Friday, 15 March 2013


Guiding my first cross-Channel crew last Saturday, I confidently set out into the harbour. There was a slight mist but nothing to worry about.
Through the bridges into Langstone Harbour and we plunged into a bank of fog. It is the first time I have ever been steering a boat with no horizon and no landmark of any kind. It is eerie and slightly frightening.
We casually ploughed on. The gig's cox was supposed to be keeping a fixed distance away from me, but I could feel him pushing me to the right. I couldn't see a thing so it didn't seem to matter if I wandered a little - everything would become clear when we came up against the shore as we must do soon.
Hooray! a shoreline became visible. It must be one of the islands in the middle of the harbour.
We closed in. Then I got this uncomfortable feeling that it wasn't any of the islands - it was a narrow spit. In fact, it was the wall round the oyster beds we had passed on the way out. We had turned a complete circle and were going back to the marina!
Damn damn damn. What to do? Keep calm and try to look professional. What direction to go?
I can't believe I hadn't thought of that before. I suppose it is because in all my puff I have been able to navigate by eye.
Squint down at the dashboard. The magnetic compass showed NWN. The GPS showed the position of the boat pointing N and also a bearing that I couldn't read clearly because of my bloody bifocals, but GPS and compass were clearly about 15 degrees different.
What to do?
I turned to the cox and said "Follow me!" in an authoritative and totally confident voice, pointed in the general direction of south according to the compass, and motored back into the fog. Quarter of an hour later we emerged into brilliant sunshine and had a great time going out towards the Victorian forts in the Solent. 
On the return journey, the fog had disappeared.
Ali Ralph in the gig crew kindly sent me the pictures I took on his camera and the GPS track on his phone. We come in from the top, turn right at the bottom, turn sharply when we spot the oyster beds and off again to the south-west (due south on the magnetic compass).


Tillerman said...

I came across a website called The Real Boat Race.

Was it one of those crews you were guiding?

Chris Partridge said...

This particular crew was training to row across the Channel. I will going out tomorrow with both the London 2 Paris crews as they do a 24hour training row. In the rain, probably. They are heroes but nuts.

Boathook Bald said...

Good post Chris.
Fog can do some strange and wonderful things to baffle the senses: I have seen a cross channel ferry sat on top of the Old Harry Rock and a terrace of houses in the sky over Poole Harbour. On both of these occasions visibility was so poor that my next bouy was, even with compass, radar and GPS, a matter of trust, hope and faith-so I could have done without the extra distraction!

Allison said...

I have been caught kayaking in the fog before. It came on so suddenly that I couldn't escape it. I did not have a GPS with me... big mistake! Although I made it back to my starting point ok, I was feeling very uncomfortable. It was a huge lesson.