.  We really need to get it for this area that we like to boat in.  If we were in areas where there weren’t too many boats it wouldn’t be a big deal but in high traffic areas it is invaluable.  After I passed the big tanker in English Bay I really didn’t have anyone else to contend with until I got out of the fog but nonetheless it was great to have a backup to confirm what I thought the radar was telling me. 

Reading a radar is not like looking at a video game.  In any situation you can create or disappear signals by how you set the gain and sea clutter controls.  At some resolutions you will get a fleeting signal off gulls.  Low flying airplanes always give a signal. The problem is you can’t tell if that signal is on the water directly in front of you or 1500 feet up in the air. 

I did use the AIS app again to good effect as I was approaching Active Pass.  There’s a sharp dogleg at each end of the Pass so you can’t see what is happening in the Pass until you are in it.  With the AIS app though I could “see” ahead and I knew that one of the big BC ferries was approaching from the south side so I called her on the radio and we negotiated how we were going to meet before either of us could see the other one.  In that situation my app was very helpful to me but provided the ferry no information about my presence.  However if we had active AIS transmitting from the boat he would have been able to see me coming in the same way that I could see his approach.


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