Old Diver Tales

I was commenting on Jims blog here:

https://jimoeba.wordpress.com/2019/02/11/knots-and-logs-ancient-wisdom-vs-faith/

…and the topic of fog came up. So I commented about a situation I got caught in once. Thought I’d reproduce it here as a post. Just in case there is someone who might find it interesting, and who perhaps may have missed Jims great post. This is pretty much the comment I made at Jims blog, but have modified it a bit for clarity/punctuation and added another lost in the fog entry:

I was working on an overcast, rainy-ish day once. There was some decent current running that morning, I came up from a dive and the rain had stopped but I could see a bit of fog forming. I didn’t think much of it, I was fairly close to an island chain, and the riverbank true wasn’t far behind the islands. I supposed even if a light fog moved in I would still be able to see the islands and from there get back to my truck using the treeline along the river bank. So I made another dive. I came up and was completely socked in with heavy fog. I mean I could barely make out the bow of the boat from the stern. I was like “oh shit.”

I decided I’d try to find the islands, but I needed a waypoint to start, I figured I’d toss out the anchor and let the current pull the boat tight and I’d have S as my starting point. (The Tn. river flows S->N) Welp, they had killed the current at the dam and the anchor did not pull tight after 10 mintues, the dreaded dead friggin water. (As a diver on the bottom, the current is a handy way to know your direction, and most of us learned pretty quick if you pull your boat in the direction of the current, the current pushes most of the silt you stir up, behind you, making for at least some visibility dependent on the depth you were working. Sometimes on a really calm day with little to no wind, and you get a dead current situation, you can get pretty lost on the bottom, an irritating situation to work in.) Anyway… So much for a starting point, the current or lack of it was no help. So I headed off in the direction I thought, might, get me to the islands, and they weren’t more than 250 yards from my location. Let me tell you something, no matter how straight you hold the steering, you will soon be hitting your own wakes, as you are going in a damn circle. There is nothing so disconcerting as being lost in the fog. I should mention the creepy factor is pretty high too 😉

Well I realized this wasn’t going to work, motoring around in circles is a quick way to get nowhere. So I tossed out the anchor and killed the engine. And I pondered my situation, I still had one bottle of water left, and a couple of snacks I hadn’t eaten at lunch. It looked like this could be supper lol. Well as I sat there I began to hear what sounded like a towboat moving slow in the river channel. I waited till it got closer, used the sound of the engines as a waypoint, and I’d crank my engine, run a little way in the direction I thought I remembered hearing the towboat, then I’d stop, kill the engine, get a new waypoint in my head and try again. I worked as a deckhand on towboats in my days prior to becoming a commercial diver, so I knew 2 things. 1: The towboat has radar and he can navigate via the river bouys. And 2: He can tell I’m coming.

By the time the towboat emerged from the fog I was basically right alongside, and the captain apparently had a man there to see what was up, I raised my yelling voice loud enough to be heard over the idling diesels in the towboat, and asked the guy one simple question “which way are you headed?” He replied “South.”

Which was good for me, my truck was in that direction, So I told the guy I was going to follow along for a while. So I followed along with the towboat till we reached a bend in the river that brought us closer to the river bank true, and lo and behold I could make out the trees along the bank through the fog. From there I followed the the treeline, which conveniently rolled right around inside the bay I had launched from, and took me straight to my truck. I ate a hot supper that night after all.

Next day I had a compass in my boat, and have not been without one since. I should mention I had an old diving compass with me for many years, the damn thing got waterlogged, and I never got around to fixing my lack of a compass problem. It’s fixed now 🙂

Fog is a strange animal indeed. It takes away all of your reckoning abilities and leaves you, well, lost in the damn fog. I was lucky that day, more often than not a towboat will tie off and wait out the sort of fog we were in… I know that because there was a time I was the deckhand who had to drag a ladder out to the head of the tow, climb down the ladder to a muddy riverbank, dragging a huge ass lock line (a 2″ rope) or a steel wire rope to a sturdy tree, or group of trees, and tie off the tow. Every once in a while there were man made tie offs out there, but usually not when you need them. But as a deckhand, being tied off in the fog generally was enjoyable, it meant you were getting paid to do diddley 🙂

There was another time I was lost in the fog on the river. This was very early in my diving carreer. I was working for a guy then (George), he had the boat, all of the necessary gear, and all I had to do was show up and go to work. We worked on a 50/50 basis. I could generally average around $200 to $250 a day then (split between us), so it was a convenient arrangement. It should be noted that after almost 2 years of working for this guy, I had saved up enough $ to get my own boat/gear. Anyway…

We set out one morning, I had met up with George at the crack of dawn, his house was just down the road from mine, and we set off to town to gas up and get some breakfast. Our typical daily routine. We got to the river by 7 AM and launched the boat despite the fact that the river was entirely socked in with fog. The decision to head out fell to George, I had seen heavy fog on the water as a deckhand, and knew it wasn’t exactly cupcakes and tea out there in the fog. George was confident he could navigate our way to a place we had been working that was pretty productive with shell, so we set off. Georges plan was to follow the tree line till we got there. Well, after several hours of being completely lost out there in the fog, an eerie, hair on the back of your neck raising eerie, the sort of feeling that makes you wonder if you are even still on the same damn planet, the fog began to lift. We found ourselves deep in the back of a bay we couldn’t even recognize at first, nowhere near where either of us had a notion we might be. We finally got to our spot but had missed most of the morning due to being lost. So it was a slow day for the wallet, and a lesson learned. Well not completely learned because this happened way before the I got lost in the fog, old diver tale above this one.

So, keep a compass in your boats folks, you never know when you will need one. A compass is your only hope in the fog. Otherwise it is a Stephen King -ish kind of freaky out there lost in the mists of the fog. Although I suppose a GPS might still be able to work in fog, for the cost of a compass, I wouldn’t count on it.

 

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10 thoughts on “Old Diver Tales

  1. I was going to say there was more to the story, but got sidetracked today with plumbing. I think I’d rather be lost in the fog…I never did find the beaver ponds. From the benches near the ridge I could hear two hi-ways in the distance. The way the sound would funnel from both valleys it was like a light whirring I could hear. Choosing what I thought was the louder, being closer to the truck, but I picked wrong. After an hour going I knew I was screwed. I couldn’t tell what noise was coming from where. I did find an old wickiup shelter deep in the woods. Looked like someone else had done the same deal not to far ahead of me. At least I made it out before night. And no fish. This was before the cell phone days and my wife was a bit worried since I was only supposed to be a couple hours. I did miss church that day, so it wasn’t all bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ha! A day missed of church is a good day sir.

    The hills and valleys could for sure cause some unusual sound echoes making it seem like you were moving in the right direction, when you weren’t. You are lucky all you missed was church 😉

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  3. I wasn’t totally unprepared. That darn compass though, would’ve made short work if it. 🧭

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hello Shelldigger. Wow that is scary. I admire how you kept your head about you. Is there now any affordable radar units for a boat like yours that would help today in a situation like that. Glad you made it off the water OK. Hugs

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  5. I was crabbing up in the San Juan islands and my brother (excellent skipper) had made a few notes on the way out. We got socked in and took the ol parakeet right back to the dock with a compass and a little luck. At least we knew where land was. The dock part was a bit of extra fortune.

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  6. I’ll be honest I haven’t shopped for any radar. While there might be an affordable system for a small boat these days, that sure wasn’t the case back when one would have served me well. In 30 years of being out there I needed a radar all of 2 times, so there’s that… I needed a paddle far more times than I needed radar 😉

    Keeping ones head in bad situations gets you home a lot quicker than the alternative. There were countless moments that would rank almost deadly out there, that I’d have forgotten even occurred by the time I got home, so many it ain’t funny. Ranging from getting caught up in trot lines or nets, to getting caught in really nasty storms, to equipment malfunctions, and moments of stupid, it’s a wonder I survived as long as I did out there.

    The really close calls are the ones you remember. Being lost in the fog was an absolute pleasure in comparison to losing your air at 40 feet down, or having a boat sink on you, while you were down (twice). I have plenty of old diver tales to get to yet.

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  7. It’s rather amazing how well a compass does the job, and without one it’s a scene from a horror movie. There is simply no way I know of to navigate in fog without a compass, or radar. Even with a compass it helps a lot to know the area you are in. Luck is always good to have in your pocket too.

    I’d love to take a trip out on a small crab boat… just for the experience.

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  8. Yes you would! I used to go out a lot, but now it’s a 5+ hour drive. We camped once at Jones and Sucia islands for four days and ate nothing but fresh seafood (and whisky). Boat camping in the San Jauns is about as good as it gets. Anywhere out there is pretty incredible.

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  9. I’m in!

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